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John Searle Biography

(1932– ), Speech Acts, Expression and Meaning, Intentionality, The Foundations of Illocutionary Logic

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American linguistic philosopher, born in Denver, Colorado; he became Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1959. Searle's influence first became apparent in his 1959 study of the philosophical problems arising from the use of proper names, a highly specialized topic which had implications for wider issues. In his most important work, Speech Acts (1969), he developed J. L. Austin's notion of the ‘performative utterance’. For Searle these ‘illocutionary’ acts can form the basis for a theory of meaning and communication, in opposition to the prevailing ideas of Frege. Searle substantiates his claim by distinguishing five different types of speech act: the representative, the directive, the commissive, the expressive, and the declaration. By trying to break down Austin's distinction between the performative and the constative Searle is moving from the problematic referential notion of truth. Searle's influence lies in narrowing the gap between philosophy and linguistics, and his arguments have permeated the school of literary criticism called ‘affective stylistics’, associated with Stanley Fish. One of the few Anglo-American philosophers to have any point of contact with Continental developments, Searle has been extensively discussed by French linguistic philosophers, notably Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. His other works include Expression and Meaning (1979), Intentionality (1983), and The Foundations of Illocutionary Logic (1985).

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