Phil 794S: Seminar - Speech Act Theory

Spring 2002 - SYLLABUS

Spring 2002. Mondays 3:30-6:00pm in Philosophy Seminar Room (374 Bartlett)
Prof. Kevin Klement (Please call me "Kevin".)


Course description:
A close examination of speech act theory and its relation to philosophy, with a particular emphasis on the work of J. L. Austin. Topics include performative utterances, locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts, conversational implicature, and the relationship between pragmatics and semantics. We shall also be exploring the potential relevance (or lack thereof) of these things to traditional philosophical problems in ethics, epistemology and metaphysics.

Contact info:
My office is 353 Bartlett Hall. My office phone is 545-5784. My office hours are Mondays 1:30-2:30pm and Thursdays 11am-12pm and by appointment. I'm often in my office many other times. Feel free to drop by any time. You may also e-mail me at or call me at home at 259-1154.
J. L. Austin's How to Do Things With Words and Philosophical Papers as well as John Searle's Speech Acts are available at Atticus Bookshop in downtown Amherst. Other readings will be placed in a folder in the philosophy department office (352 Bartlett), and many are available on JSTOR.

The course currently has a webpage under construction at:
There's nothing terribly interesting there yet, but keep watching for more!

Course requirements:
Your final grade will be based on the following requirements, (1) in-class participation (15%), (2) one class presentation (20%), (3) weekly assignments (20%), and (4) a final term paper (45%).

Weekly Assignments: You are expected to carefully read the selected texts for each session before the seminar meeting and come prepared to discuss them. To help facilitate this, each week you are expected to write a 1-3 page essay in which you (1) summarize the reading, (2) identify any criticisms or points of discussion (including points in need of clarification) involving the reading. These essays are due at the start of class on the day on which we will be discussing the relevant readings. You will be graded on 1-5 scale, with 1 representing a barely acceptable essay, 2 representing a deeply problematic essay, that misrepresents the views of the philosopher or philosophers in question or commits other abuses of philosophical method, 3 representing an essay that is slightly lacking in some area, but generally acceptable, 4 representing a good essay that performs the desired tasks as expected, and 5 representing an essay with substantial and original insight. (You should never expect to receive anything above 4. A student receiving a 4 on every assignment should still expect a good grade for this portion. I will only award a 5 to an essay that surpasses my expectations.) In determining your grade, I will take into account only your 9 highest scores of 11 possible essays. This means you may either drop your two lowest scores, or simply not write two essays (or combine the two options). You need not prepare an assignment for the week you will be presenting.

Presentation: Early in the semester, each student will choose (or be assigned) one week in which he or she is expected to give a presentation on the readings for that week (approx. 20 minutes), to be given at the beginning of the seminar meeting, and should also be prepared to lead the discussion for that class period. The presentation should (1) summarize the main points of the readings, though at his or her discretion the presenter may focus on certain issues he or she finds most interesting, (2) identify any questions or concerns the presenter has with understanding or interpreting the material, which he or she would like to discuss in class, (3) critically discuss one or more philosophical issues raised in the readings, as a starting point for seminar discussion.

Term Paper: Each student is prepared to write a 15-25 page term paper that aims to contribute something original to the discussion of any of the texts, philosophers or philosophical issues discussed in the course. The paper should constitute critical and original discussion of the philosophical issues raised within speech act theory. The amount of outside research done for the paper is left to your discretion, but a careful search of the relevant secondary material is strongly recommended. The paper is due at the end of finals week.

E-mail Kevin at with any questions or concerns.
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