Seeing To it That: A Canonical Form for Agentives

  • Nuel Belnap
  • Michael Perloff
Part of the Studies in Cognitive Systems book series (COGS, volume 5)


J. L. Austin told us that “The beginning of sense, not to say wisdom, is to realize that ‘doing an action’, as used in philosophy, is a highly abstract expression — it is a stand-in used in the place of any (or almost any) verb with a personal subject...” [Austin56; p. 178].1 In that paper he tried to throw light on the question of “doing an action” by looking at the range of cases in which excuses are offered both in everyday usage and in the law, and to arrive at a proper vocabulary for action by “induction” on the proper uses of words. Many years have passed, the lesson has been learned, and it is time for philosophy to go beyond the mere beginnings of sense and progress toward a deeper understanding of an agent doing an action. How should we proceed? Our suggestion is that the next step in the progression toward greater sense and wisdom is to have available the sort of clean and well honed linguistic resource that Austin, and other philosophers, have realized to be necessary. We think that the most promising path to a deeper understanding of an agent making a choice among alternatives that lead to action is to augment the language with a class of sentences whose fundamental syntactic and semantic structures are so well designed and easily understood that they illuminate not only their own operations but the nature and structure of the linguistic settings in which they function.


Canonical Form Deontic Logic English Sentence Linguistic Resource Declarative Sentence 
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.


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nuel Belnap
  • Michael Perloff

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