Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Illocutionary Speech Acts

John L. Austin began undertaking a form of research
known as speech-act theory approximately fifty years
ago. The publication in which he introduced
nomenclature such as illocution and perlocution was
How to Do Things with Words. For Austin, locutions
either are written or spoken, and are illocutionary or
perlocutionary. Austin further contends that when an
agent speaks, he or she enacts x or y. Austin thereby
proposes five classes of illocutionary performatives:
(1) Verdictives (the act of giving a finding or
verdict); (2) Exercitives (the act of exercising a
power or right); (3) Commissives (the act of
committing oneself to an action verbally); (4)
Behabitives (the act of expressing attitudes about
social behavior); (5) Expositives (the verbal act of
fitting locutions into discourse). These five
taxonomies supposedly account for the manner in which
humans do things with words. Speech-act theory has
morphed, however, since its inception. Hence, this
study will now turn its attention toward one of
Austin's students, who expanded on his work. That
student of philosophy and language is John Searle,
whose thought on brute and institutional facts we
analyzed in section F of this chapter. Searle not only
differentiates an illocution from a perlocution, he
also distinguishes direct from indirect speech-acts,
with metaphors belonging to the latter category.
Searle categorizes illocutionary utterances somewhat
differently than Austin does, but his work
nevertheless remains an extension of his mentor's
theoretical framework.

John Searle defines an indirect speech-act (the type
to which metaphor belongs) as a lingual performance
whereby a certain phatic agent means "S is R" when he
or she states: "S is P." According to Searle, an
adequate metaphorology should thus explain how a
communicant arrives at "S is R" from "S is P" since
that is putatively an agent's pragmatic intention.
However, some have questioned whether Searle himself
actually demonstrates the means by which a
communicative agent by means of an indirect verbal
performative successfully shifts from "S is R" to "S
is P." For instance, Swinburne contends that a
metaphorical utterance likely does not set forth one
proposition ("S is P") while intending or implying
that something else ("S is R") is the case. Rather, he
suggests that a speaker "uses a sentence which
independent of context would mean one thing" but in a
determinate or specified situation means "something
else." If Swinburne is correct, then the
truth-conditions of a complex metaphor or simile are
identical and neither rhetorical trope says, "S is P"
but means "S is R." One simply needs a context in
order to decipher a communicative agent's intent "S is
P." Hence, it is more than likely the case, as
Swinburne argues, that the Shakespearean indirect
speech-act, "Life is a tale told by an idiot; full of
sound and fury, signifying nothing" has the same
truth-condition as "Life is like a tale told by an
idiot; full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
For it is clearly problematic to assert that the
truth-condition alluded to above differs from metaphor
to corresponding simile. In the final analysis,
therefore, Swinburne's account of indirect speech-acts
may be preferable to Searle's theory of indirect
sentential locutions. It may better account for the
phenomenon of metaphoric significance and more
adequately explain the illocutionary force of the
indirect speech-act "S is P." However, it is not
necessary for this study to determine which theory
(Searle's or Swinburne's) is more adequate. The
salient point here is how John Searle formulates
indirect speech-acts, which include metaphors and

Building on the theoretical research of Austin and
Searle, Vanhoozer similarly proposes that human
utterances are intrinsically performative;
communicative agents enact intentions when they
articulate speech, whether it entails promising,
greeting, commanding, exhorting, prognosticating,
interrogating, informing or requesting. Such
performative acts are illocutionary: they constitute
ways of doing things with words (i.e. acting out
intention X or Y verbally). Language thus becomes "a
means by which one human person acts in relation to
other people." Saying "I do" is consequently an
illocutionary speech-act as is "Can you pass the

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