Observational and Operant StatementsJune 27, 2021
Austin reached the distinction he drew between meaning and power, as a result of his research, by observing that some sentences with a declarative structure in terms of grammar carry non-declarative duties. Statements can be divided into observational (constative) or performative (performative).
Observational sentences are sentences that can be true or false. The sentence “I am currently repairing the faucet” is true if I am actually performing this action. If I am not in such an action, the sentence is false. Phrasal sentences cannot be true or false: It is impossible to think in which situations a sentence such as “I promise to fix the faucet” might be true or false. It is enough to say this sentence in a suitable environment to “make a promise”. In addition, this sentence does not describe a situation or event that can make it true or false. If I do not keep my promise, therefore, the sentence I used while making this promise will not be wrong. For if the sentence could thus be false, what I promised would not be true, and therefore it could not be claimed that I had not kept my promise. Here Austin arrived at the more fundamental distinction of meaning-power in an effort to give a theoretical explanation of why structurally undifferentiated observational and pragmatic sentences assume such different functions in language.
In Austin’s philosophy, the separation of meaning and power is given in a theoretical structure as follows: Let’s determine the use of sentences for communication purposes as a speech act. It can be said that more than one thing is done in each speech act. Austin has gathered these activities under three categories based on their different qualities. One thing that must be done in order to communicate with language is to produce a sentence with a certain meaning and orientation. Austin calls this act the locutionary act. According to Austin, it is generally to do an act of saying, as well as to do an act of saying. The speaker’s being in an “act by saying” means that he uses the sentence (the act of saying) he produces for a purpose that goes beyond just putting it forward as meaningful. Let’s imagine that the person who looks at the windy weather outside and says, “It’s pretty cold in this weather,” is not saying this meaningful sentence for the sake of talking. This person’s purpose can be to inform someone who doesn’t know, to warn them that they should dress tight when going out, or to joke if they don’t need to go out, or to “threat” that they will fire them. In these cases, the person has created an “act done by saying” in addition to the act of speaking. In order to understand how the sentence is created, it is necessary to determine how the sentence is used, and to understand whether it is said to warn or to inform. Acts done by saying depend on the act of saying being done for a purpose that transcends only the intention to do those acts. However, according to Austin, if such a “transcendent” intention is aimed at a result caused by the act of saying, and this result is achieved through the act, what has been done is now a “perlo-cutionary act”. The person who threatens the other person with an act, if he succeeds in frightening the other person in this way, fulfills an act done as a result of saying it. Entertaining, upsetting, discouraging, embarrassing, encouraging, making jealous, stopping, angering, etc., achieved through verbal communication, are actions that are always done as a result of saying. According to Austin, both the actions done by saying and the actions done as a result of saying are conventional and cannot be created by means outside of the consensus.
Austin emphasized that intentions specific to acts of doing by saying should be carefully distinguished from intentions specific to acts done as a result of saying, and he called the previous types of intentions the “illocutionary force”. The power of saying and doing is nothing but the power that contributes to the message it conveys, in addition to its meaning, in the use of a sentence in communication. Thus, for Austin, the power gained in the use of a sentence is the intention of the person who uses it, which determines the act of a saying. Successful fulfillment of an act of saying depends on the recognition of this intention, that is, power, by the person listening to what is being said.
What emerges at the end of this analysis is that the pragmatic sentences express the acts done by saying. The person who says, “I’m going to fix the faucet today,” may simply be giving information or promising, depending on their intent. If he says, “I promise to fix the faucet today,” by expressing his power to do this saying in his sentence, he will have produced a pragmatic sentence.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook