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Language, Rules, and Rule: Austin and Wittgenstein on understanding and authority
Unformatted Document Text:  Thus, having noted with great sensitivity the layer of linguistic conventions that mediates people’s relations with the social world of others and expands the possibilities of human action, Austin drives a wedge between that system and its human context. He separates our engagement with language itself in illocution from our engagement with others through language in perlocution, so that language insulates people from one another. But uptake undermines this very distinction, naming the necessary communicative connection with another that constitutes every illocutionary act. A judge, or any listener, can only decide what locutionary and illocutionary actions I’ve performed if she can understand the meaning and force of what I said, that is, if I’ve managed, through the medium of language, to communicate with her; and while conventions are extraordinarily helpful in reaching that goal, they’re neither strictly necessary nor sufficient. I may move beyond conventional usage and nonetheless manage a happy illocutionary act, ‘getting away with’ 10 something through successful projection; 11 or I may execute the an illocutionary act precisely ‘by the book’ and nonetheless fail, my attempt scuttled by another’s failure to take me seriously, her refusal of my utterance, her inability to give credit to what I say. The crux of the matter here is whether linguistic conventions can guarantee understanding among persons. Austin’s view of illocution relies on the assumption that they can, though he does not make this assumption explicit and says things that make imputing it to him problematic. 12 The trouble with the assumption is that it falsely separates conventions from the human practices and agreements that underlie, give rise 10 Discussing newly initiated procedures, Austin notes that “Getting away with things is essential, despite the suspicious terminology.” (Austin, 30). 11 I take the term from Stanley Cavell. See, e.g. ‘The Availability of Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy’, 52; and The Claim of Reason, 180ff. and passim. 12 See his discussions of ‘getting away with it’ and indeterminate conventional procedures, Austin, 30ff. 8

Authors: McFadden, Tanner.
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Thus, having noted with great sensitivity the layer of linguistic conventions that
mediates people’s relations with the social world of others and expands the possibilities
of human action, Austin drives a wedge between that system and its human context. He
separates our engagement with language itself in illocution from our engagement with
others through language in perlocution, so that language insulates people from one
another. But uptake undermines this very distinction, naming the necessary
communicative connection with another that constitutes every illocutionary act. A judge,
or any listener, can only decide what locutionary and illocutionary actions I’ve performed
if she can understand the meaning and force of what I said, that is, if I’ve managed,
through the medium of language, to communicate with her; and while conventions are
extraordinarily helpful in reaching that goal, they’re neither strictly necessary nor
sufficient. I may move beyond conventional usage and nonetheless manage a happy
illocutionary act, ‘getting away with’
something through successful projection;
or I
may execute the an illocutionary act precisely ‘by the book’ and nonetheless fail, my
attempt scuttled by another’s failure to take me seriously, her refusal of my utterance, her
inability to give credit to what I say.
The crux of the matter here is whether linguistic conventions can guarantee
understanding among persons. Austin’s view of illocution relies on the assumption that
they can, though he does not make this assumption explicit and says things that make
imputing it to him problematic.
The trouble with the assumption is that it falsely
separates conventions from the human practices and agreements that underlie, give rise
10
Discussing newly initiated procedures, Austin notes that “Getting away with things is essential, despite
the suspicious terminology.” (Austin, 30).
11
I take the term from Stanley Cavell. See, e.g. ‘The Availability of Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy’, 52;
and The Claim of Reason, 180ff. and passim.
12
See his discussions of ‘getting away with it’ and indeterminate conventional procedures, Austin, 30ff.
8


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