A performative contradiction arises when the propositional content of a statement contradicts the noncontingent presuppositions that make possible the performance of the speech act, such as occurs with "all statements must be false."


In Jürgen Habermas's usage of the concept, a performative contradiction is a lack of fit between the content and the performance of a speech act. For Habermas, the truth of statements is a central element to his communicational ethic, implying that a statement which does not contradict the performance of the statement but its truthfulness is considered as a performative contradiction too. The above example "all statements must be false" is a performative contradiction because the speaker performs the action of stating something that contradicts the truthfulness of the speech act.

However, we could also imagine speech acts whose content contradicts the very act itself. For example, someone saying "I am mute" would commit a performative contradiction.


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).

Solipsism is often held to be a performative contradiction if stated.

See alsoEdit

Further reading Edit

  • Habermas, Jürgen, “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, 1990)Template:Ling-stub

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