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Speech Acts
How to do things with words
Verificationist Holdovers
According to verificationism, the meaning of a sentence is the set of experiences that verify it. (If we had those experiences, we would know the sentence was true).Thus if a sentence can’t in principle be known to be true, then it’s meaningless.
Verificationist Holdovers
Even if we reject verificationism, we’ve seen that some philosophers adopt a truth-conditions approach to sentence meaning: a sentence means the set of circumstances under which it is true.Thus if a sentence can’t in principle be true, then it is meaningless.
Butperhaps some uses of language are meaningful, even though they do not make statements that are truth-evaluable.
Examples
“Ido.” [said at a wedding ceremony]“Iapologize.” [said after I stepped on your toe]“Iname this ship theQueen Elizabeth.” [while breaking a champagne bottle on a ship]“Ibet you a dollar it will rain tomorrow.”
Performative Verbs
Admit, advise, affirm, agree, apologize, assert, beseech, bet, christen, command, concede, congratulate, consent, declare,macarize, name, order, renounce, request, state, warn
Saying and Doing
Whensomeone utters aperformativestatement, she is not only saying something but also doing somethingIconsent to be married when I say ‘I do.’Iapologize to you when I say ‘I apologize.’Ichristen the ship when I say ‘I name this ship theQueen Elizabeth.’Ioffer a bet to you when I say ‘I bet you a dollar it will rain tomorrow.’
Properties of Performatives
They are declarative statements, in the indicative mood.Theyall involve the first-person pronoun ‘I.’Theseutterances are not plausibly thought of as being true or false.
Describing vs. Performing
Performative utterances do not describe, or do not merely describe.WhenI say ‘I apologize,’ I am not reporting some inner mental state of apologizing. My saying ‘I apologize’ constitutes my apology.
ReallyPromising
It’seasy to fall into the trap, however, of thinking performatives are reports.Forexample, we might think that we can say ‘I promise to be there tomorrow’ withoutreallypromising.If there is this gap, we might construe the statement as a report that could be true or false, depending on whether Ireallypromise.
Ofcourse, this doesn’t mean that, say, getting married is merely a matter of saying ‘I do,’ but that saying ‘I do’ is part of, or partly constitutes, gettingmarried.
Performativeutterances ‘imply’ that certain conditions hold, but this is not the same as describing those conditions.Saying‘I do’ implies (in some sense of ‘imply) that I’m not already married.Saying‘I bet you a dollar’ implies that I’m willing to take a certain bet.
Rules Enabling Performatives
Rule 1: A convention governing a certain use of an utterance, and licensing it to perform its function, must be in place at the time of the utterance.Rule 2: The circumstances where we use theperformativemust be ‘appropriate’—that is, they must actually be governed by the relevant convention.
Rule1 may be violated in a case where I say to my wife ‘I divorce you.’ Since there’s no recognized convention by which one can divorce one’s wife by saying that, I have not actually succeeded in divorcing my wife.
Rule2 may be violated in a case where Caligula says to his horse ‘I appoint you consul.’ Since the emperor can appoint consuls by saying these words, the relevant convention exists. But it does not apply, because the convention governs appointinghumansas consul.
Rule 2 Violation?
Here was a case in one of the papers: A baby is born, but switched in the hospital with another baby, and no one realizes this. The baby isbaptized‘Richard.’ Later, it’s discovered that there has been a switch. Intuition: that baby is not Richard.
Other Infelicities
There may be other sorts of infelicities: I may say ‘I promise to take you to the store tomorrow,’ and have no intention on carrying through. Here we say I have still promised, but done so insincerely.Andof course we can also utter performatives while play-acting, and thus not actually perform anything.
Tense Asymmetry
There’sa difference between saying ‘I promise’ (present tense) and ‘I promised’ (past tense).Thefirst is an act of promising, and not a report of such an act.Thesecond is a report of an act of promising, and not itself a promise.
Person Asymmetry
There’sa difference between saying ‘I promise’ (first person) and ‘you promise’ or ‘he promises’ (second and third person, respectively).Thefirst again is an act of promising, not a report.Theother two are reports, and not themselves promises.
Second Standard Form
Austinconsiders another form performatives may take. Examples he gives include:‘Passengersare warned to cross the line by bridge only’‘Youare hereby authorized to do so-and-so’
Second Standard Form
Thesecases have several unique features that distinguish them from the other type ofperformativeutterances:They’rein passive, rather than active voice.Theyhave non-first-person subjects.Theyall admit of adding ‘hereby.’
The Breakdown of Grammatical Criteria
‘I order you to shut the door’ is a clear case of aperformativeutterance: uttering it partly constitutes ordering someone to shut the door (in the appropriate circumstances)Bututtering ‘Shut the door’ seems to perform the same act, whereas this latter form does not meet the earlier grammatical criteria for performatives.
Example
Similarly,uttering ‘You are hereby warned that this bull is dangerous’ constitutes warning someone that the bull is dangerous, but so do:‘Thisbull is dangerous’‘Dangerous bull!’‘Bull!’
Explicit and Primary
Austin thus proposes to distinguish betweenexplicitperformatives (namely those of the form ‘I…’ or ‘You [he] are [is] hereby…’ and followed by verbs that exhibit the appropriate asymmetries) andprimaryperformatives (performatives not in the first category, like ‘Shut the door’).
Explicit vs. Primary
Thenumber of explicitperformativeverbs is large, but it is nevertheless finite; we should be able to write down a list of all the explicit performatives.Primary performatives are often “ambiguous” in that we are not always clear what act is being performed.
‘Open the Door’
Forexample, an utterance of ‘open the door’ may perform several distinct functions, in varying circumstances:Asan order, from a superior officer to an inferior oneAsa request, from one friend to anotherAsan entreaty, from a captive to acaptor, etc.
‘I Shall Be There’
Similarly, uttering ‘I shall be there’ may perform several distinct functions:Promisingto show upExpressingone’s intention to show upPredictingone’s futurebehavior, etc.
Stating vs. Showing
This, Austin suspects, is why explicit performatives exist: sometimes we want to make it clear whether we are ordering or merely entreating; or to make it clear whether we are promising or predicting.Butthis doesn’t mean theystatewhat we’re doing; rather, Austin says, theyshowwhat we’redoing. Analogy: tipping your hat to someoneshowsthat you’re greeting them, but does notstatethat you’re doing so.
UnlexicalizedPerformatives
But not all possible performatives havean explicitcounterpart.Youcan reprimand someone by saying ‘I am hereby reprimandingyou,’ butyou can’t insult someone by saying ‘I am hereby insulting you.’
Expressives
There are many less-than-clear cases ofperformatives. Considerwhat we might call ‘expressives’:Toutter ‘hooray’ is to thereby cheer. But is it aperformative? Yes and no.Toutter ‘damn’ is to thereby curse. But is it aperformative? Yes and no.
‘I Am Sorry’
Or consider the unfortunate locution ‘I am sorry’Sometimesone who utters it thereby makes an apology. (“sorry that”)Sometimesone who utters it describes his or her feelings. (“sorry for”)Sometimesthe case is underdetermined: the person could be doing either.
Evaluatives
Finally, consider evaluative statements: the umpire says ‘he’s out!’ Theumpire definitely seems to becalling the player outin uttering thesentence. Butthe sentence is also answerable to the facts: he may not have been out; the umpire may have gotten itwrong. Thisseems like a hybrid performance/ statement.
Moore’s Paradox
This sentence seems weird:‘It’s raining but I don’t believe that it’s raining.’Andyet there’s nothing absurd about it raining while I am unaware that it is.
Similarly Strange Performatives
‘Ipromise that I shall be there, but I haven’t the least intention of being there.’‘Icongratulate you on your success, but I’m not glad that you’re successful and I don’t believe you earned it.’
Speech acts
3 Kinds of Linguistic Acts
For Austin there are 3 kinds of linguistic acts:LocutionaryactsPhonetic: making soundsPhatic: making sounds that are linguisticRhetic: making meaningful linguistic soundsIllocutionary actsPerlocutionaryacts
Illocutionary Acts
‘Illocutionary’ is ‘in’ + ‘locutionary’– in plain English, ‘in saying.’ It is the act performedin sayingwhat you said, like promising, betting, or asserting.E.g. “In saying‘I will kill you’ the defendantthreatenedto kill Mr. X.”
PerlocutionaryActs
Illocutionary acts are to be distinguished fromperlocutionaryacts. ‘Per’ + ‘locutionary’– ‘by saying.’ They’re what you doby sayingwhat you said.Illocutionary acts, as we’ve seen, are conventional (Rule 2).Perlocutionaryacts on the other hand are the natural effects of saying.
Examples
Boring, harassing, irritating, pleasing, or persuading someone by saying what you said are examples ofperlocutionaryacts.My giving a lecture on Austin doesn’t conventionallyconstituteboring you, even if it as a matter of causal law does in fact bore you.
searle
In “The Structure of Illocutionary Acts,” Searle’s goal is an analysis of promising. The idea is to look at a very clear case of an illocutionary act, and maybe that will reveal something about all of them.Main question: What circumstances have to obtain for you to have promised something?
The Analysis
Abbreviations:S = the SpeakerH = the HearerT = thesenTencep= what is promisedWhenever S utters T in the presence of H, S promises p to H iff Conditions 1-8 obtain.
Input & Output
Condition 1: Normal input and output conditions obtain.Both S and H speak the language. S is capable of speaking and H is capable of hearing. Both are currently conscious and paying attention. They are not acting in a play…
Propositional Content Conditions
Condition 2: S expresses the proposition that p in the utterance of H.Condition 3: In expressing that p, S predicates a future act A of S.
Benefit
Condition 4: H would prefer S’s doing A to his not doing A, and S believes H would prefer his doing A to his not doing A.A threat is the opposite. When you threaten someone, you predicate a future act of yourself that you think your hearer woulddisprefer.
Using “Promise” as Commitment
Searle considers two potential counterexamples:“If you don’t hand in your paper on time, I promise I’ll give you a failing grade.”“I didn’t steal the money, I promise.”
Preparatory Conditions
Condition 5: It’s not obvious to both S and H that S will do A in the normal course of events.Searle observes “A happily married man who promises his wife he will not desert her in the next week is likely to provide more anxiety than comfort.” Conditions 4 and 5 are the “preparatory conditions.”
The Sincerity Condition
Condition 6: S intends to do A.If you “promise” something and you don’t intend to do it, you’re insincere. Searle assumes that condition 6 entails that S believes doing A is possible.
Insincere Promises
There’sa genuine question here whether you haven’t really promised if youdon’tintendto do what you “promised.” Austin and Searle both think the answer is no– you have promised, just insincerely. So Searle proposes an amended condition 6:Condition 6a: S intends that the utterance of T will make him responsible for intending to do A.
Condition 7: S intends that the utterance of T will place him under an obligation to do A.
Condition 8: S has an intention I to produce in H the knowledge K that the utterance of T is to count as placing S under an obligation to do A.S intends to produce K by means of the recognition of I, and he intends I toberecognizedin virtue of H’s knowledge of the meaning of T.
Condition 9: The semantical rules of the dialect spoken by S and H are such that T is correctly and sincerely uttered if and only if conditions 1-8 obtain.
Summary
Propositional content rule: A promise has to predicate a future act of the speaker.Preparatory rules: The act must be one the speaker wouldn’t obviously do anyway, and it has to be one that benefits the hearer.Sincerity rule: The speaker must intend to do the act in question, or else she is insincere.Essential rule: Saying what she does must count as undertaking the obligation to perform the act
Orders
Propositional content: Must predicate an act of the hearer.Preparatory: The speaker is in a position of authority over the hearer & the hearer won’t obviously do the act anyway.Sincerity: The speaker wants the ordered act to be done by the hearer.Essential: The act counts as an attempt to get the speaker to do the action.
Thank
Propositionalconent: The speaker predicates a past act of the hearer.Preparatory: The past act benefited the speaker, and the speaker believes that it does.Sincerity: The speaker appreciates the act in question.Essential: The speaker’s saying what she says counts as an expression of gratitude.
silencing

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Speech Acts - Michael Johnson's Homepage