J.L. Austin “Performative Utterances” Overview and Discussion Questions The excerpt in the Norton Anthology is drawn from Austin’s book, How to Do Things With Words , a title that nicely captures the focus of his thinking. As the introductory note tells you, Austin sought to respond to a dominant approach within the philosophy of language by advancing a theory of “speech-acts.” In contrast to the (at the time) pervasive concern to develop a set of criteria for establishing whether or not statements were true or false, Austin is interested in thinking about language as a way of doing something, as a kind of action. Accordingly he focuses on a set of utterances that don’t necessarily describe the world, but that perform a certain action—like when in a marriage ceremony a qualified person (priest or civic official) says “I now pronounce you man and wife”; or when an umpire says “you’re out”; or when you tell a friend, “I promise I’ll be there at 11.” In the very act of uttering these sentences, something happens. Performatives, as Austin calls these kinds of utterances, cannot be said to be true or false; instead,
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