Felicity Conditions

Have you ever asked yourself, why the words "I now pronounce you husband and wife" do not create a legal marriage between two people when uttered in the context of a film set? Think about this matter before you read on.

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Performing speech acts successfully

A sentence can be unsuccessful when we mispronounce it or produce an ungrammatical sentence. But even a perfectly well-formed sentence can go wrong in the sense that it is situationally inappropriate. In order to be successful, a speech act needs to be performed along certain types of conditions. These conditions were categorized by the linguist John Searle, who introduced the term appropriateness conditions respectively felicity conditions:

  1. Propositional content condition
    • requires the participants to understand language, not to act like actors or to lie permanently, e.g. a promise or warning must be about the future.
  2. Preparatory condition
    • requires that the speech act is embedded in a context that is conventionally recognized, thus, just by uttering a promise, the event will not happen by itself.
  3. Sincerity condition
    • requires that the speaker is sincere in uttering the declaration, e.g. a promise is only effective when the speaker really intends to carry it out.
  4. Essential condition
    • requires that involved parties all intend the result, e.g. a promise changes state of speaker from obligation to non-obligation.

Exercise: Threatening Felicity Conditions

Exercise: Felicity Conditions in Betting