Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
J. L. Austin, How to do Things with Words, 2nd edn, J. O. Urmson and M. Sbisà, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), especially lectures i, v, vi, viii, and xi.
Truth has some claim to be the central topic of philosophy. It is therefore not entirely surprising to find philosophers of language (as opposed to students of linguistics and grammarians, for example) concentrating particularly on truth in their treatment of language. Analytic philosophy of language may be said to begin with Frege's determination that the fundamental thing about the meaning of a sentence is its truth-value. And we've seen Davidson's related claim, that the meaning of a sentence may be given by giving its truth-conditions, forming the core of his philosophy of language.
This focus on truth has led to a corresponding focus on the kind of sentence which can be used to say something true: the declarative sentence – the kind of sentence which it makes grammatical sense to insert in the gap in the phrase ‘Simon says that …’ It has therefore come to seem natural to regard sentences of this grammatical type as the basic kind of sentence, and to regard their meaningfulness as being closely connected with what is involved in their being true or false.
In a series of lectures, worked on over several years in the 1950s and eventually published as How to Do Things with Words, the British philosopher J. L. Austin set out to challenge this apparently natural view.