Three wonderful short videos from The School of Life youtube channel, total duration 27 minutes:
How to Make a Country Rich
If you were setting out to make a country rich, what kind of mindsets and ideas would be most likely to achieve your goals? We invent a country, Richland, and try to imagine the psychology of its inhabitants.
Would you want to live in Richland?
How to Make an Attractive City
We’ve grown good at making many things in the modern world – but strangely the art of making attractive cities has been lost. Here are some key principles for how to make attractive cities once again. Please subscribe to our channel.
Does your city have the political will to create beautiful spaces?
How to become a better person
It sounds normal to say one’s out to become a fitter person; but it sounds weird to say one would like to be a nicer or better person. It shouldn’t – so here is a guide to 10 virtues of a nice person.
Are these your 10 most important virtues? Which are the easiest for you? Which are the hardest for you?
As we communicate, there are 3 separate processes at play:
what we say,
what we mean when we say it, and
what we accomplish by saying it
A rhetorician would call these 3 separate processes: 1) locution, 2) illocution, and 3) perlocution. In my courses we use the shorthand “Point X” to refer to the perlocutionary effect. This is where effective persuasive communication must begin.
Speech Act theory was laid out by the philosopher J. L. Austin in his small book “How to do things with Words”.
Words that Change the World
One difference between gods and men is that a god’s words directly change the world, whereas the words of men depend on action of others to cause the change. A god might say “let there be light”, and the sun appears. A man might say “can you turn on the light?” and another person hears, understands and reaches his hand out to the switch.
However, we do have occasions and rituals in which a man’s words do cause a change in the world. These occasions the speech is called “performative”. Consider the following statements:
1a) Conor says, “James and Sarah are married.”
1b) A judge says, “James and Sarah, I now pronounce you man and wife.”
2a) Conor says, “That ball was on the line!”
2b) The umpire says, “Point to Rafa Nadal. Game.”
The a) statements communicate information. These are non-performative utterances. The b) statements directly change the state of the world. The statements of the judge or the umpire are performative utterances.
Performative utterances are not limited to judges, umpires and gods. Consider:
3a) Conor says, “I would bet on New Zealand to beat England”
3b) Conor says, “I bet you €10 that New Zealand beat England today”
This third examples show the establishment of an verbal contract. Legal codes in many nations hold these verbal contracts as valid on a par with written contracts. Performative Speech acts include promising, ordering, greeting, warning, inviting and congratulating.
Types of Meaning
John Searle gives the following classification of illocutionary speech acts:
assertives = speech acts that commit a speaker to the truth of the expressed proposition, e.g. reciting a creed
directives = speech acts that are to cause the hearer to take a particular action, e.g. requests, commands and advice
commissives = speech acts that commit a speaker to some future action, e.g. promises and oaths
expressives = speech acts that express the speaker’s attitudes and emotions towards the proposition, e.g. congratulations, excuses and thanks
declarations = speech acts that change the reality in accord with the proposition of the declaration, e.g. baptisms, pronouncing someone guilty or pronouncing someone husband and wife
Politicians often speak in a manner that treads a fine line between performative and non-performative speech. They make statements that sound like assertive promises, but if you listen exactly to the words, they avoid the full commitment. We hear the promise, but if later their statement is fact-checked, it can slide by as a non-performative.
This has led to a great distrust in any sort of vague speaking. If you mean to make a promise, it is important in today’s environment to state it in clear and non-ambiguous terms.
Remove “maybe”, “try” and “might” from your vocabulary. They turn a performative utterance into a vague, grey mush.
For your words to change the world, be concise and direct with your performative statements.