In how Austin’s old distinction between constative and performative

In this work, I’ll try to show that Austin’s theory of
a utterances has an influence on political philosophers. I choose this topic
because I truly believe, that our mind is connected with our speech. Austin’s
theory of utterances is a speech act and it makes people to think in a very
specific way.

explain the topic of my essay, first of all, I should present Austin’s theory
of utterances. John Austin in the first few lectures of «How To Do Things With
Words», distinguishes utterances in this way: there are constative and
performative utterances. Later Austin notices that this distinction does not
really exist, because whenever we ‘say’ something we shall ‘do’ something.
That’s how Austin explains it: «…whenever I ‘say’ anything I shall be
performing both locutionary and illocutionary acts…» (Austin 1962, 132). Here I
should explain what Austin means by locutionary and illocutionary acts. The
whole utterance consists of locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts,
where the locutionary act is an act of saying something:

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now


«…to say something is in the full normal sense to do
something—which includes the utterance of certain noises, the utterance of
certain words in a certain construction, and the utterance of them with a
certain ‘meaning’ in the favourite philosophical sense of that word, i.e. with a certain
sense and with a certain reference. The act of ‘saying something’ in this full normal sense I call…the performance of a locutionary act…» (94); the illocutionary act is an act performed in
saying something: «…The performance of an ‘illocutionary’ act is the performance of an act in saying something as opposed to the
performance of an act of saying something…» (99); And the perlocutionary act is an act performed by saying
something: «…Saying something will often, or even normally, produce certain
consequential effects upon the feelings, thoughts, or actions of the audience,
or of the speaker, or of other persons: and it may be done with the design, intention,
or purpose of producing them; and we may then say, thinking of this, that the
speaker has performed…a perlocutionary act or perlocution»


         The main question here is how Austin’s old distinction between
constative and performative acts relates to his new distinction between
locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts. The wrong way to understand
the relation between Austin’s old and new theory is to assimilate constative
utterance to locutionary act and performative utterance with illocutionary and
perlocutionary acts. Why can not this be right?

         On the one hand, stating
is an illocutionary act, hence constative utterances involve both an illocution
and a locution. On the other hand, performative utterances also involve both an
illocution and a locution acts. As a result, locutionary and illocutionary acts
are internal aspects of utterances (not two kinds of utterances): «The doctrine
of the performative/constative distinction stands to the doctrine of
locutionary and illocutionary acts in the total speech act as the special
theory to the general theory» (147) .

         What I want to show in my
essay, is that Austin’s theory has a big impact on political philosophers. One
of them is Rae Langton, Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University. Rae
Langton in the work «Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts» defends such an
political thesis that «pornography subordinates women», and she wants to
censorship pornography. She argues that pornography is a kind of speech act
that has locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary effect.

         To defend her thesis Langton shows the
subordination argument that Professor MacKinnon suggests. MacKinnon says that pornography harms women, it threatens
their civil rights. It creates a conflict between liberty (Right of men to
produce and consume pornography) and equality (Right of women to receive equal
protection by the law).

         Pornography objectifies
women, it depicts women in situations of humiliation. Also, based on pornography, women seem to like it.
So pornography depicts subordination and causes it. Besides, pornography
perpetuate subordination. It leads to insult and injury at home and also, to
battery and rape on the streets. All this demonstrates the power of pornography
as a speech act. If we describe this in Austin terms it would be the locution
and perlocution dimensions: «Pornography depicts subordination and causes it.
That—in Austin’s terms —is to describe its locutionary and perlocutionary dimensions»
(Langton 1993, 296). We can see that the illocutionary
act is missing here. But Langton wants to defend her thesis that «pornography
subordinates women» by considering pornography as an illocutionary act. She
wants to argue that subordination caused by pornography is an illocutionary

         To defend the thesis
Langton uses an apartheid example to show that a speech act can be an
illocutionary act of subordination. If an appropriate person (who has a power)
in an appropriate situation says that ‘Blacks are not allowed to vote’, it will
result that blacks will not be allowed to vote. And, as the author says, it is
an illocutionary act: «Can a speech act be an illocutionary act of
subordination? The answer, I think, is yes. Consider this utterance: “Blacks are not permitted to vote.” Imagine that this is uttered by a legislator in
Pretoria in the context of enacting legislation that underpins apartheid. It is
a locutionary act: by “Blacks” it refers to blacks. It is a perlocutionary act: it
will have the effect, among others, that blacks stay away from polling booths.
But it is, first and foremost, an illocutionary act: it makes it the case that
blacks are not permitted to vote. It—plausibly— subordinates blacks» (Langton 1993, 302). Here we can draw the conclusion that an illocutionary
act against black people (1) rank blacks «as having inferior worth», (2)
«legitimate discriminatory behavior on the part of whites» and (3) «deprive
blacks of some important powers: for example, the power to go to certain places
and the power to vote» (Langton 1993, 303).

         But how a racism and
pornography are correlated in the dimension of illocutionary act? Langton
insists that pornography as an speech act can subordinate. An illocutionary act
can be a force of a certain kind when it satisfies felicity conditions,
specifically when a speech has hearers who recognise it as an authority. As the author
says: «Pornography is
said to rank women as sex objects, ‘defined on the basis of (their) looks…(their) availability for sexual pleasure.’ Pornography represents degrading and abusive behavior ‘in such a way as to endorse the degradation.’ MacKinnon has a striking list of illocutionary verbs: ‘Pornography sexualizes rape, battery, sexual
harassment…and child abuse; it…celebrates, promotes, authorizes and legitimates them’» (Langton 1993, 307). As we know, pornography is an
authority, for instance, for young boys, who want to learn what is right and
wrong in this area, and in our society there are not a lot of representations of sex,
so they learn how to behave from a porn movies. As with an apartheid example we can, in the same way,
draw the conclusion to show that cases are the same. Pornography (1) ranks
women as sex objects, (2) legitimates degrading and abusive behaviour against women and (3) deprives women of the right of

         To sum up, I present
Austin’s theory of utterances and the way that it might be used in a political
philosophy. As we can se, Austin’s theory has a great impact in this