Performative - Currently no debate

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Philosophy

Performative in Philosophy

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.

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