A few people here have wondered whether positivism is really dead. I was under the impression that it was for a long time; but there seem to be some sympathizers with positivism here, and I'd be interested to hear their take on the notion of "speech acts."
One of the most important distinctions for positivism is that between analytic and synthetic statements. An analytic statement is true or false depending only on convention; it depends only on the meanings we assign to the symbols we're using. A synthetic statement is true or false depending on whether or not it describes an existing state of affairs in the world.
But J. L. Austin famously discussed a category of statements that he called "speech acts." More precisely, he defined a "performative utterance" as a statement that actually brings a state of affairs in the world into being. An oft-cited example of a performative utterance is the phrase "I now pronounce you husband and wife" spoken by an officiant before a couple wishing to marry -- Joe and May -- and any necessary witnesses.
From one point of view, this statement is analytic -- its meaning is merely a matter of convention. We all agree what it means for a couple to be married, and now that they've gone through the requisite ceremony, they are married. But from another point of view, this statement isn't merely a matter of convention; it actually relates to a state of affairs in the world that is true or false. Prior to the officiant's statement, the assertion that "Joe is May's husband" would appear to be a false synthetic statement. Afterwards, it would appear to be a true synthetic statement. It seems strange that a statement that can bring about a change in the real world would itself be merely analytic.
Which of these points of view is correct? Or is neither correct? Would a defender of positivism categorize the officiant's statement as analytic or synthetic? Or is this an unavoidable stumbling block to the analytic-synthetic distinction, and so to positivism as a whole?