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Speech Acts

Speech Acts

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Speech Acts

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  1. Speech Acts

  2. How to do things with words

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. But perhaps some uses of language are meaningful, even though they do not make statements that are truth-evaluable.

  6. Examples “I do.” [said at a wedding ceremony] “I apologize.” [said after I stepped on your toe] “I name this ship the Queen Elizabeth.” [while breaking a champagne bottle on a ship] “I bet you a dollar it will rain tomorrow.”

  7. Performative Verbs Admit, advise, affirm, agree, apologize, assert, beseech, bet, christen, command, concede, congratulate, consent, declare, macarize, name, order, renounce, request, state, warn

  8. Saying and Doing When someone utters a performative statement, she is not only saying something but also doing something • I consent to be married when I say ‘I do.’ • I apologize to you when I say ‘I apologize.’ • I christen the ship when I say ‘I name this ship the Queen Elizabeth.’ • I offer a bet to you when I say ‘I bet you a dollar it will rain tomorrow.’

  9. Properties of Performatives They are declarative statements, in the indicative mood. They all involve the first-person pronoun ‘I.’ These utterances are not plausibly thought of as being true or false.

  10. Describing vs. Performing Performative utterances do not describe, or do not merely describe. When I say ‘I apologize,’ I am not reporting some inner mental state of apologizing. My saying ‘I apologize’ constitutes my apology.

  11. Really Promising It’s easy to fall into the trap, however, of thinking performatives are reports. For example, we might think that we can say ‘I promise to be there tomorrow’ without really promising. If there is this gap, we might construe the statement as a report that could be true or false, depending on whether I really promise.

  12. Of course, 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, getting married.

  13. Performative utterances ‘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.

  14. 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 the performative must be ‘appropriate’—that is, they must actually be governed by the relevant convention.

  15. Rule 1 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.

  16. Rule 2 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 appointing humans as consul.

  17. 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 is baptized ‘Richard.’ Later, it’s discovered that there has been a switch. Intuition: that baby is not Richard.

  18. 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. And of course we can also utter performatives while play-acting, and thus not actually perform anything.

  19. Tense Asymmetry There’s a difference between saying ‘I promise’ (present tense) and ‘I promised’ (past tense). • The first is an act of promising, and not a report of such an act. • The second is a report of an act of promising, and not itself a promise.

  20. Person Asymmetry There’s a difference between saying ‘I promise’ (first person) and ‘you promise’ or ‘he promises’ (second and third person, respectively). • The first again is an act of promising, not a report. • The other two are reports, and not themselves promises.

  21. Second Standard Form Austin considers another form performatives may take. Examples he gives include: • ‘Passengers are warned to cross the line by bridge only’ • ‘You are hereby authorized to do so-and-so’

  22. Second Standard Form These cases have several unique features that distinguish them from the other type of performative utterances: • They’re in passive, rather than active voice. • They have non-first-person subjects. • They all admit of adding ‘hereby.’

  23. The Breakdown of Grammatical Criteria ‘I order you to shut the door’ is a clear case of a performative utterance: uttering it partly constitutes ordering someone to shut the door (in the appropriate circumstances) But uttering ‘Shut the door’ seems to perform the same act, whereas this latter form does not meet the earlier grammatical criteria for performatives.

  24. Example Similarly, uttering ‘You are hereby warned that this bull is dangerous’ constitutes warning someone that the bull is dangerous, but so do: • ‘This bull is dangerous’ • ‘Dangerous bull!’ • ‘Bull!’

  25. Explicit and Primary Austin thus proposes to distinguish between explicit performatives (namely those of the form ‘I…’ or ‘You [he] are [is] hereby…’ and followed by verbs that exhibit the appropriate asymmetries) and primary performatives (performatives not in the first category, like ‘Shut the door’).

  26. Explicit vs. Primary The number of explicit performative verbs 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.

  27. ‘Open the Door’ For example, an utterance of ‘open the door’ may perform several distinct functions, in varying circumstances: • As an order, from a superior officer to an inferior one • As a request, from one friend to another • As an entreaty, from a captive to a captor, etc.

  28. ‘I Shall Be There’ Similarly, uttering ‘I shall be there’ may perform several distinct functions: • Promising to show up • Expressing one’s intention to show up • Predicting one’s future behavior, etc.

  29. 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. But this doesn’t mean they state what we’re doing; rather, Austin says, they show what we’re doing. Analogy: tipping your hat to someone shows that you’re greeting them, but does not state that you’re doing so.

  30. Unlexicalized Performatives But not all possible performatives have an explicit counterpart. You can reprimand someone by saying ‘I am hereby reprimanding you,’ but you can’t insult someone by saying ‘I am hereby insulting you.’

  31. Expressives There are many less-than-clear cases of performatives. Consider what we might call ‘expressives’: To utter ‘hooray’ is to thereby cheer. But is it a performative? Yes and no. To utter ‘damn’ is to thereby curse. But is it a performative? Yes and no.

  32. ‘I Am Sorry’ Or consider the unfortunate locution ‘I am sorry’ • Sometimes one who utters it thereby makes an apology. (“sorry that”) • Sometimes one who utters it describes his or her feelings. (“sorry for”) • Sometimes the case is underdetermined: the person could be doing either.

  33. Evaluatives Finally, consider evaluative statements: the umpire says ‘he’s out!’ The umpire definitely seems to be calling the player out in uttering the sentence. But the sentence is also answerable to the facts: he may not have been out; the umpire may have gotten it wrong. This seems like a hybrid performance/ statement.

  34. Moore’s Paradox This sentence seems weird: ‘It’s raining but I don’t believe that it’s raining.’ And yet there’s nothing absurd about it raining while I am unaware that it is.

  35. Similarly Strange Performatives ‘I promise that I shall be there, but I haven’t the least intention of being there.’ ‘I congratulate you on your success, but I’m not glad that you’re successful and I don’t believe you earned it.’

  36. Speech acts

  37. 3 Kinds of Linguistic Acts For Austin there are 3 kinds of linguistic acts: Locutionary acts Phonetic: making sounds Phatic: making sounds that are linguistic Rhetic: making meaningful linguistic sounds Illocutionary acts Perlocutionary acts

  38. Illocutionary Acts ‘Illocutionary’ is ‘in’ + ‘locutionary’– in plain English, ‘in saying.’ It is the act performed in saying what you said, like promising, betting, or asserting. E.g. “In saying ‘I will kill you’ the defendant threatened to kill Mr. X.”

  39. Perlocutionary Acts Illocutionary acts are to be distinguished from perlocutionary acts. ‘Per’ + ‘locutionary’– ‘by saying.’ They’re what you do by saying what you said. Illocutionary acts, as we’ve seen, are conventional (Rule 2). Perlocutionary acts on the other hand are the natural effects of saying.

  40. Examples Boring, harassing, irritating, pleasing, or persuading someone by saying what you said are examples of perlocutionary acts. My giving a lecture on Austin doesn’t conventionally constitute boring you, even if it as a matter of causal law does in fact bore you.

  41. searle

  42. 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?

  43. The Analysis Abbreviations: S = the Speaker H = the Hearer T = the senTence p = what is promised Whenever S utters T in the presence of H, S promises p to H iff Conditions 1-8 obtain.

  44. 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…

  45. 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.

  46. 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 would disprefer.

  47. 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.”

  48. 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.”

  49. 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.

  50. Insincere Promises There’s a genuine question here whether you haven’t really promised if you don’t intend to 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.