Accessibility navigation

How to read how to do things with words: on Sbisà’s proof by contradiction

Wanderer, J. and Townsend, L. ORCID: (2024) How to read how to do things with words: on Sbisà’s proof by contradiction. Philosophia. ISSN 1574-9274

Text (Open Access) - Published Version
· Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.
· Please see our End User Agreement before downloading.


It is advisable to refer to the publisher's version if you intend to cite from this work. See Guidance on citing.

To link to this item DOI: 10.1007/s11406-024-00714-8


Midway through How to Do Things With Words, J.L. Austin’s announces a “fresh start” in his efforts to characterize the ways in which speech is action, and introduces a new conceptual framework from the one he has been using up to that point. Against a common reading that portrays this move as simply abandoning the framework so far developed, Marina Sbisà contends that the text takes the argumentative form of a proof by contradiction, such that the initial framework plays an instrumental role as part of a proof in favour of the subsequent one. Despite agreeing with Sbisà’s broad instrumentalist approach, we argue that her regimentation of Austin’s narrative into a proof by contradiction ultimately fails - both as a proof and as an interpretation of Austin. Instead, we suggest that a better way of interpreting the peculiar structure of How to Do Things With Words is as a pedagogical exercise whose point is to bring a concealed alternative into view in a manner that also explains its initial concealment, and that this approach provides richer resources for supporting Sbisà’s own conventionalist understanding of illocution than that afforded by reading the text as a proof by contradiction.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Philosophy
ID Code:115213


Downloads per month over past year

University Staff: Request a correction | Centaur Editors: Update this record

Page navigation