In the footnotes of giants: The Austin-Derrida debate revisited
In a paper critical of J. L. Austin's theory of speech acts, as presented in How to Do Things With Words, Jacques Derrida argues that the indeterminacy of linguistic context renders the classical notion of "communication"--the transmission of intended meaning through language--untenable. Despite efforts to the contrary, most notably those of John Searle, Derrida's account of the structure of the locutionary act demonstrates that our utterances and written texts, taken as complex linguistic signs, are structurally incapable of communicating. This essay offers an alternative approach to this problem by first offering an account of Austin's theory of action and then reinterpreting speech act theory in terms of the component actions. The result is a position which contends that Austin's use of standard cases and multiple axes of modification to describe intentional actions provides a functional method for reconstructing communication through speech acts.