Telling the Facts

  • Zeno Vendler
Part of the Texts and Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy book series (SLAP, volume 10)


In the article ‘Other Minds’ we find the first allusions to the doctrine of speech-acts in J. L. Austin’s published writing.1 There he clearly recognizes some of the performative features of the verb to promise, but only to claim that the same characteristics apply to another verb, of far greater philosophical importance, namely to know. In the light of his later and more developed theory it appears, however, that this latter verb is by no means a performative in the technical sense of the word.2 Nevertheless, since even mistakes are often instructive in philosophy, and Austin’ mistakes are likely to be more so than most, it might be interesting to look into the reason for his original erroneous belief. Yet this study is not intended to be a mere piece of exegesis. I am going to show that some of the features of know that Austin picks out indeed hold true, but require another explanation, which also casts light on the behavior of many related verbs, including a major group of the real performatives.


Linguistic Universal Operating Illocutionary Force Justify True Belief Mere Belief Factive Frame 
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  1. 1.
    Philosophical Papers, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1961, pp. 44–84.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Although Austin still includes it among the ex positives, albeit with a question-mark: How to Do Things with Words, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1962, p. 161.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See my ‘Verbs and Times’ in Linguistics in Philosophy, Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press, 1967, pp. 97–121.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    ‘Other Minds’, op. cit., p. 67.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ibid., p. 68.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid., p. 68.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., p. 69.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., p. 67.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Here I follow H. P. Grice’s ‘The Causal Theory of Perception’ reprinted in Perceiving, Sensing and Knowing (ed. R. Swartz), New York, Dobleday, 1965, pp. 438–472.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Cf. Alvin Goldman, ‘A Causal Theory of Knowing’, Journal of Philosophy 44 (1967), 357–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    ‘On What One Knows’ in Res Cogitans, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1972, Chapter V, pp. 89–119.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ibid., p. 95–96.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Paul Kiparsky and Carol Kiparsky, ‘Fact’, reprinted in Semantics (Danny D. Steinberg and Leon A. Jakobovits eds.), Cambridge, The University Press, 1971, pp. 344–369. Notice, however, that my views, both as to the criteria and the results, are quite different from theirs.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    His prediction, and similar phrases, are actually triply ambiguous, i.e., between the action (which takes place at a certain time), the fact (which does not), and the product (which is true or false).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    I first reported on the idea of half-factives in ‘Escaping from the Cave: a Reply to Dunn and Suter’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 8 (1978), 79–87.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    John R. Searle, ‘A Taxonomy of Illocutionary Acts’ in Language, Mind and Knowledge (Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. VII, ed. Keith Gunderson), Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1975, pp. 344–369.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Res Cogitans, Chapter III.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Which fact necessitates certain revisions in Paul Grice’s theory of meaning. Most commonly the aim of an expositive speech act is the sharing of knowledge rather than the mere production of belief. And this is particularly true in the absence of an explicit performative verb. See his ‘Meaning’, Philosophical Review 66 (1957), 377–388.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zeno Vendler
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA

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