Intention and Commitment in Speech Acts

Theoretical Linguistics 45 (1–2):53–67 (2019)
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What is a speech act, and what makes it count as one kind of speech act rather than another? In the target article, Geurts considers two ways of answering these questions. His opponent is intentionalism—the view that performing a speech act is a matter of acting with a communicative intention, and that speech acts of different kinds involve intentions to affect hearers in different ways. Geurts offers several objections to intentionalism. Instead, he articulates and defends an admirably clear and resolute version of the view that performing a speech act is a matter of undertaking a social commitment. Different kinds of speech acts, on his view, involve social commitments of different kinds. My aim is to respond to Geurts on behalf of intentionalism. I’ll argue that his objections aren’t all that worrying (Section 3), that Geurts’ view suffers from some quite serious problems that intentionalists don’t face (Section 4), and that intentionalists can give a principled account of the ways that speech acts give rise to commitments (Section 5). First I will spell out the two opposing views (Sections 1–2).

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Daniel W. Harris
Hunter College (CUNY)


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