Exploring Austin’s galaxy: Searching for truth through the lens of ordinary language

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Is it true or false that Belfast is north of London? That the galaxy is the shape of a fried egg? That Beethoven was a drunkard? That Wellington won the battle of Waterloo? There are various degrees and dimensions of success in making statements: the statements fit the facts always more or less loosely, in different ways on different occasions for different intents and purposes. Austin, “Truth” Preliminaries What is truth? I have no answer of my own and don’t propose to advocate for a particular theory of truth. However, by appealing to a number of insightful points made by J. L. Austin in his papers “Truth” (1950; 1979: 117-133) and “Unfair to Facts” (1979: 154-174), I will suggest that truth, as ordinarily conceived, is not only a relational phenomenon, but a spectrum phenomenon as well. All of this will be in the spirit of Austin and in the spirit of the correspondence theory of truth, yet will fall short of an explicit endorsement of that or any other theory of truth. I will also suggest that, contra Strawson (1950), Searle (1998a), and Neale (2001), “correspondence to the facts” is neither a “misleading idiom,” nor an “empty metaphor,” nor an “idiomatic form of ‘is true.'" Indeed, truth as “correspondence to the facts” wears its semantic heart on its linguistic sleeve: it conveys a word/world relation of correspondence (conformity, fitness, etc.) that - like correspondence more generally and more literally - admits of degrees. Hence the idea of truth as a spectrum phenomenon. In place of the ideas of Strawson, Searle, and Neale, I will suggest that truth as correspondence (fitness, conformity) to reality (the world, the facts) is akin to what linguists call a “conventional metaphor” - an idea that comports well with Austin’s own views on truth. I will, however, take issue with one of Austin’s more controversial claims - that “is true,” when predicated of a statement, is not “logically superfluous.” I will suggest that, although logically potent in some contexts, the phrase is logically superfluous in others. But even in contexts of the latter sort, the phrase is (I will suggest) rich in terms of potential pragmatic (or conversational) implications (or Gricean “implicatures”).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationInterpreting J. L. Austin
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Essays
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781316421840
ISBN (Print)9781107125902
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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