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Blogging my thoughts: Divine Performative Promises, 15. Nov. 2014

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Blogging my thoughts: Divine Performative Promises 15. Nov. 2014
I’ve worked and reworked my book on Creation via Language over and over again for many years, after taking John Searles’ language philosophy class and hearing about his supernatural declarations, which for him merely constituted a thought experiment. Then I became discouraged with my work in the book and I thought, “Good thing I did not publish it, because God’s speaking seems inadequate, to say the least, in the face of evolution and the physics of this universe.”
But today I started thinking that perhaps God’s speaking is enfleshed, embodied, and concrete and, for example, the development of God’s thought could be the evolution of plants and animals on this earth biologically and, in the more elemental physics of God’s thoughts, they could become manifest in the big bang, the expanding universe, the galaxies, their black holes, the solar systems in those galaxies, our own particular “third rock from the sun” — our planet, earth and our very own moon.
When I was saying that Christ is the Word of God and (continuing with Luther), that we become Christs, by God’s grace, and therefore we too become Words of God, and then (I extrapolated and I wrote in Creation via Language) we do become the vocabulary, the living biological vocabulary of God’s language in a new social syntax.
Now language is an organic system that abstracts from our socio-biological reality of being human, but in terms of Hegel’s concrete spirit, language can incorporate, can become filled with its referents thereby becoming socio-biological and physical, in terms of the physics used to understand our universe. In God’s speaking everything into creation and thus into its existence, the theological comes into play.
In an analogy, an author can write a story, which is more abstract than if as a playwright he or she writes a play with real actors on the stage. At that level the author is thinking in terms of persons, (the terms as the persons) their relationships, and the speaking has gone up into the grammar or syntax of a plot, in which an acted story moves to its climax and dénouement from the in medias res in which it was begun to its end in the same.
Now people leading their daily lives and experiencing crises and their resolutions by calling upon God in their distress and being rescued and then embarking on the plan of God’s salvation, are on another level from a play performed by actors, in which life and death are merely imagined. In our real lives there are also stories and plays in which they take place, but pace Christian Scientists, people really live and die. But people could live in the Gospel in God’s speaking, in divine speech-acts, language acts, language events, and the salvation history in which they are nested, and continue in the Holy Spirit’s continuous creation (the living theology of God’s thought brought to speech) and continuous incarnation, as we live out the Gospel stories again and again in becoming Christs, the Words of God addressed to one another, the performative promises of God’s people in but not of this world.


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November 15, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Philosophers’ Carnival

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Jason Zarri is hosting the Philosophers’ Carnival. He has also entered Notes on Timothy Williamson’s Lecture on Logic as Scientific Theories for the carnival. Check it out: Philosophers’ Carnival.

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November 10, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Definitions of the Performative

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Definitions of Performatives

By Dr. Peter Krey

To understand this brief essay, it would be helpful to first read my essay,  Performative Declarations.

The only semblance of a definition of the performative that I found by J. L. Austin was hidden away in his book,  How to Do Things with Words, and it is not really designated as one:

Performatives begin with a highly significant and unambiguous expression, such as “I bet”, “I promise”, “I bequeath” an expression very commonly also used in naming the act which, in making such an utterance, I am performing, e.g., betting, promising, bequeathing, etc.[1] It’s syntax shows that reflexivity is being described: “naming an act which, in making such an utterance….” (This is the passage in full length. page 32.)

In “How Performatives Work” John Searle describes performatives as executive, self-referential speech acts, which need to be in the first person and the dramatic or present present tense.

To quote Searle again: “To be performative the semantic content of the verb needs to function essentially and successfully in the saying of the sentence, in the performance of the speech act.”[2]

The Symbolic Structure of the Declaration (Sometimes called the Performative Declaration)

I would now like to make a comparison of the symbolic structures of assertives, directives, and commissives with the structure of the declaration class of speech acts. Following John Searle’s definitive article on performatives called, “How Performatives Work,”  it can be shown that the assertive is derived from the declaration and the declaration cannot be derived from the assertive, because the self-guaranteeing aspect of the performative cannot be achieved in this way.

When Searle noted in class that the psychological state of the declaration could not be a null set ø but was most likely a belief, want, or intention, then the symmetry between the assertive and the directive, comprising the declarative; or the assertive and commissive doing so, seemed to be obvious from a comparison of their symbolic structures:

Just reading this from the symbolic structure certainly does not do enough, but to think that you can change the state of affairs by just representing it as having been changed shows the double nature of the performative declaration. As superficial as this level of description is, it shows that the declaration cannot be a combination of the promise and the order, because then the word to world direction of fit would not be achieved. Thus belief needs to be a component with the want, desire or intention. The fact that the proposition is combined with an act either by the speaker or hearer is interesting. In a performative declaration, there is the intention which becomes manifest, and the proposition is made true by the speech act. The double direction of fit is achieved, the world to word and the word to world. But while the promise and order speak of a future voluntary act, in this extra-linguistic performative, the action now takes place in the extra-linguistic institution simultaneously with the utterance, just the same way the pure linguistic institutional fact takes place in the promise or the order. It might be worth considering if the promise or order are the prior intentionp.i. ),  while the future voluntary act is the intention in action ( i.a. ), which of course can only be so in a communicative relationship in an order, because the speaker and the one carrying out the order are different individuals for it, but in the promise the speaker also has the obligation to carry out the future voluntary action, and in this case then, the promise is the promised intentionp.i. ) for the later intended act ( i.a. ), although other  p.i. (s) may certainly play a role.



Note how the assertive could be the X term to which the promise or order, the Y term, could give a new status function as a linguistic act C, and how a certain linguistic act, e.g., could count as, or receive a new status function Y term, as an extra-linguistic institutional fact. This is a crude approximation which needs more specification.

In performatives the proposition seems to receive a new status function because of the illocutionary force, and instead of reflecting reality truly or falsely, it actualizes, becoming the actual state of affairs. The intention X has become the manifestation Y in a new act (linguistically) or institution (extra-linguistically). But this cannot be read from the symbolic notation as such. Searle’s F (p) needs more specification.

Examples of knowing the constitutive rules for an extra-linguistic institution, and not needing to know them for the prophetic or supernatural declaration:

Knowing the constitutive rules for an extra-linguistic institution can be illustrated more extensively, as well as the non-requirement in the case of the supernatural declaration: a justice of the peace, a pastor, a rabbi, or a priest may pronounce a couple husband and wife,[3] after the bride and groom have made their speech-act promises. In some states, the clergy person must be registered and needs to have been sworn in (to abide by the laws of that state). The Catholic Church, technically speaking, will not recognize a marriage not carried out by a priest, and will not honor a divorce, only an annulment, etc. The chairperson of a church assembly may not participate in the discussion on the “floor”, but presides over it, accepts the “motions”, stops the discussion when the “question has been called”, and if the “aye votes have it”, then the motion “carries”, and s/he states: “So ordered.” And an “action” of the assembly/council is communicated to all its members and agencies. The parliamentary rules need to be studied and used skillfully to influence these collective speech act declarations.

In the above cases, the linguistic competence of the speaker and hearer are not sufficient for the successful declaration speech acts, but the position and authority of the speaker and the constitutive rules of the extra-linguistic institution obtain as well. But imagine that a contingent of Native Americans burst into the church with all its delegates are so assembled. They begin charging that a building was being erected by this denomination on an Indian burial ground.[4] Without being on the agenda, without having voice or vote, an eloquent speaker charges the assembly with this institutional insensitivity. Now the speaker does not know the parliamentary rules, does not have voice or vote, nor the authority to speak. Here an approach to Searle’s dictum that a supernatural declaration needs no extra-linguistic institution can be seen functioning in this prophetic moment. A higher authority from God is accepted, and the good will toward the Native Americans felt by the delegates bring about an action in the assembly which orders the building constructed at a different site. With this example a mere inkling of God’s authority appears, which in larger vistas, for the sake of the renewal of all extra-linguistic institutions, can make divine declarations, without any extra-linguistic institution, out of the Word alone, so to speak.[5]

[1] J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisá, editors, J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1962), p. 32.

[2]John Searle “The Philosophy of Language.” Lectures. Winter and Spring Semester, (University of California at Berkeley on January 18 to May 2, 1996), on January 18, 1996.

[3] To pronounce them “man and wife” does an injustice to women, because it places the woman into a role and the man into the dignity of his person. Thus by the first speech act itself the marriage institution is launched with an inequality of privilege and responsibility.

[4] This scenario is fictitious.

[5] Solum verbum (the word alone) was an important tenet of the Reformation.


John R. Searle’s definitive article, “How Performatives Work” can be found in the journal, Linguistics and Philosophy. 12 (1989): 535-558.

John R. Searle,. Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.

————–.  The Construction of Social Reality. New York: The Free    Press, 1995.

J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisá, editors. J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1962.

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July 3, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Some Important Sayings Related to Ethics (Dr. Peter Krey for the Ethics Course at Vista Community College)

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Important Sayings Related to Ethics

“True unity differentiates, it does not confound. [1] (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) (Uniformity is external. Unity provides an internal bond.)

“Socrates called down philosophy from the skies and implanted it in the cities and homes of people.” (Cicero)

“The European philosophical tradition consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” (Alfred North Whitehead)

“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (Lord Acton)

“The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.” (Blaise Pascal) (Our emotional processes have to be taken into account.)

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Socrates)

“Man is the measure of all things, of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not.” (Protagoras)

“The divine intellect is the measure of all things.” (Thomas Aquinas)

“Hate traps us in the past, love opens the future.” (from Nicholas Berdyaev)

“We hang petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” (Aesop)

“All generalizations are false, including this one.” (Blaise Pascal)

“Faith and God belong together. Whatever your heart clings to and trusts in, I tell you, is really your God.” (Martin Luther)

“For the Word of God comes, whenever it comes, to change and renew the world.” (Martin Luther in Bondage of the Will)

“Philosophers have all variously interpreted the world, the point, however, is to change it.”   (Karl Marx)

“A law is a measure and rule of human acts” and reason is the first principle of human acts…. “It follows therefore that law is something pertaining to reason.” and “It is universally right for all humans that all their inclinations should be directed by reason.” (Thomas Aquinas)

“Take any action allow’d to be vicious: willful murder, for instance. Examine it in all its lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In whichever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions, and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never find it, till you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment….” (David Hume)

“It’s one thing to talk about a promise, it is quite another to make one.” (J.L. Austin, who discovered performatives in How to Do Things with Words)

“You can have democracy or the unequal distribution of wealth, but you can’t have both.” (Chief Justice Brandeis)

“You can’t step into the same river twice” and “Everything changes but change itself.” (Heraclitus)

“I must again repeat, what the assailants of Utilitarianism seldom have the justice to acknowledge, that the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent’s own happiness, but that of all concerned.” (John Stuart Mill)

“Two things fill the soul with new and ever increasing wonder and awe, the more often and longer I contemplate them: the stars in the heavens over me, and the moral law within me.” (Immanuel Kant)

“In the state of nature, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture on earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Thomas Hobbes)

“Justice is the good of others” and “the best is not the one who practices virtue in regard to him or herself, but who practices it toward others.” (Aristotle)

“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah)

Asked by Napoleon, if he believed in God, La Place answered, “I have no need of that hypothesis.”

[1]More fully, translated from the Pierre Teilhard’s French: Opposing the individual to the group is a false habit of mind: The coming together of separate elements does nothing to eliminate their differences. On the contrary, it exalts them. In every practical sphere true union (that is to say, synthesis) does not confound; it differentiates. From The Future of Man.

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September 21, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Why Study Language?

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Jason put a few paragraphs into Facebook about the criticism of the Linguistic Turn in Philosophy by Brand Blanshard, a Philosopher. My response follows and tells why I still consider the Philosophy of Language important. To read this philosopher’s words cited by Jason see

Sorry, you may have to sign in on facebook to read Jason’s quotation.

Now read my response:

I have another reason for studying language and perhaps that is what Blanshard means by its being “guided by something other than itself.” In what way is language per se action, how are speech acts nested in language acts, and language acts nested in language events, and how does that bring about historical social movements? Mine is the interest in concrete words rather than abstract ideas and how they might involve movement in a way that ideas do not.

Then I’m also interested in the question about the organism of a language as opposed to other languages and as opposed to abstract systems and what the relationship could be between social systems and the organic “system” of a language.

Finally, just thinking off the top of my head, what did theologians mean by God’s speaking creation into existence?

I don’t think that is about “splitting fine hairs into finer hairs.” I realize that focusing on what language is speaking about makes language disappear (almost) and focusing on language makes what you are speaking about disappear. But language could be much more than the embodied consciousness of reality. It probably plays a big role in changing realities. That interest has been mine since translating Marx: “Philosophers have variously interpreted the world; the point however is to change it” into Max Weber: we can’t live out of realities, but we live out of the source of strength that can change them. That is how I reinterpreted Marx after reading the sociology of Max Weber. I believe that source of strength, that grace of God, for making inhuman realities more human, healing, and wholesome, might be accessible through language . [Or rather that particular aspect of language which makes it into God’s way of encountering us.]

Blogging my thoughts, June 18th, 2011

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Blogging my thoughts on Saturday, June 18th 2011

For the Joseph Book: I’m not arguing that the Theology of the Cross is central to Luther’s theology, mostly scholars have agreed that it is justification by faith, yet for the old Luther, it became believing that God would keep his or her promises. (God is beyond sex.)
“For if I believe the promise of God, I am certain that my life is pleasing to God and is superior to all the orders, since it makes a heavenly [human being], a conqueror of death, an heir of eternal life, and one who tramples the devil underfoot….This is the strength and particular power of a Christian”  (LW 8: 167).
When the promise is analyzed through the Philosophy of Language, it corresponds with justification by faith. After all, living a life that is pleasing to God is the result of both believing the promise and being justified by faith. In a promise, the accent falls on the speaker, in the case of God’s promise, on God, who actively carries out the justification, salvation, God-pleasing life of the passive listener, the believer. A listener has to carry out a command, that is, the Law, while the speaker carries out a promise, that is, the Gospel. So the Philosophy of Language indicates a correspondence between the performative speech act of a promise and justification by faith.

My mind wandered to reading “Those Manly Men of Yore” by Sara Lipton (NY Times OP-Ed page A31, June 17, 2011). Sara Lipton called Schwarzenegger a girlie man, a name he called others. If the constraint on sexual desire spelled being a man (in early modern times) and being womanish meant to have a voracious appetite in this regard, then Schwarzenegger’s lack of constraint made him a girlie-man, she argued.
I wonder how this relates to Carl Gustav Jung’s psychological argument that a man needs a woman’s soul within him to become mature and a woman needs the soul of a man? Then the lack of self-control cannot be blamed on either being a man or a woman, but just on the maturity of a person.

In Plato’s famous chariot metaphor of the ego-states, the mature rational ego in the healthy self (slightly modifying Plato here, of course)  can hold the horse and not let the horses blindly take the chariot over a cliff. “Hold your horses!” The mature rational self, however, takes care of the emotional and sexual needs of the horses, that is, of the id. To neglect them under a false or idealistic self-image of maturity feeds the monstrous strength of the id and extreme sexual strivings can unconsciously become a monkey on a person’s back. This may well take place in persons under the rule of celibacy, which they cannot control internally, but are forced to do by a bad law, an illegitimate law, an unwise law, that might make them prey on the vulnerable.

My thoughts reverted to violence. How filled with violence the Middle East, the East, hey, we in the West are too. What they did to the poor people in Sri Lanka in the fire-free zones, what they are doing to the people in Syria, in Libya, in Afghanistan, in Iraq! All this violence is embedded in societies between their governments and their people. we ourselves in the U.S.A. cannot gloat self-righteously. We’ve merely displaced our violence into technology, partly even remotely controlled. Then the regime change that we initiated in Iraq has cost far many more lives than the blood any regime has so far spilled in the Arab Spring and now Summer.

My mind turned to philosophical and theological thoughts. What do we make of brain research that almost reduces the mind to the brain? What do we make of a violin that excludes the music that it makes? Perhaps the mind is the music of the brain.
Luther’s conception of concrete physicality can come to our aid. The external word, like an organism of physical sound has to precede the internal word, its sense, meaning, and coherence, as it is translated into thoughts. Thus the brain is to the mind, what the speech act word is to the heard and internal word, and what the violin is to music. Physicality does not negate spirituality, but both participate in the complementarity of opposites.

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June 18, 2011 at 10:26 pm

The Book of Continuous Creation by Peter Krey September 5th, 2010

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The Book of the Continuous Creation

September 5th 2010

Goethe was reading Luther’s “Preface to the Psalms,” in which Luther called the Psalms the little Bible in the Bible, because it contained the whole Bible in a nutshell. Luther wrote that the Bible reflected everything in the world. So Goethe called the Bible, the World-Mirror (Weltspiegel).[1] The latter is a very interesting term.

In Medieval times a law code was referred to as a “mirror,” for example, the Sachsenspiegel or the Mirror of Saxony and it was the name of the law code of Saxony. In holding up a mirror to the society, it could see itself, get to know itself, it could detect the disorder and bring order to itself via the law code.

The Bible in the sense of a World-mirror, however, is more than just a law code. In holding a mirror up to the world, it also reflected nature and history to themselves or ourselves, because we are a part of nature and history. Now an order could be sought after in nature and one could also be looked for in history.

Reflected by a book, nature and history could be thought of as reflecting the book as well, the Scriptures, the Word of God, as well, and then the order in nature and history could be thought of as the Book of Nature and the Book of History, declaring the glory of God and our need for salvation. These books along with the Bible testified to the handiwork of God; the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Testaments of Nature and History. The Book of History reflected how God was at work in history; it reflected God’s saving acts among the people of God’s creation. Opening up these books opened up the Book of Creation.

“Without the Word [there can be] no world.”[2] Without God’s speaking gentle and secure promises to us, the world becomes a “wasteland a thousand times, mute and cold.”[3] The “Word” can be understood to be Christ and the creation through the Word (Logos) or reason in the Greek sense or the word of command in the Hebrew sense. According to Oswald Bayer, Luther’s Gospel discovery was the efficacy of the word: God’s Word does what it says and says what it does, making God’s promises sure and certain.[4] Thus the Bible needs to be understood as a living book. When reading it “you have to listen to your God speaking to you.” as Luther says in the “Freedom of a Christian.”[5] With that the speaking of God recreates you, renews you, lifts you up in the voice of God to your nature and history; or more precisely, into your biography, that by God’s grace becomes your theography, as you become part of God’s new creation.

That places us squarely into the Book of your Life, your mirror, and how God is at work in your life. “We don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”[6] So now we are speaking about living words that fill the living Bible of our lives. And we know that the law code came from Moses, but the grace and truth of the Gospel came from Jesus Christ our Lord. So we live by the promises of God and we let God know us, so that we receive the new birth, “not of the blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”[7]

Let me return from the personal, from our human nature, to nature more or less outside of us. When disconnected from the Book of Life, from the living Book  that the Book of Nature was reflecting, the first Greek philosophers began giving natural explanations for natural events. And in discovering the order in nature and its relative intelligibility via reason, observation; and through the course of time, experimentation, including the scientific method, scientists ran the danger of encapsulating nature, (Think how mysterious the word “nature” is!) from the Book of Nature in which we also hear our God speaking to us. But rifling the secrets from nature by smashing the particles violently to divide and conquer them for the sake of technological control, and its depersonalized objectification, has made us no longer able to hear God speaking to us through nature. Luther tells that God is closer to us creatures, deeper, more internal, more present, than we creatures are to ourselves.[8] But we hide in the hand of our autonomy, even though without God we would evaporate from the earth and it too would evaporate in a nano-second, and for us, the voice of God has become mute.

Even so and here again, following Augustine, we have to think of the Happy fall, because God wants us to understand nature. But we have to take the joyous Ascent in Christ once more and understand nature as creation, in God’s words, whose doing is saying and saying is doing, in terms of the continuous creation, because the miracles of modern science – space ships, Internet, droids, iphones, molecular computers, or what have you, will not hold a candle to the miracle of God’s continuous creation, when we hear our God speaking to us via the living Book of Nature, the living Book of History, filled with all the promises of God for the new creation!

[1] Oswald Bayer,  Schoepfung als Anrede, (Tuebingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebick), 1990), page 43. I have not finished this book. My thoughts probably anticipate some of Oswald Bayer’s conclusions.

[2] Ibid., page 44-45.

[3] Ibid., page 45: An apt description of our alienation in the world that Bayer takes from Nietzsche.

[4] Ibid., page 38. Here Bayer refers very precisely to Luther’s discovery of the performative. “[The speech act] does what it says and says what it does.” (Sie tut was sie sagt, sie sagt was sie tut.) In explicating Psalm 118, Luther exclaims, shaken to the very depths, “This is a great word, a great sound, and one to be feared, ‘Behold, the Word of God!’” See James Samuel Preus, ­From Shadow to Promise, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969), page 253. J.L. Austin discovered the performative for our times in his William James Harvard Lectures of 1955, published in his book, How to Do Things with Words, J.O. Urmson and Marina Sbisà, editors, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962 and 1975). For Austin, the significance of the discovery evaporated, because it was completely disconnected to God’s speaking to us.

[5] Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: the Paulist Press, 2007), page 72. See page 268, footnote 18: “One who hears the word becomes like the word, pure, good, and just.”

[6] Deuteronomy 8:3.

[7] John 1:13.

[8] Bayer, page 30.

Written by peterkrey

September 5, 2010 at 10:02 pm