Begins by pointing out the problem with verificationism:  if we rule that all speech is true or false or nonsense, we call "nonsense" much of our speech which is clearly meaningful


In other words, there are different uses of language than just making declarative statements.


(Austin does warn that we should not think that there are infinitely many uses of language, but certainly more than just declarations.)


Austin focuses (in this article) on examples of speech that look like declarative speech but which are not true or false

    Wedding "I do"

    An apology:  "I apologize"

    Christening:  "I name this ship the Queen Elizabeth"

    Bet:  "I bet you sixpence it will rain tomorrow."


He calls these "performative utterances."


These utterances are not best understood as signs of internal intents, but have a social role independently of that (I can make a promise without good will and still be held to it).


These performative utterances are not true or false, but do have correctness conditions that they have to succeed at meeting.


Conditions include:


1.      Some relevant convention must exist and be accepted.  (E.g., there must be a convention of weddings.)

2.      The circumstances to invoke the convention must be appropriate.  (E.g., one must get married in particular ways.)



Sometimes the utterance must be sincere (E.g., one does not congratulate insincerely).  But this is not a condition of success so much as an expectation....

Are these two conditions sufficient?  Austin argues they are not.


Example:  we have a convention for naming a ship, and we have a ceremony to name it, but then someone rushes up and names it something unexpected.


Example:  I could misunderstand your promise or bet or whatever.


The two conditions are necessary but not sufficient:  much more needs to be explained.


Can we distinguish performative from declarative utterances in a regular way?


One criterion might be first person singular verb use:  "I do,"  "I promise..."


But there are also cases like "You are hereby warned..." and so on.


Can we distinguish performative verbs ("promise," etc.)?

Yes, and they may perform a necessary role in performative utterances, but they do not delimit performative utterances.


Problem:  the distinction between performative and declarative speech is not clear or simple.


For example, declarative speech seems to also have correctness conditions (other than being true or false).


For example, it seems wrong to say

    "P is true but I don't believe that P."

    "All of John's children are bald and John does not have any children."