Human Intentionality and Speech Act

Our mind is composed of the accumulation of knowledge or skill that results from direct participation in events or activities. This is what-so-called experience. Using knowledge, we can think about something; using skill, we can do something; and during thinking about and/or doing something, we may undergo an emotional sensation or be in a particular state of mind (we feel something). Searle (2004) mentioned three types of conscious experiences: thinking about something, intentionally doing something, and feeling a sensation. These three experiences are called human intentionality, which is a technical term used by philosophers to refer to capacity of mind by which mental states refer to, or are about, or are of objects and states of affairs.

When one is hungry (feeling a desire to eat), he will probably think about, for instance, tenderloin steak (thinking about a delicious meal), and in turn go to a restaurant (intentionally doing something). At the restaurant, he says something like “I’d like to have tenderloin steak” to the waiter. The utterance “I’d like to have tenderloin steak” is used by the speaker to convey a certain desire conceptualized in his mind. Furthermore, he does more than uttering “I’d like to have tenderloin steak;” he also does something–ordering or requesting the waiter to get him tenderloin steak. This kind of language use is referred to as speech act. Put simply, speech acts refer to the actions performed via utterances (see Grundy, 2008, Searle, 1969, Yule, 1996).

There are three levels on which speech acts could be analyzed. They are, as Austin (1962) distinguished, (1) the act of saying something, (2) what one does in saying it, and (3) what one does by saying it. These three levels are dubbed as the locutionary act, the illocutionary act, and the perlocutionary act respectively. For example, when one says “it’s hot in here,” we may analyze his utterance on the basis of these levels. In terms of locutionary aspect, the utterance “it’s hot in here” denotes that the ambient temperature is higher than normal or than that desirable to the speaker. However, the illocutionary function of “it’s hot in here” could be an indirect request for the addressee to open the window or turn on the AC. When the addressee gets the speaker’s illocutionary meaning and opens the window, this is what-so-called perlocutionary act–the actual effect.

Further reading:

Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do things with words. London: Oxford University Press.

Grundy, P. (2008). Doing pragmatics (3rd ed). London: Hodder Education.

Searle, J. R. (1969). Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy of language. London: Cambridge University Press.

Searle, J. R. (2004). Mind: A brief introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Yule, G. (1996). Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.