Original Research


, Volume 74, Issue 1, pp 115-129

First online:

Misleading Appearances: Searle on Assertion and Meaning

  • Mikhail KissineAffiliated withF.R.S.-FNRS, Laboratoire de linguistique textuelle et de pragmatique cognitive, Université Libre de Bruxelles Email author 

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John Searle’s philosophy of language contains a notorious tension between a literalist view on the relationship between sentences and their meanings, and what—at the first glance—appears to be a virulent defence of contextualism. Appearances notwithstanding, Searle’s views on background and meaning are closer to literalism than to contextualism. Searle defines assertion in terms of the commitment to the truth of the propositional content. In absence of an independent criterion to delimit the asserted content, such a definition overgenerates—hence Searle’s commitment to literalism. His position is untenable—and this is the general lesson of the paper—, because sentence meaning cannot be used to determine the asserted content.