The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
Inquire about purchasing the book | Table of Contents | Annotated Bibliography | Class on Nature of Mind

These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

The Logic of Speech Acts

In the 1950s the British Philosopher John-Langshaw Austin had started a whole new way of analyzing language by viewing it as a particular case of action: "speech action". 

Austin introduced a tripartite classification of acts performed when a person speaks.  Each utterance entails three different categories of speech acts. The “locutionary“ act consists of the words employed to deliver the utterance. The “illocutionary“ act is determined by the type of action that the utterance performs, such as warning, commanding, promising, asking. The “perlocutionary“ act is the effect that the act has on the listener, such as believing or answering. 

A locutionary act is the act of producing a meaningful linguistic sentence. An illocutionary act sheds light on why the speaker is uttering that meaningful linguistic sentence. A perlocutionary act is performed only if the speaker's strategy succeeds.

The “locution” is the act of saying something. That, in turn, can be dissected into three acts. The physical movement that causes sounds to be produced is the “phonetic” act, each specific phonetic act being a “phone”. The fact that that utterance also conforms to the linguistic rules of a specific language is its “phatic” act, each specific phatic act being a “pheme”. The fact that the pheme also referred to some people, objects and situations is a “rheme”, a “rhetic” act. A rheme requires a pheme and a phone. Therefore, rhemes are a sub-class of phemes, which in turn are a sub-class of phones. A phonetic act fails if there is nobody listening, a phatic act fails if the listener does not understand the language of the speaker or if the speaker makes grammatical mistakes, and a rhetic act fails if the speaker does not adequately deliver the meaning he had in mind.

Illocutionary acts are performed by a speaker when she utters a sentence with certain intentions (e.g., statements, questions, commands, promises).

Austin believed that any locutionary act (phonetic act plus phatic act plus rhetic act) is part of a discourse which bestows an illocutionary force on it. All language is therefore an illocutionary act. 

In the 1970s the US philosopher John Searle developed a formal theory of the conditions that preside over the genesis of speech acts.  Searle classifies such acts in several categories, including "directive acts", "assertive acts", "permissive acts" and "prohibitive acts".  And showed that only assertive acts can be treated with classical logic. An illocutionary act consists of an illocutionary force (e.g., statement, question, command, promise) and a propositional content (what it says).  Illocutionary acts are the minimal units of human communication, and argued that the illocutionary force of sentences is what determines the semantics of language.


Back to the beginning of the chapter "Pragmatics" | Back to the index of all chapters