But That Was in Another Ball Park: A Reply to Stanley Fish

Critical Inquiry 6 (1):164-172 (1979)

Fish comes dangerously close to identifying the meaning of a statement with its illocutionary force. At one point he says that "the meaning of a sentence is a function of its illocutionary force". At another he says that a move from a situation in which "I have to study for an exam" is heard as a statement to one in which it is heard as a rejection of a proposal is a move "from one meaning that emerges in a set of circumstances to another meaning that emerges in another set of circumstances". Since "meaning" is so tricky a term, it may be well to remind ourselves that in a situation in which the sentences "I have to tie my shoes," "I have to eat popcorn," and "I hate movies" would all be understood as rejections of an invitation to the movies, no one would mistake the meaning of one for that of either of the other two. The three sentences make different statements, convey different information, and offer different reasons for not going to the movies. There is a sense in which Y's saying "I hate movies" means that he rejects the proposal. But even in that situation, the meaning of "I hate movies" isn't reducible to "I reject your proposal." John Reichert, chairman of the English department at Williams College, is the author of Making Sense of Literature. He has contributed "Making Sense of Interpretation" to Critical Inquiry
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DOI 10.1086/448036
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