To Hell with Speech Act Theory


During the last few years semantics, too, has had its own paradigm clash. Whereas according to all theories belonging to the old, and still best developed tradition of realistic, objectivist, or correlational semantics, meanings are to be considered as certain entities, there is now a relatively new approach, which invites us to look at the meanings of signs as consisting of nothing else but their use. Thelocus classicus of this other, essentially pragmatically oriented paradigm is clearly Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. Now, in order to have but the tiniest chance of being able, some day, to compare the alleged merits of this new paradigm with the established benefits of the old one, we are, as at least nowadays most of us would agree, in strong need of something which goes far beyond the Wittgensteinian hints as to what a workable account of meaning-as-use might look like. Is this need fulfilled by the so-called theory of speech acts? Have the speech act theoreticians really helped us a reasonable step forward -- as many adherents of the new paradigm had hoped, and some of the leading speech act theoreticians themselves had at least thought they would? Contrary to what I take to be the majority opinion in present-day philosophy, I think that, in fact, they have not

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