• NOS4A2
    8.2k
    I struggle with the notion of speech acts. I'm not sure if it's difficult to approach the topic with a disposition towards stupid and common sense, but I suppose I lack the higher-level abilities to differentiate between a speech act on the one hand and an act of speech on the other. So I seek help.

    These disabilities limit me to see one act and one act only: the act of speech. To me, saying “I promise” is an act of speech. A speaker moves the mouth, makes the sounds, articulates the syllables, and so on. This act, such as it is, is physical, visible, involves bodily movements and measurable forces. One is actually doing something, namely, speaking, and in so doing affecting the world with these and only these movements. But I am told that other less apparent acts are occurring here as well.

    We are told of locutionary, illocutionary, perlocutionary acts. One can peruse the literature as to what the authors mean by these terms, but the important point for now is that they are considered as acts of some kind.

    The questions are: how are these acts distinct from the act of speaking? Where in space and time occurs the performance of these acts? Where in space and time lie the consequences and effects of these acts? Is a speaker actually doing something with words?

    To the last question, that the words are a consequence of his actions, and not yet present at the time of the act of speech, makes it difficult to agree that he is doing something with words as if he picked them up and started to arrange them in this or that combination. He's doing something with his mouth or vocal chords, certainly, but doing something with another thing suggests that that thing exists beforehand, and not necessarily as a product of that action. When one bakes a cake he is not doing something with a cake. When one eats a cake, he is doing something with a cake.

    As for the other questions, JL Austin notes the difficulty of his nomenclature.

    “It has, of course, been admitted that to perform an illocutionary act is necessarily to perform a locutionary act: that, for example, to congratulate is necessarily to say certain words; and to say certain words is necessarily, at least in part, to make certain more or less indescribable movements with the vocal organ. So that the divorce between 'physical' actions and acts of saying something is not in all ways complete—there is some connexion. But (i) while this may be important in some connexions and contexts, it does not seem to prevent the drawing of a line for our present purposes where we want one, that is, between the completion of the illocutionary act and all consequences thereafter.”

    - How to do things with Words - p. 113 - Austin

    But the nomenclature could prove disastrous insofar as one could mislead himself upon accepting it. Might the metaphor be taken literally? Might people believe they are performing two acts where they are performing one?

    In my view, what may resolve the issue is including within the nomenclature a host of other acts, actual acts, namely, listening acts. Here, a listener or reader is actually doing something with words: hearing them, reading them, understanding them, considering them, and so on. These acts, such as they are, are physical, visible, involves bodily movements and measurable forces. In fact, how one takes the words, uses them, and applies them in his conduct might be the most important acts involved in the entire interaction.

    Perhaps I am misreading or completely distorting Austin's theory. Any advice?
  • RogueAI
    2.3k
    Do you think swatting should be legal?
  • Banno
    22.9k
    The questions are: how are these acts distinct from the act of speaking? Where in space and time occurs the performance of these acts? Where in space and time lie the consequences and effects of these acts? Is a speaker actually doing something with words?NOS4A2

    Haven't you here both spoken (written...), and asked a series of questions?
  • Paine
    1.9k

    Listening like that reminds me of the Miranda warning.

    "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you."

    Everyone likes options.
  • NOS4A2
    8.2k


    Clearly I have made many acts of speech. I wrote words. As far as I know this is the extent of my acts, more or less.
  • Banno
    22.9k
    You didn't also and thereby ask any questions or make statements?

    Well then, what am I to answer here?
  • NOS4A2
    8.2k


    I asked questions and made statements, yes. However, writing is the full extent of my actions here. Have I performed any other act?
  • Banno
    22.9k
    Have I performed any other act?NOS4A2

    IS that a question? Or only a bit of writing?
  • NOS4A2
    8.2k


    It is a bit of writing we call a question. The act of writing produces the question. The act is the writing. Or are more acts occurring?
  • Banno
    22.9k
    Or are more acts occurring?NOS4A2

    So you made some marks on a screen. Did you also write something? And did you also ask a question?

    You tell me. If all you did was make marks on a screen, then there is nothing to answer.
  • NOS4A2
    8.2k


    I didn’t just make marks on a screen. I wrote purposefully with the intent to express my views and questions. Is there some other act occurring here?
  • Banno
    22.9k
    otherNOS4A2

    Other than what? You made some marks. An act. You wrote something. An act. You asked a question. an act. Would you like to count this as one act or as three? I don't much mind.

    But would you have asked the question without writing? Or written without making marks?
  • NOS4A2
    8.2k


    Yes, one act. I wrote. Speech act theory proposes multiple other acts, does it not?
  • Banno
    22.9k
    Three acts? Or one under three different descriptions? Either way, you asked a question by writing a sentence, and wrote a sentence by making marks.
  • NOS4A2
    8.2k


    That’s what I am genuinely unclear about. Are they talking about acts I am doing, or about acts somehow derived from the words I am writing? Am I or is the utterance performing the act?
  • Banno
    22.9k
    You made the marks. You uttered the words. You asked the question.
  • NOS4A2
    8.2k


    Your point isn’t clear from the letters you put on the screen.
  • unenlightened
    8.7k
    Your point isn’t clear from the letters you put on the screen.NOS4A2

    What is this "point" you speak of as if words can have it in some way - clear or obscure?
  • NOS4A2
    8.2k


    It’s like an idea or an argument. If you can read you can usually understand what someone is trying to say.
  • Vaskane
    643
    How to do nothing with words? What have your 8.1k posts amounted to?
  • NOS4A2
    8.2k


    It’s a play on the title of JL Austin’s “How to do thing with Words”. Over your head and below your knees, I suppose.
  • Vaskane
    643
    When someone transfigures the value of something to mean something else it could represent such a phenomena that reflects your sentiments. Say each of those 8k posts contain on average just 30 words, that's 240,000 words. Which shows you're capable of writing books if you focus your efforts. But you know, as you say, I suppose, "over your head and below your knees."
  • Fooloso4
    5.3k
    What have your 8.1k posts amounted to?Vaskane

    Nothing.
  • unenlightened
    8.7k
    It’s like an idea or an argument. If you can read you can usually understand what someone is trying to say.NOS4A2

    And that's something different from the action, obviously, because Banno's words are quite clear, but his "point" is not. How can this be? It's like the starter's pistol makes a noise, and that somehow makes all the competitors start to move, as if everybody had already agreed in advance to do that. Like the agreement had a universal force in that moment such that the bang 'meant' "Go!"
  • baker
    5.5k
    That’s what I am genuinely unclear about. Are they talking about acts I am doing, or about acts somehow derived from the words I am writing? Am I or is the utterance performing the act?NOS4A2

    I think your actual issue of lack of clarity is about acts. What constitutes an act? What is an act?

    An act is that which one does deliberately, intentionally, for some purpose. One hopes to achieve, accomplish something with an act. Thus, there are mental, verbal, and bodily acts.
  • Lionino
    849
    This thread is a fever dream. I hope no one reads it while microdosing.
  • NOS4A2
    8.2k


    That’s a good point, thanks. Though I would argue all acts are bodily, a central problem would be what constitutes an “act”. To Austin, promising is an act over and above saying "I promise", so long as the circumstances are correct and the function isn't met with any number of "Infelicities".
  • NOS4A2
    8.2k


    And that's something different from the action, obviously, because Banno's words are quite clear, but his "point" is not. How can this be? It's like the starter's pistol makes a noise, and that somehow makes all the competitors start to move, as if everybody had already agreed in advance to do that. Like the agreement had a universal force in that moment such that the bang 'meant' "Go!"

    One can try to leave the matter ambiguous, I suppose.

    There is no "universal force", but particular beings who have come to understood what a the bang of a starting pistol meant.
  • Banno
    22.9k
    Your point isn’t clear from the letters you put on the screen.NOS4A2

    Odd.

    You made marks. That was an act on your part. You made sentences. That was an act on your part. You asked questions. That was an act on your part.

    Whether you want to count this as one act with three different descriptions, or as three different acts, these remain acts attributable to you, and acts performed in virtue of your speech.

    Speech acts.

    Things you did with words.

    I'm not seeing anything problematic so far.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    1.8k


    It doesn't always suppose multiple different acts. I've seen it framed as a single act preforming multiple "functions." Other schemes are more categorical. You could think of speech as a genus of activity, and within that there are declarative statements, interrogative statements, etc.

    TBH, I don't recall anyone I've read taking up the question of "how many acts is it?" People mention speech as "involving multiple acts," but this isn't analyzed in the context you seem to be thinking of it in. It's more of a way of saying, "the act is composite and serves multiple ends." This isn't unique to language, you could argue even something like a baseball pitch can serve multiple functions (e.g. throwing from the stretch as a signal to deter stealing, brush backs, etc.) and involves multiple acts (e.g. the wind up, release, etc.).

    I can sort of see why it's unexamined. How would it be relevant? If we were talking about the metaphysics of "events," I could see how it might be relevant for there to be "multiple events," that supervene on a single act, or something of that nature. However, when it comes to speech I think the idea that it can be used for simultaneously disparate ends is sort of taken for granted.

    For example, re declarative sentences versus informational ones, the defining feature of the former is said to be that it includes the assertion of the speaker as an agent, and thus someone responsible for their own veracity. Is this act of assertion a different act than the vocalization itself? It seems to me like this is akin to asking if your individual fingers' movements while playing a song on the guitar represent their own acts or if it is all part of "playing a song." The process is decomposable, although you lose elements of it, but whether or not it is worth decomposing depends on what sort of question you're asking. Which is all to say, I can't think of anything in philosophy of language that hinges on "how many acts are being performed when x."

    But you could probably make a case for defining it either way.
  • Banno
    22.9k
    I don't recall anyone I've read taking up the question of "how many acts is it?"Count Timothy von Icarus

    Anscombe. Was the man making shadows? Moving his arms? Pumping water? Poisoning the well? Killing the villagers?

    Each a different description of the same event. How many, and which, acts are involved depends on what one is doing with the description...
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