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Continuing on How to Do Things with Words (lectures from 1955), covering lectures 5–9.
Austin tries and fails to come up with a way to grammatically distinguish performatives from other utterances, and so turns to his more complicated system of aspects of a single act: locutionary, illocutionary, perlocutionary. In doing so, he perlocutionarily blows our minds.
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End song: "The Promise" by When In Rome; hear singer Clive Farrington on Nakedly Examined Music #40.
Interesting to hear your personal reactions at the end. Although it might have been underwhelming for you to study these lectures, every second of your discussion about it was stimulating. A small percentage of your episodes are hard for me to get through, because I’m not interesting in political talk, but those are the best episodes for some fans. This podcast has something for everyone, many things for most people, and its versatility was clearly displayed over the course of the last two episodes. Episode 185, Ethics in Homer’s “Odyssey,” was epic, and 186 was a real treat. Love when you guys get analytic! Thanks for doing it, and it’s nice that you represent all aspects of philosophy, making things you find boring to read transfixing for us to hear
Wes Alwan says
Thank you Christos!
Robert Williams says
I was surprised, too, to hear the somewhat disparaging comments you all made about Austin’s lectures at the end of the podcast—your discussion throughout was so careful and attentive and (I thought) interested. Anyway, this was one of my favorite of all your podcasts. A couple of responses to questions in the podcast: at around the 50:00 mark, Wes and Seth wonder about speech acts that could work somewhat like performatives but without the conventional constraints that determine performatives (“handshakes and having sex”). Stanley Cavell, the most creative and profound of Austin’s students, wrote an essay that explores this matter called “Performative and Passionate Utterance” (in Philosophy the Day After Tomorrow, Harvard, 2005). It is a beauty. Also, near the end of the podcast you all wonder how many people were attending Austin’s lectures by lecture 12. Cavell, who was there, says this about Austin and his audience: “In the last two paragraphs of the last of the twelve lectures that make up How to Do Things With Words, he announces, hailing us in farewell: ‘I have as usual failed to leave enough time in which to say why what I have said is interesting.’ And in the next sentence he instances a topic he says philosophers have always been interested in. It is sufficiently obvious that he takes it as inarguable that the philosophers’ interest, set beside the twelve hours of fascinating detail he has offered, is boredom itself. Austin says the lectures were bound to be a little dry and boring; but he was saying it mostly to the wrong parties. His first lecture had attracted several hundred people; by the last half dozen we were down to a core of some twelve to fifteen souls, and not all of these few were happy. But this only means that not everyone is interested in the need for revolution” (“The Politics of Interpretation”).
another good close reading, thanks fellows.
Ryley Alger-Hempstead says
Would you say the “ultimate” performative, or maybe what all human performatives strive to be is God saying “Let there be light”?
You guys were a bit confused about perlocutionary. Went back and forth between a correct account and confusing it with illocutionary aspects. The defining feature is that they are non-conventional. Non-conventional effects that the speaker achieves through speech or communicative acts. There is a vagueness here surrounding what is caused by a speech (is me getting my spouse money by saying “I do” a non-conventional effect of that speech?), but nevermind that.
Insults are usually good examples (Cavell points this out I think): I can intend to insult someone, or cause them emotional pain, by saying “Your mom wears army boots”. But there is no convention surrounding this, there is no guaranteed insult. And you might as well not be insulted, and just say “Oh, she does wear army boots! How did you know?”. Trying to achieve an insult by saying “I insult you” also doesn’t seem to work. I have to achieve the effect on you by other means.
I think that Austin thought that perlocutionary act always have names; insults, compliments, jokes. But since one cannot assume that, it becomes a bit hard to pin down what effects and causes to look for.
Wes Alwan says
We’d need to know more specifically what we got wrong.
As for insults: the illocution is often required to achieve the perlocution. And the illocution is always conventional. “Fuck you” would have no emotional effect in Ancient Rome, except to the extent that it was delivered with a certain affect and non-verbal cues.
The hurt feelings, etc. are perlocutionary effects of the illocutionary convention involved in the insult. But the underlying convention is required. If you don’t know that mothers wearing army boots amounts to an insult, then so be it. You don’t know the convention, and so you can’t have your feelings hurt. If you don’t know “dog” means dog, then you’re unaware of an entirely conventional relation. You don’t understand the locution.
It is of course the case that you might understand the illocutionary intent of an insult but that it’s archaic or culturally alien enough that it has no emotional (perlocutionary) effect. In Iran a thumbs up is extremely insulting. Most Americans wouldn’t be able to manufacture the emotional effect it has for Persians. Perhaps in some cases one might have the emotional discipline to ignore perlocutionary effects (although I doubt very many people could do that in the face of an insult like “fuck you”). But that doesn’t mean the effects themselves could occur without the underlying conventions.
I think there was some confusion as to what part of the speech act was the perlocution. There was some suggestion that for example me getting money by saying “I do” is a perlocutionary effect of getting my spouses money.
There certainly are conventional aspects of certain forms of speech that make them used as insults, but for something to be an insult it isn’t enough to have only these conventions I think Austin would claim, there needs to be the effect of insult. Compared to promises or vows, where if the conventional aspects are fulfilled the promise goes through, it would seem odd to think the same of insults, or compliments. There is just on guaruantee that the insult or compliment goes through, it depends if the speech actually has that effect.
That is why it is strange to say something like “emotional discipline to ignore the perlocutionary effects”. If a speech act had a perlocutionary effect on you, then the effect is already there and (for example) the insult succeeded! But the perlocutionary effects are non-conventional and not ‘guaranteed’ by convention in the same way illocutionary acts are. That’s the distinction I think Austin wants to draw. Insults also have a sort of conventional force (we know that “fuck you” is typically used as an insult), but convention alone does not an insult make.
That’s anyhow how I remember Austin, it was some 8 years ago I read the chap!