1 minute read

J. L. Austin (John Langshaw Austin) Biography

(1911–60), (John Langshaw Austin), Sense and Sensibilia, How To Do Things with Words, Collected Papers

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Areley Kings (or arley regis) Worcestershire to George Pierce Baker Biography

British philosopher, born in Lancaster, educated at Balliol College, Oxford; he was White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford from 1952 until his death. A writer and lecturer of uncommon with and style, Austin's characteristic approach involved applying the rigour of classical textual scholarship to ‘ordinary language’. During his lifetime, his work was mostly disseminated through a few learned papers (notably ‘Other Minds’ and ‘A Plea for Excuses’) and through his teaching. In Sense and Sensibilia (1962), Austin argued with great cogency against the fashionable ‘sense-data’ theory associated with A. J. Ayer and the logical positivists. In examining how we talk about the world rather than whether or not we perceive it, Austin moved philosophy much closer to linguistics, and in his most widely read book, How To Do Things with Words (1962), he offered a series of important distinctions to be found within conventional usage. For Austin, as for John Searle, language could be functional or performative as well as descriptive (or ‘constative’). The performative utterance is an ‘illocutionary’ act, whereas the constative utterance is a ‘locutionary’ act. In developing these fine distinctions, Austin displayed the sensitivity of a subtle literary critic, and undermined the assumptions of much contemporary British philosophy. His stimulating essays appeared in Collected Papers (1961).

Additional topics