Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning (Hardback)
  • Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning (Hardback)

Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning (Hardback)

Hardback 352 Pages / Published: 16/03/2000
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What is it for a sentence to have a certain meaning? This is the question that the distinguished analytic philosopher William P. Alston addresses in this major contribution to the philosophy of language. His answer focuses on the given sentence's potential to play the role that its speaker had in mind, what he terms the usability of the sentence to perform the illocutionary act intended by its speaker.

Alston defines an illocutionary act as an act of saying something with a certain "content." He develops his account of what it is to perform such acts in terms of taking responsibility, in uttering a sentence, for the existence of certain conditions. In requesting someone to open a window, for example, the speaker takes responsibility for its being the case that the window is closed and that the speaker has an interest in its being opened.

In Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning, Alston expands upon this concept, creating a framework of five categories of illocutionary act and going on to argue that sentence meaning is fundamentally a matter of illocutionary act potential; that is, for a sentence to have a particular meaning is for it to be usable to perform illocutionary acts of a certain type. In providing detailed and explicit patterns of analysis for the whole range of illocutionary acts, Alston makes a unique contribution to the field of philosophy of language-one that is likely to generate debate for years to come.

Publisher: Cornell University Press
ISBN: 9780801436697
Number of pages: 352
Weight: 624 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 27 mm


"This is an impressive book. It is clear, vigorously argued, admirably structured, with conclusions about the nature of meaning, which have retained their freshness, interest and relevance for present researchers, not only those working in speech-act theory but for those devoted to the broader topic of meaning-theory." -Mind

"J. L. Austin's How to Do Things with Words was seen by many as a landmark in analytical philosophy. . . This lucid and comprehensive study provides a valuable starting point for anyone wishing to build on Austin's legacy."-International Philosophical Quarterly

"This book deserves all the attention it is bound to get. . . . It will stimulate a lot of discussion and should be read by any serious philosopher of language."-Philosophical Quarterly

"Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning makes a significant contribution to both speech-act theory and to speech-act semantics. It is exceptionally well organized and the level of discussion and argumentation is high. Part I contains some of the best and most detailed analyses of illocutionary acts since Austin, and Part II fills a large lacuna in the theory of meaning." -Robert M. Harnish, University of Arizona

"Most of us thought the contribution that speech-act theory can make to philosophical reflection had long ago been realized. This book, in which William Alston develops an account of sentence-meaning as grounded in what he calls 'illocutionary act potential,' shows how wrong we were. With superb philosophical craftsmanship and great intellectual imagination, Alston opens up a whole new area for discussion and inquiry. As he has done with several of his other books, Alston will not only shape but create the discussion."-Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University

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