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Austin, Grice and Strawson: Their shadow from Pittsburgh to Frankfurt

1 January 2007


Austin discusses the supposed opposition between performative and constative utterances in a paper delivered to a French audience in 1962 entitled Performative— Constative. It is his aim in this paper in a sense to recant his earlier views that such a distinction was clear. A translation of this paper made by G. J. Warnock appeared in 1972 in a collection of essays on the philosophy of language, edited by John Searle. Alongside this translation were criticisms and comments by P. F. Strawson and H. P. Grice. Taken altogether, I regard these papers as containing several important insights that have informed contemporary notions regarding meaning and communication, particularly as they are thought of by Brandom and Habermas. I follow the course of Austin's discussion in assessing the status of the distinction that gives his paper its name and consider its merits, as well as drawing upon some of Strawson's and Grice's thoughts on the matter. After these discussions, I hope that it shall be clear how indebted to these past thinkers are those important theorists of our time.


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