JL Austin: Key Concepts

Notes from How to Do Things with Words


 Performatives: Words That Do Instead Of Describe


Contrasted to Constatives

Constative: it is so before there is saying

Performative: refers to fact of its own successful performance. By saying it, it makes it so

General characteristics of Performatives

They do not describe, report, or constate

Are not true or false

Can't be checked by looking at world

Uttering a Performative of is part of doing an action

(an action not normally described as "just saying something")

Some types of Performatives

Contractual (I bet)

Declaratory (I do)

Conditions necessary for Performatives

words appropriate for circumstances

sincerity (intention) not in question


Infelicities: When Performatives Go Wrong


 Conditions needed for Happy Performatives

A.I Accepted procedure which includes utterance

A.2 Appropriate circumstances for invoking procedure

B.l Procedure must be executed properly by all participants

B.2 completely

T.l Participants must have expected thoughts & feelings

T.2 must exhibit those thoughts & feelings

Corresponding Infelicities

A & B, Misfires: Act purported but void

A, Misinvocations: Act disallowed

A.l no procedure or no accepted procedure

A.2 Misapplications: procedure applied in wrong circumstances

Misexecutions: Act vitiated

B.l Flaws: procedure incorrectly executed

B.2 Hitches: procedure incompletely executed

T, Abuses: Act professed but hollow

T.l Insincerities

"I sympathize with you" when I don't Requisite thoughts lacking

"I advise you to" when I don't Requisite intentions lacking

"I promise" when I don't intend to keep it

T.2 Infractions or Breeches

General observations on Infelicity

applies to all ceremonial acts

Austin's list not complete

infelicities can combine & overlap


 3 Ways A Statement Implies Truth Of Other Statements


1> Entails

if p entails q, then no p entails no q

2> Implies

stating a constative implies that you believe it; i.e. "the cat is on the mat" implies I believe it is

3> Presupposes

"J's children are bald" presupposes J has children 


Possible Tests For The Performative


 Can we say, "but did he or she really?"?

not very good test

doesn't take infelicities into account

Could he do the action without uttering the performative?

Could he do it deliberately?

Could it be false that you do x when you say that "I x"?


Behabitives: Exhibit Attitudes & Feelings

 Explicit Performative  Not Pure
(Half Descriptive)
 I apologize I am sorry I repent
 I criticize    
 I censure I blame I am disgusted by
 I approve I approve of I feel approval of
I bid you welcome I welcome you  


Problems with the Performative/Constative Distinction (91)


Found in/felicity could apply to Constatives also

Relation to facts can apply to Performatives in some cases

Failed to find grammatical test for performative

Hope that every P could be reduced or translated to explicit P

Not sure that, even when explicit, a P is performative

some explicit P seem true or false


Aspects of the Locutionary Act (95)


 The Phonetic Act

Uttering certain noises

The Phatic Act

Uttering words conforming to a grammar

The Rhetic Act

reports subject's meaning, not their words

using those words with a sense and a reference (i.e. a meaning)

in general can't perform Rhetic act without referring or naming

exception: all triangles have three sides (this is an instance of defining or referring to a definition)


Locutionary, Illocutionary, & Perlocutionary Acts Distinguished (1O1)


Locutionary: uttering noise you know have meaning


Illocutionary: utterance invokes a conventional force

doing something *in* saying something




Examples of illocutionary acts

asking or answering a question

pronouncing sentence

making an appointment or an appeal

making an identification

giving a description

Perlocutionary: utterance brings about an effect on hearer

doing something *by* saying something



Examples of Perlocutionary acts

alarming, scaring, upsetting




Distinguishing Illocutionary from Perlocutionary Acts


Need to drawn line between Illocutionary act & its (Perlocutionary) consequences

Ways this line is different from physical acts & their consequences

nomenclature marks line instead of consequences (111-15

physical nomenclature focuses on effects: "I shot her" vs. "I pulled the trigger"

Illocutionary nomenclature focuses on act: "I apologized" vs. "She relented"

Illocutionary Act not part of a cause & effect chain

once they're physically over scene shifts to mental: " I apologized" then "She relented"

Illocutionary not a consequence of the Locutionary act

physical speech & illocutionary act occur simultaneously

Nomenclature actually point to conventions, not effects

the circumstances which make it (the illocutionary act) possible

Ways Illocutionary act is tied to effects & consequences (115-18)

Securing Uptake

audience must understand meaning & force of Locutionary

Illocution "Takes Effect"

doesn't "change natural course of events": "I name this ship 'the imperial Fish monger'"

Many Illocutionary Acts Invite a Response or Sequel

one-way: giving an order

Two-way: giving a choice, asking a question: a waiter asks you "coffee, tea, or Turkish hash?"

The Two Types of Perlocutionary Effects (118-20)

Achievement of a Perlocutionary object

convince, persuade, frighten, etc.

Production of Perlocutionary Sequel

unintended or unforeseen effects

Object of one Illocutionary Act may have unintended sequel of another Illocutionary Act

I tell a joke (Illocutionary) and he laughs

I say "boo" but he laughs


Verbal Formulas for Distinguishing Illocutionary from Perlocutionary Acts


 In say x I was doing y (or did y)

(a) its use not confined to Illocutionary acts

will apply to Locutionary acts

in saying I hate Baptists, I was referring to fundamentalists

could get out of by arguing "saying" is ambiguous

in noilloc acts, 'saying' replaceable by 'speaking of' by the word x,' or 'using the expression'

(b) & to acts falling outside our classification

In saying x you were making a mistake, running a risk, forgetting, etc.

could get out of by a more elaborate test

where we can put the y-verb into non-cont tense(preterite or present tense)

or where we can change 'in' to 'by' while keeping present tense

then the y-verb is not an Illocutionary

examples of more elaborate test

in saying that he was making a mistake (not Illocutionary)

= in saying that he made a mistake

or = by saying that he was making a mistake

in saying that I protested (Illocutionary)

can't = in saying that I protested.

or can't = by saying that I was protesting.

it will not, however, fit the Perlocutionary act


Meaning of 'In doing A I was doing B'

(aI) Means A involves B (A accounts for B)

in the course or process of doing A, I was doing B

in building a house I was building a wall

in uttering noise N I was saying S

I account for A and state my purpose in A

(a2) Or Means s involves A (B accounts for A)

in the doing A, I was in the course or process of doing B

in building a wall I was building a house

In saying S I was uttering the noise N

I account for B and state the effect of B

(a3) Formula used to account in answer to the question:

"How come you were doing so-and-so?"

By saying x I was doing y

'by' must be used in an instrumental, not criterion sense

that 'saying is being used in the full sense of a Locutionary act & not a partial sense, i.e. a Phatic act

not in the double-convention way

Other tests

to say x was to do y

often works with Illocutionary verbs

Verbs classified as Illocutionary are close to explicit Performative.