How to Do Things with Words: Second Edition (The William James Lectures) 2nd Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0674411524
ISBN-10: 0674411528
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How to Do Things with Words: Second Edition (The William James Lectures) + Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Immensely worth reading...What is made available here is a choice work by one of the most acute and original minds that England has produced in our time...The myth that Oxford philosophers in general, and Austin in particular, do nothing but examine the details of ordinary linguistic usage should be exploded once and for all by this new book. (Times Literary Supplement)

Austin had an extraordinarily keen ear for the subtleties of English and a remarkable sensitivity to the aptness of one expression as opposed to another in a given linguistic situation. To read him is not only a pleasure; it is also to learn much about English and to gain a new respect for its proper use. (The Massachusetts Review)

About the Author

J. L. Austin is at University of Oxford. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: The William James Lectures (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 2 edition (September 1, 1975)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674411528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674411524
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 67 people found the following review helpful By DAVID BRYSON VINE VOICE on September 23, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The ancient Greeks constantly harped on the contrast between words and actions, provoking Housman's parody in his Fragment of a Greek Tragedy
`Oh! I am smitten with a hatchet's jaw,
And that in deed and not in word alone.'
It seems a simple and basic distinction, but when one thinks about it it's not so simple as it looks. If I say `John promises to do that' I am simply reporting John's action of promising; but if I say `I promise to do that' I am actually doing the promising by saying so. Certain forms of words are actions as well, and not just in the trivial sense that to say something is to perform the act of saying something. Moreover, forms of words that seem very similar in meaning turn out not to behave in identical ways. `Apologise' behaves much like `promise', in the sense that when I say `I apologise for my behaviour' I am performing the act of apologising. However when I say `I am sorry for my behaviour' I may or may not be apologising - I may be reporting my feeling of sorrow, as if I had said `I am sad about my behaviour.'

The general idea is very easy to grasp, but the amount of variety in the ordinary expressions we use can seem mind-boggling. What's the story on `bequeath' for instance? If I say in my will `I bequeath you 1 million $' and if I have 1 million $ to bequeath you then I am performing the act of bequeathing by saying so. However if I don't have it I am bequeathing you nothing , whatever I say. Similarly, if I say `I anoint you Archbishop of Peoria' simply saying so doesn't make you that. In the first place I need the authority to perform this act, in the second place I need something to anoint you with, and in the third place you need to be willing to be so anointed.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book presents Austin's (at the time) groundbreaking ideas on the performative aspects of speech, and his concept of speech-acts. This book was, I understand, incredibly influential in the field of linguistics, though it is now somewhat outdated. It is also fairly lucid, and should be readable by anyone who remembers basic grammar. That said, it is rather technical and pedantic, and a lot of the book seems more like a grammatical exposition than philosophy. This is just Austin's style of course, but it can wear on those without a specific interest in linguistics or in the philosophy of language. Outside the philosophy of language, the book has implications on the issues of truth/falsehood, and on the role of linguistic/performative standards in morality (anyone who has read Searle's influential essay, "How to Derive 'Ought' from 'Is'", can see it stemming largely from a single disagreement with this book).
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By JNeeley@mail.utexas.edu on July 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
At many points, J.L. Austin's How to do Things with Words reads more like a linguistic textbook than a philosophy text. Whether you count this as a benifit or a distraction will depend on your disposition (it certainly beats reading Kant), but whatever your views on the subject, the work is a useful introduction to Speech Act Theory. How to do Things with Words examines a part of language that philosophy has traditionaly ignored, what he dubs the performative utterance. There are certain instances in language where to say something is do perform the very act you say, promising being the perinial example. If I say, under ordinary circumstances, "I promise to do x" then I have promised to do x. Using this seemingly magical fact as his starting point, Austin goes reach profound conclusions about the nature of language and philosophy. Though the tasks Austin sets out to accomplish are largely left uncompleted (he himself admits this) the book will give you the grounding you need to pursue other works in the field, such as those of Searle or Grice. Happy reading!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Chauncey Bell on August 19, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
We live in language, listening and speaking with each other. Every human invention happens in language. Our concerns, our institutions, our dreams, our families and communities, and our projects are constructed first in language. This book is about how that happens (not just in English, but in every language).

Here is the fundamental structure of the language of business, innovation, design, politics, social relations, the construction of trust in our communities, and much more.

Our children study language throughout their school years, and no one ever teaches them that if they want to cause something to happen, they must make a request or an offer. If, in our notes and letters, meetings and speeches, arguments and efforts to convince and market, we don't do the action of uttering or communicating a request or an offer, then whatever actions that occur afterwards are all but accidental. "Requests" and "Offers" are two classes of Professor Austin's performative verbs. We teach our children how to be politically correct in their speaking, but not how to make things happen. How can that be?

I think that should be enough to build more interest in this wonderful little book. I recommend it highly.

However, there are two more things that I want to say about the book.

First, I urge the potential reader not to be deceived. This jewel is walking around in a disguise. The book is assembled from talks that Austin gave in 1955 at Harvard University. The language of "the analytic philosophy of language" has served as a successful strategy for hiding the profound relevance of Austin's work for our everyday lives.

From the picture of him available on the Internet, John Langshaw Austin was the perfect 20th Century Oxford Don -- a super-geek.
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How to Do Things with Words: Second Edition (The William James Lectures)
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