8 Pages

In Pursuit of Performatives

IT sometimes happens that a philosopher will develop a view on some topic and then later come to reject it. J. L. Austin was perhaps unique in that he not only rejected a philosophical view of which he himself was the author, he patiently developed the view and then showed it to be ultimately unsatisfactory within the compass of the same work. And he did this not once but three times, in material intended for publication.1 I am thinking, of course, of his notion of performative utterances: the view that there is a class of utterance, the members of which would on standard grammatical grounds be classed as statements, yet whose proper business is not to state anything but to perform some act. For example, to say ‘I promise to be there’ is to promise to be there, and not (or at least not merely) to state that one promises nor even to state that one will be there.