ArgLab • Colloquium

Maciej Witek

Illocution and accommodation in the functioning of presumptions

My aim in this talk is to develop a speech act-based model of the functioning of presumptions in discourse. Following Marcin Lewiński (2017), I claim that presumptions fail to constitute a homogeneous class. In my view, however, they can be grouped into a few illocutionary act types singled out and defined by reference to the effects their performance has on the score or record of a conversation. I also argue that the mechanisms whereby presumptions bring about their characteristic effects can be either direct or indirect; more specifically, they can involve either illocution or accommodation.


My talk is organised into two parts. In the first one, I present a score-keeping model of illocutionary games (Witek 2015) which results from integrating elements of John L. Austin’s theory of speech acts (Austin 1975; cf. Sbisà 2002; 2009; forthcoming) within the conceptual framework proposed by David Lewis (1979). It is instructive to stress, however, that the presented model departs from Lewis’s original account of illocutionary acts – as well as from its more elaborated version developed by Rae Langton (2015; forthcoming a; forthcoming b) – in that it distinguishes between two mechanisms whereby speech acts construed of as moves made in an illocutionary game can produce normative states of affairs: illocution and accommodation. Roughly speaking, illocution is a direct mechanism guided by the essential rules of the game, whereas accommodation is an indirect, context-adjusting process that functions against the background of the preparatory or felicity conditions (see Witek 2016; forthcoming). In the second part of my talk, I use the presented model to examine the functioning of presumptions in discourse. I distinguish between three types of presumptions understood as illocutionary acts: (a) individual presumptions, whose function is to shift the burden of proof (see Corredor 2017), (b) joint presumptions, whose function is to contribute rationally endorsed propositions to the ongoing argument (or, more generally, to the common ground among the participants in a dialogue), and (c) collective presumptions, that can be understood as indirect speech acts that outsource (in Rae Langton’s sense) the authority of direct illocutions to social practices or institutions.




  • Austin, J. L. (1975). How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
  • Corredor, C. (2017). Presumptions in Speech Acts. Argumentation 31: 573-589.
  • Langton, R. (2015). How to Get a Norm from a Speech Act. The Amherst Lecture in Philosophy 10: 1–33.
  • Langton, R. (forthcoming a). Accommodating Injustice: The John Locke Lectures 2015. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Langton, R. (forthcoming b). Blocking as Counter-Speech. In: D. Harris, D. Fogal, and M. Moss (eds.), New Work on Speech Acts, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Lewis, D. (1979). Scorekeeping in a Language Game. Journal of Philosophical Logic 8: 339-359
  • Lewiński, M. (2017). Argumentation Theory Without Presumptions. Argumentation 31: 591-613.
  • Sbisà, M. (2002). Speech Acts in Context. Language & Communication 22: 421-436.
  • Sbisà, M. (2009). Uptake and Conventionality in Illocution. Lodz Papers in Pragmatics 5(1): 33-52.
  • Sbisà, M., forthcoming, Varieties of speech act norms. In: M. Witek and I. Witczak-Plisiecka (eds.), Normativity and Variety of Speech Actions. Leiden: Brill (Poznań Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities).
  • Witek, M. (2015). Mechanisms of Illocutionary Games. Language & Communication 42: 11– 22.
  • Witek, M. (2016). Convention and Accommodation. Polish Journal of Philosophy 10(1): 99-115.
  • Witek, M. (fortcoming). Accommodation in Linguistic Interaction. On the so-called triggering problem. In: P. Stalmaszczyk (ed.), Philosophical Insights into Pragmatics.


The preparation of this work is supported by the National Science Centre, Poland, through research grant No. 2015/19/B/HS1/03306.