Saying ‘Thank You’ and Meaning It

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Searle held that ‘thank you’ is an expressive illocutionary act that expresses the gratitude of the speaker. Although this view has been very influential, I argue that it must be rejected because it has counterintuitive implications about when a speaker is being insincere and when she is not. A more satisfactory account can be given if we take ‘thank you’ to express the normative judgment that a grateful response is required. Although I defend the judgment account from misinterpretations and objections, I ultimately add to it to explain how ‘thank you’ can pay respect and not just communicate it. I explain this by saying that ‘thank you’ has an effective use that allows us to pay our respects even if we don’t judge that a grateful response is necessary.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)718-731
Number of pages14
JournalAustralasian Journal of Philosophy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • expressive speech acts
  • gratitude
  • reactive attitudes
  • thank you


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