7 Pages

Mentioning the Unmentionable

T H E R E are two theses in recent philosophical literature which I am going to call Austin’s Thesis and Searle’s Thesis. In fact neither thesis is peculiar to or originated with the philosopher named. Ryle, Wittgenstein and others have held a version of Austin’s Thesis about certain concepts, while Malcolm, Grice, Ryle and others have held Searle’s Thesis about other concepts. In a recent article (‘Assertion and Aberration’) Mr. J. R. Searle suggested in regard to a battery of concepts that Austin’s Thesis is either a confused species of Searle’s Thesis or an incorrect thesis which ought to be replaced by Searle’s Thesis. I shall try to show that Searle has completely misunderstood what Austin and other analysts were doing and that Austin’s Thesis is neither incorrect nor at all similar to Searle’s Thesis. It is in fact a thesis with a long and honourable history. Austin’s Thesis and Searle’s Thesis are two quite distinct interpretations of ‘mentioning the unmentionable’. Searle’s is a pragmatic objection to mentioning what is not worth mentioning; Austin’s is a logical objection to mentioning what cannot be mentioned. Whereas Austin’s motto might be ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’, Searle’s could be ‘If you have nothing worth saying, then keep it to yourself’. I shall not discuss the merits of Searle’s Thesis, nor the moral he wrongly draws from his discussion.