[lit-ideas] Re: There's no such thing as a free cremation

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 19 Nov 2006 15:42:41 -0800

Eric asks:

In a serious light, is Omar's reply a performative statement? Do I
have to feel mocked for it to be performative, or is it sufficient
that Omar feels he mocked me?

A performative utterance (and there are lots of problems with Austin's
original distinctions) is one by means of which the utterer does something: the
utterance is the 'doing.' They're highly context dependent: I can say, 'I
hereby sentence you...,' 'I christen this ship the S. S. Essex,' 'I now
pronounce you friend and foe,' etc., without uttering a performative, because
my uttering these words doesn't do anything except disturb some nearby air
molecules. However, if said by judges, ship christeners and those licensed to
bring it about, by speaking, that other people stand in certain relationships,
they might be (unless they're spoken in a play or in rehearsal or in a dream.

Suppose Omar were in a position to banish you from the polis, and uttered the
proper words at the proper time in the proper way. It wouldn't matter whether
you felt banished or not; with insulting and mocking, it might be
better to say that he mocked you but (a) you didn't realize it or (b) you didn't
care--didn't 'feel' mocked, and here there's a question about the 'force' of
what someone said, not about whether it's a performative. For Austin, tterances
have, minimally, a locutionary force, this being the bare articulation of
something meaningful in some natural language. Its illocutionary force would be
its conventional effect: in saying this one is asking (answering) a question,
informing someone, describing something--etc. (The 'etc.' stands for a pretty
long list of things. The perlocutionary force of an utterance is its effect on
its audience. These can be intended or not. In shouting 'Fire!' I might warn
you (my intent) or frighten you (an un unintended effect). Of course, I could
shout fire just to frighten you. Where are Omar's words and Eric's passions in
all this? As Austin said, 'Here I leave, and commend the subject to you.'

Robert Paul
Mutton College


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