The word ‘autobiography’ was first used deprecatingly by William Taylor in 1797 in the English periodical the Monthly Review, when he suggested the word as a hybrid but condemned it as ‘pedantic’; but its next recorded use was in its present sense by Robert Southey in 1809. The form of autobiography however goes back to antiquity. Biographers generally rely on a wide variety of documents and viewpoints; an autobiography, however, may be based entirely on the writer’s memory.
Autobiographical works are by nature subjective. The inability — or unwillingness — of the author to accurately recall memories has in certain cases resulted in misleading or incorrect information. Some sociologists and psychologists have noted that autobiography offers the author the ability to recreate history.
Recognition of the significance of speech acts has illuminated the ability of language to do other things than describe reality. In the process the boundaries among the philosophy of language, the philosophy of action, aesthetics, the philosophy of mind, political philosophy, and ethics have become less sharp. In addition, an appreciation of speech acts has helped lay bare a normative structure implicit in linguistic practice, including even that part of this practice concerned with describing reality.
Austin famously claimed that performatives are not statements (1962, p. 6). This may be taken either as the claim that performative sentences, even those in the indicative grammatical mood, lack truth value; or instead as the claim that utterances of performative sentences, even when such sentences have truth value, are not assertions. One can consistently hold that an indicative sentence has truth value, and even that it may be uttered in such a way as to say something true, while denying that its utterance is an assertion. (Testing a microphone in a windowless room, I utter, “It’s raining,” and it happens to be raining outside. Here I have said something true but have made no assertion.)
Lemmon 1962 argues that performative utterances are true on the ground that they are instances of a wider class of sentences whose utterance guarantees their truth. If sound, this argument would show that performatives have truth value, but not that they are assertions. It also leaves unanswered the question why some verb phrases such as ‘I promise’ may be used performatively while others cannot be so used. Sinnott-Armstrong 1994 also argues that performatives can have truth value without addressing the question whether they are also used to make assertions. Reimer 1995 argues that while performatives have truth values, they are not also assertions. Adopting a similar strategy, Jary 2007 aims to explain how utterances of such sentences as “I order you to clean the kitchen,” can succeed in being orders. In so doing he draws on Green’s 2007 analysis of showing to argue that such utterances show (rather than merely describe) the force of the speaker’s utterance. Because ‘show’ is factive, if such an utterance shows its force, then it must have that force.
Searle 1969 had argued that a performative formula such as “I promise to…” is an “illocutionary force indicator” in the sense that it is a device whose role is to make explicit the force of the speaker’s utterance. Making something explicit, however, would seem to involve characterizing an independent event or state of affairs, and as a result Searle’s account presupposes that speakers can imbue their utterances with the force of demotions and excommunications; yet this is what was to be explained.
Scans of artists’ magazines from 1980s East Germany. Aces!