Crítica, Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, Volumen 6, número 18, Septiembre 1972
Locuciones e ilocuciones: Searle y Austin
Eduardo A. Rabossi
Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas de la República Argentina
Resumen: 1.* In “Austin on Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts”, Sections I and II, John Searle argues (1) that Austin’s distinction between locutionary and illocutionary acts “cannot be completely general in the sense of marking off two mutually exclusive classes of acts, because for some sentences, at least, meaning, in Austin’s sense, determines (at least one) illocutionary force of the utterance of the sentence” (p. 407), and (2) that “all members of the class of locutionary acts (performed in the utterance of a complete sentence) are members of the class of illocutionary acts, because every rhetic act, and hence, every locutionary act, is an illocutionary act” (p. 413).
| PDF en español (825 Kb)
2. This paper discusses both theses and supports to show that they lack the conclusiveness that Searle is ready to foster upon them. An analysis of Searle’s arguments brings to light several difficulties, such as a doubtful reading of Austin’s basic tenets and an appeal to distinctions which are not clearly stated and/or not sufficiently grounded.
3. The paper begins with a review of some of Austin’s doctrines (§§ 4 and 5). Searle’s thesis (1) and (2) are summarized and discussed in §§ 6–8 and §§ 9–11, respectively. Some concluding remarks are made in § 12.
4–5. A collage of Austin’s main tenets is presented almost verbatim within a framework which highlights (1) the nature and aim of Austin’s doctrine, (2) the distinction between locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts, (3) the interest in the illocutionary act, (4) some consequences which follow from (3), and (5) some difficulties in Austin’s doctrine, such as (a) the nature of speech acts and the relationship between them, (b) the criteria for the identification of speech acts, (c) the conventionality of locutionary and illocutionary acts, (d) the features of the reports of speech acts, and (e) meaning and force.
6. Searle’s first thesis asserts that the distinction between locutionary and illocutionary acts is not completely general because some locutionary acts are illocutionary acts. And this is so because, for some sentences, meaning determines at least one illocutionary force of the utterance of the sentence. A paradigmatic example of such sentences is found in the performative use of illocutionary verbs (e.g., ‘I hereby promise that I am going to do it’, as opposed to ‘I am going to do it’). In those cases, “the meaning of the sentence determines an illocutionary force of its utterances in such a way that serious utterances of it with that literal meaning will have that particular force. The description of the act as a happily performed locutionary act since it involves the meaning of the sentence, is already a description of the illocutionary act, since a particular illocutionary act is determined by that meaning. They are one and the same act” (p. 407). Searle does not explain how it is that a particular illocutionary act is determined by the meaning of a certain sentence. He just points out and proceeds to elaborate without further comments. Moreover, Searle admits that the concept of a locutionary act is a different concept from the concept of an illocutionary act (same admission in the second thesis), but he notices that although different they denote overlapping classes. On the other hand, Searle does not accept that the distinction between locutionary and illocutionary acts could be read as a distinction between the simple meaningful sentence and the successfully performed complete illocutionary act. He does so on the ground that this way out reduces the locutionary-illocutionary distinction to the less interesting distinction between trying and succeeding in performing an illocutionary act.
7. In relation to Searle’s first thesis it is observed (a) that the problem posed by the performative use of illocutionary verbs has been pointed out already by Cohen, Urmson, Strawson, Hare, etc., and that it is interesting to notice that they differ in the statement of the problem and in the assessment of its consequences, and (b) that Austin seems to be aware of the problem (cfr. HTD, pp. 130–131). It is argued, further, that Searle’s contention, i.e., that in the performative use of illocutionary verbs, the locutionary act and the illocutionary act are one and the same act, is untenable, this “consequence” does not follow from Austin’s position. In fact, an adequate description of an illocutionary act must always take into account a set of conditions which are not included (cannot be included) in the adequate description of the corresponding locutionary act (e.g., in the case of promising, the normal course of action, the possibility of performing the action, the having of an adequate intention, the preference for having the action performed, etc.). This set of conditions is a framework to which the very possibility of asserting, for instance, ‘I hereby promise…’, ‘S promised…’, etc., is referred. It follows that the description of an illocutionary act differs, in the above mentioned sense, from the description of a locutionary act; and then, that both acts are different. It also follows that the canonical form ‘In saying “I hereby promise…”, he was promising’ is not void or senseless (a consequence of Searle’s thesis). It could be replied that this approach (a) does not merit the fact that Searle’s argument is based, among other things, on the possibility of distinguishing mutually exclusive classes of acts, (b) is an example of mixing up the locutionary-illocutionary distinction with the distinction between trying and succeeding in performing an illocutionary act, and (c) does not take into account that the force of an utterance can be part of its meaning. But it is answered, (a) that Searle’s talk about classes of acts is a flagrant violation of Austin’s points about the relationship between different kinds of linguistic acts (cfr. HTD, p. 96, p. 122), (b) that Searle’s distinction between trying and succeeding presupposes a more basic one: the distinction between different sets of conditions that make possible the description of an act and (c) that Searle’s references to the force as part of the meaning are utterly unclear and, in some sense, circular.
8. Finally, some comments are made about some difficulties related to the performative use of illocutionary verbs and the possibility of approaching them on different grounds.
9. Searle’s second thesis states that all members of the class of locutionary acts are members of the class of illocutionary acts, because every rhetic act is an illocutionary act. Searle notices that in reporting rhetic acts Austin makes use of indirect speech and that in the corresponding reports he uses illocutionary verbs (e.g., ‘say’, ‘ask’, ‘tell to’) of a very general kind, which —according to Searle— stand in relation to the verbs used in the reports of illocutionary acts as genus to species. Searle thinks that the locutionary-illocutionary distinction is designed to account for cases where the meaning of the sentence is force-neutral. But, “every sentence has some illocutionary potential, if only of a very general broad kind built into its meaning… even the most primitive of the old-fashioned grammatical categories of indicative, interrogative, and imperative sentences already contains determinants of illocutionary force. For this reason, there is no specification of a locutionary act performed in the utterance of a complete sentence which will not determine the specification of an illocutionary act… There are no rhetic acts as opposed to illocutionary acts at all” (p. 412).
10. The problem that underlies Searle’s thesis is a real one. Moreover, Austin himself seems to be aware of it (cfr. HTD, pp. 96–97). But Searle’s arguments are very far from being acceptable. In fact, an analysis of them shows that his basic tenets are void. i.e., they lack theoretical weight. A first step towards proving this point consists in sorting out Searle’s initial gambit by reducing every report of a rhetic act into the canonical form ‘He said that…’. It can be argued of course that this is a naïve movement; that it is not a question of what verbs are used but of the illocutionary character which is shown, necessarily, by the verbal forms included in the reports of rhetic acts. If so, Searle owes us an adequate explanation of this necessity. A natural step to make in this direction is to resort to the illocutionary potential of the grammatical categories. But this step does not take us very far. First, it is clear that the grammatical form does not determine univocally a certain illocutionary force. Second, the relationship genus-species, pointed out by Searle, is easily dispelled by way of examples. Moreover, it is not correct to assert, as Searle does, that the locutionary-illocutionary distinction is designed by Austin to account for cases where the meaning of the sentence is force-neutral, but that in fact, no sentence is force-neutral. It is quite clear that Austin never conceived of sentences, actually used, as force-neutral, and it is difficult to see, then, how the distinction between locutionary and illocutionary acts could have been drawn on this basis.
11. It is concluded that Searle’s second thesis is not sufficiently grounded and presupposes a doubtful reading of Austin’s position.
12. Some brief remarks are made about the relationship holding between both theses and some basic doctrines of Speech Acts. The second thesis is clearly related to the introduction of propositional acts. The first one seems to be related to Searle’s strategy towards treating force as part of the meaning, the principle of expressibility, the statement of necessary and sufficient conditions for the performance of speech acts, etc. If valid, the criticism of both theses cancel a possible grounding for Searle’s general strategy. But this criticism does not affect the strategy itself.
Notas a pie de página
* Paragraph’s numbers correspond to those of the paper.