, Volume 74, Issue 1, pp 115–129 | Cite as

Misleading Appearances: Searle on Assertion and Meaning

Original Research


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.


Semantic Content Propositional Content Sentence Type Literal Meaning Sentence Meaning 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I’m extremely grateful to Marc Dominicy for his detailed remarks on a previous draft. Two anonymous referees for this journal provided insightful criticisms that helped me to improve this paper considerably. My research is supported by a post-doctoral researcher grant from the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique de la Communauté Française de Belgique (F.R.S.-FNRS). The results presented here are also part of the research carried out within the scope of the ARC project 06/11-342 Culturally modified organisms: “What it means to be human” in the age of culture, funded by the Ministère de la Communauté française—Direction générale de l’Enseignement non obligatoire et de la Recherche scientifique.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.F.R.S.-FNRS, Laboratoire de linguistique textuelle et de pragmatique cognitiveUniversité Libre de BruxellesBrxuellesBelgium

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