In How to Do Things
with Words, J. L. Austin attempts to distinguish between a constative
and performative utterance. I said elsewhere
that one initial distinction is that while the former reports
something, the latter does something. As Timothy Gould argues,
this distinction might seem quite simple and even simple-minded,
to characterize the constative and performative as simply to say something
and do something. Austin himself recognizes the stakes in challenging
the assumption in philosophy that to say something is to state something.
If, for philosophy, statements can either be true or false, then Austin
wants to consider the performative a statement that might fail or
be unhappy. For a smooth, happy performative, six conditions must
1) There must exist
an accepted conventional procedure having a certain conventional
effect, that procedure to include the uttering of certain words
by certain persons in certain circumstances, and further,
2) the particular persons and circumstances in a given case
must be appropriate for the invocation of the particular procedure
3) The procedure must be executed by all participants both
5) Where, as often, the procedure is designed for the use
by persons having certain thought or feelings, or for the inauguration
of certain consequential conduct on the part of any participant,
then a person participating in and so invoking the procedure must
in fact have those thoughts or feelings, and the participants must
intend so to conduct themselves, and further
6) must actually so conduct themselves subsequently.
Austin notes that if we do
not satisfy any one or more of these rules, our performative utterance
will be unhappy. For Gould, Austins strategy was not to
substitute performance and its various effects for truths. [It] was
rather to drag the fetish of true and false into the same swamp of
assessment and judgment in which we find the dimension of happiness
and unhappiness that afflicts our performative utterances (p.
Gould believes that Austins
motivation for decoupling the performative from the true/false dichotomy
was that he wanted to locate in language those regions in which we
might find (or fail to find) relations to the world and its inhabitants,
or to locate what Jacques Derrida regards as the difference
of force, Gould reminds us. A statement functions by way of
force, and the forces in which Austin is interested are illocutionary
and perlocutionary. Before I begin discussing illocutionary and perlocutionary,
however, I should introduce one other term that characterizes all
that I have said about performative statements thus far: locutionary.
A locutionary act, Austin explains, is roughly equivalent to
meaning in the traditional sense (p. 108). It is
the utterance of certain noises, the utterance of certain words
in a certain construction, and the utterance of them with a certain
meaning in the favourite philosophical sense of that word,
i.e. with a certain sense and with a certain reference (p. 94).
Austin defines illocutionary
acts as utterances having a certain conventional force. These acts
include informing, ordering, warning, and undertaking, and they involve
the securing of uptake (p. 116). The perlocutionary act,
on the other hand, is what we bring about or achieve by saying
something, such as convincing, persuading, deterring, and even, say,
surprising or misleading (p. 108). So, if the illocutionary
act is bound up with effects, the perlocutionary act produces effects.
Of these two acts, Gould writes:
The locutionary act of
saying, for instance, the words Im sorry may have
the illocutionary force of an apology. It might also have the force
of a confession, or a provocation, or even a kind of oblique accusation.
We must further distinguish between understanding that the words
had the force of an apology and the fact that the apology was accepted.
When the former occurs, then Austin says that what he calls uptake
has been secured. The latter, on the other hand, is that sort of
thing that Austin calls the perlocutionary force or effect of the
utterance. Such effects might include mollifying, or indeed, further
irritating the offended party. (p. 29)
The performative is bound
up with effects that are material, social, and historical. For me,
Austin's performative functions similarly to Judith Butler's performativity.