Performative contradiction

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A performative contradiction (German: performativer Widerspruch) arises when the propositional content of a statement contradicts the presuppositions of asserting it. An example of a performative contradiction is the statement "I am dead" because the very act of proposing it presupposes the actor is alive.

Various examples[edit]

The statement "Don't do as I do, do as I say" is arguably a performative contradiction because its assertion presupposes it being said by an asserter, rendering the two directives contradictory. The statement "Hierarchies do not exist" offers a more subtle example of performative contradiction referring to the very capacity of making a statement, because the statement itself is a hierarchy of semiotic relations of letters (as symbols) formed into words (as signifiers) formed into a sentence (as a statement).

Usage in philosophy[edit]

Solipsism is often held to be a performative contradiction if stated. Jürgen Habermas and related philosophers point out that statements spoken during justificatory argumentation carry additional presuppositions and so certain statements are performative contradictions in this context. Habermas claims that post-modernism's epistemological relativism suffers from a performative contradiction. Hans-Hermann Hoppe claims in his theory of argumentation ethics that arguing for any political position other than libertarian anarchism results in a performative contradiction.

Jaakko Hintikka more rigorously fleshed out the notion of performative contradiction in analyzing Descartes' famous cogito ergo sum argument, concluding that cogito ergo sum relies on performance rather than logical inference.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hintikka, Jaakko (1962). "Cogito, Ergo Sum: Inference or Performance?". The Philosophical Review 71 (1): 3–32. JSTOR 2183678. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Habermas, Jürgen (1990). "Discourse Ethics: Notes on a Program of Philosophical Justification". In Habermas. Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. trans. C. Lenhardt and S.W. Nicholsen. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 
  • Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. "On the Ultimate Justification of the Ethics of Private Property". The Economics and Ethics of Private Property.