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A performative utterance is one which does what it says. For example, if a person says “I promise to be there”, in normal circumstances this constitutes a promise to be at the specified place at the specified time, i.e. implies a course of action to fulfil the promise. The concept was originated by J. L. Austin, who contrasted performatives with constatives. Constatives make statements about the world which are either true or false. Performatives are neither true nor false.

The difficulties, and indeed the more interesting questions, arise when it is realised, as Austin did, that any utterance may be performative and the distinction between performative and constative is hard to maintain. It all depends on the circumstances of the utterance, not the form of the utterance. Matters get even more interesting when the notion of “in normal circumstances” is opened to question (what are they?) and the question of whether the person uttering the performative fully intends to do what they say they will do, for example, whether they really intend to be there at the specified place at the specified time when they say “I promise to be there”. They may be lying, joking or may have forgotten a previous arrangement that they have made in which they promised to be somewhere else; or may be uttering the sentence in the context of acting in a play.


In philosophy, ontology is the inquiry into, or theory of, being. It was coined in the early 17th century in order to avoid some of the ambiguities of the term ‘metaphysics’. It has come to mean the general theory of what there is, of what exists.


The theory of knowledge: the branch of philosophy that studies the origin, nature, methods, validity, and limits of human knowledge.

It addresses the questions:

  • What is knowledge?
  • How is knowledge acquired?
  • What do people know?
  • How do we know what we know?


Diegesis is the process of telling or narrating. In Plato’s and Aristotle’s writings, it is contrasted to mimesis, the process of showing or enacting.
See also Mimesis


Poiesis: making, producing, creation, creative power or ability. Poiesis is contrasted with praxis, doing something, by Plato and Aristotle. Excellent making requires techne, skill, while excellent doing requires arete, virtue.

See also Praxis


Praxis: action, doing, activity. Aristotle contrasts praxis with poiesis and theoria. For Marx and later Marxist writers, praxis is contrasted with wage labour. Praxis is free, conscious, creative human activity, which alone is capable of generating knowledge and creating change in the social order. Interesting contributions to the concept of praxis have been made by Jurgen Habermas and, particularly, Hannah Arendt. For example, see Melaney, W. D. (2006), Arendt’s Revision of Praxis: On Plurality and Narrative Experience. Analecta Husserliana, 90, pp. 465-479.

See also Poiesis


Hylomorphism is a doctrine stating that the order displayed by material systems is due to the form projected in advance of production by an external producer, a form which organises what would otherwise be chaotic or passive matter.
     In Basic Problems of Phenomenology (1929) Heidegger describes the architect’s vision of form (eidos) as a drive beyond the flow of moments to a constantly present appearance. For Heidegger, the ‘metaphysics of presence’ thence arises through the unthematised transfer of this sense of being to all regions of beings.
     In A Thousand Plateaus (1980) Deleuze and Guattari pick up the critique of hylomorphism in the work of Gilbert Simondon and follow him in developing a non-hylomorphic or ‘artisanal’ theory of production. In this theory, forms are developed by artisans out of suggested potentials of matter rather than being dreamed up by architects and then imposed on a passive matter. In artisanal production, the artisan must therefore ‘surrender’ to matter, that is, follow its potentials by attending to its immanent or implicit forms, and then devise operations that bring forth those potentials to actualise the desired properties.
     Deleuze and Guattari also follow Simondon in analysing the political significance of hylomorphism. For Simondon, hylomorphism is ‘a socialized representation of work,’ the viewpoint of a master commanding slave labor. For Deleuze and Guattari, hylomorphism also has an important political dimension, as a hylomorphic representation of a body politic resonates with fascist desire, in which the leader comes from on high to rescue his people from chaos by his imposition of order.

As an extension of this, matter could be considered as self-organising, not even needing an artisan (see Marx and Darwin). This is in accord with the post modern bottom-up view. Worth debating.


Source question: What is the source of this piece of text? Is it:

Bonta, M. and Protevi, J. (2004). Deleuze and geophilosophy: a guide and glossary. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press?

or is it:
Protevi, J., ed. (2006). A Dictionary of continental philosophy. New Haven: Yale University Press?


The property of being directed toward an object. The directedness or ‘aboutness’ of many, if not all, conscious states.


To represent, or re-present, to bring to presence and/or to indicate prior presence or existence, is the activity from which representations arise. In that sense, representation is similar to the notion of ‘sign’, as that which stands for something for someone in some respect. Representation names both a field of established and emerging relationships and the act of representing. It does not specify what kind of relationships, which may be mimetic, diegetic, reflexive or constitutive, for example; nor does it specify how that representing is, or should be, done.