Austin was educated at Shrewsbury School in , earning a scholarship in Classics, and went on to study Classics at Balliol College, Oxford in In , he received a First in Literae Humaniores Classics and Philosophy as well as the Gaisford Prize for Greek prose and first class honours in his finals. Literae Humaniores introduced him to serious philosophy and gave him a lifelong interest in Aristotle. His more contemporary influences included especially G. Moore , John Cook Wilson and H.

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Secondary Sources 1. He was trained as a classicist at Balliol College Oxford. He first came to philosophy by studying Aristotle, who deeply influenced his own philosophical method. Austin published only seven articles. Urmson Austin b for the first edition, and by Urmson and Marina Sbisa for the second Austin Austin had a profound dissatisfaction not only with the traditional way of philosophizing, but also with Logical Positivism whose leading figure in Oxford was Alfred J.

Austin thus developed a new philosophical methodology and style, which became paradigmatic of Ordinary Language Philosophy. Austin does not claim that this method is the only correct method to adopt.

Rather, it represents a valuable preliminary approach to at least some of the most stubborn problems in the tradition of Western philosophy, such as those of freedom, responsibility, and perception. According to Austin, the starting point in philosophy should be the analysis of the concepts and ways of expression of everyday language, and the reconnaissance of our ordinary language.

Ordinary language is not the last word: in principle it can everywhere be supplemented and improved upon and superseded. Only remember, it is the first word. The examination of ordinary language enables us to pay attention to the richness of linguistic facts and to tackle philosophical problems from a fresh and unprejudiced perspective.

To be sure, this is not a new methodology in the history of philosophy. Still, this strategy is now carried out with distinctive meticulousness and on a large scale on the one hand, and is undertaken and evaluated collectively, so as to gain a reasonable consensus, on the other. For Austin, philosophy is not an endeavor to be pursued privately, but a collective labor. There are indeed limitations to his methodology: on the one hand, many philosophical questions still remain untouched even after a meticulous reformulation; on the other hand, our everyday language does not embody all the distinctions which could be relevant for a philosophical inquiry compare Searle , Philosophy of Language a.

Meaning and Truth With the help of his innovative methodology, Austin takes a new stance towards our everyday language. As is well known, philosophers and logicians like Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, the earlier Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alfred Tarski and Willard Quine want to build a perfect language for philosophical and scientific communication, that is, an artificial language devoid of all the ambiguities and imperfections that characterize natural languages.

Conversely, ordinary language philosophers besides Austin, the later Wittgenstein, Friedrich Waismann, Paul Grice, Peter Strawson view natural language as an autonomous object of analysis — and its apparent imperfections as signs of richness and expressive power. In a formal language, semantic conventions associate with each term and each sentence a fixed meaning, once and for all. By contrast, the expressions of a natural language seem essentially incomplete; as a result, it seems impossible to fully verify our everyday sentences.

The meanings of our terms are only partially constrained, depending on the beliefs, desires, goals, activities, and institutions of our linguistic community. The boundaries, even when temporarily fixed, are unstable and open to new uses and new conventions in unusual situations. Our everyday terms are extremely flexible, and can still be used in odd cases. Of a dead man, lying on his bed, what would we say? That he is at home? That he is not at home? While for philosophers interested mainly in formal languages the main function of language is describing reality, representing states of affairs and making assertions about the world, for Austin our utterances have a variety of different uses.

Not all utterances, then, are assertions concerning states of affairs. The utterer of 1 or 2 is not describing the launching ceremony or a bet, but doing it. In the first lessons of How to Do Things with Words, Austin traces a tentative distinction between constatives and performatives, to be abandoned in the subsequent lessons.

Constatives, on the one hand, are sentences like 3 The cat is on the mat: they aim to describe states of affairs and are assessable as true or false. Performatives like 1 and 2 , on the other hand, do rather than report something: they perform acts governed by norms and institutions such as the act of marrying or baptizing or social conventions such as the act of betting or promising and do not seem assessible as true or false.

According to Austin it is possible and fruitful to shed light on standard cases of successful communication, and to specify the conditions for the smooth functioning of a performative, by focusing on non-standard cases and communicative failures. Further infelicities concern the execution of the procedure, for it must be executed by all participants both B. Finally, there are cases in which the performance of an act is achieved, but there is an abuse of the procedure, due to the violation of two kinds of rules: C.

As we said, in How to Do Things with Words Austin draws the distinction between constatives and performatives merely as a preliminary to the presentation of his main thesis, namely that there is a performative dimension in any use of language. The putative class of performatives seems to admit only specific verbs like to promise, to bet, to apologize, to order , all in the first person singular present. Any attempt to characterize the class with grammatical or lexical criteria, however, is bound to fail.

We may in fact perform the act of, say, ordering by using an explicit performative, as in 4 I order you to close the door but also with Similarly, there are performative verbs also for acts of stating, asserting, or concluding, as in 6 I assert that the Earth is flat. The very distinction between utterances assessable along the dimension of truth and falsehood constatives and utterances assessable along the dimension of felicity or infelicity performatives is a mere illusion.

To show this, Austin presents two arguments: a on the one hand, constatives may be assessed as happy or unhappy: like performatives, assertions require appropriate conditions for their felicitous performance to give an example, it does not seem appropriate to make an assertion one does not believe ; b on the other hand, performatives may be assessed in terms of truth and falsehood, or in terms of some conformity to the facts: of a verdict we say that it is fair or unfair, of a piece of advice that it is good or bad, of praise that it is deserved or not.

By a and b Austin is led to the conclusion that the distinction between constatives and performatives is inadequate: all sentences are tools we use in order to do something — to say something is always to do something.

Therefore it is necessary to develop a general theory of the uses of language and of the acts we perform by uttering a sentence: a general theory of what Austin calls illocutionary force. Within the same total speech act Austin distinguishes three different acts: locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary.

The locutionary act is the act of saying something, the act of uttering certain expressions, well-formed from a syntactic point of view and meaningful. It may furthermore be analyzed into a phonetic act the act of uttering certain noises , a phatic act the act of uttering words, that is, sounds as conforming to a certain vocabulary and grammar , and a rhetic act the act of using these words with a certain meaning — sense or reference.

To perform a locutionary act is also and eo ipso to perform an illocutionary act Austin , An illocutionary act is a way of using language, and its performance is the performance of an act in saying something as opposed to performance of an act of saying something. It corresponds to the force that an utterance like 5 has in a particular context: order, request, entreaty, or challenge.

The perlocutionary act corresponds to the effects brought about by performing an illocutionary act, to its consequences intentional or non-intentional on the feelings, thoughts, or actions of the participants. According to Austin the speaker, by saying what she says, performs another kind of act like persuading, convincing, or alerting because she can be taken as responsible for those effects compare Sbisa and Austin makes a further distinction between perlocutionary objects the consequences brought about by an illocutionary act in virtue of its force — as alerting can be a consequence of the illocutionary act of warning and perlocutionary sequels the consequences brought about by an illocutionary act without a systematic connection to its force — as surprising can be a consequence of the illocutionary act of asserting Austin In the last lesson of How to Do Things with Words Austin tentatively singles out five classes of illocutionary acts, using as a starting point a list of explicit performative verbs: Verdictives, Exercitives, Commissives, Behabitives, Expositives.

The class of Verdictives includes acts formal or informal of giving a verdict, estimate, or appraisal as acquitting, reckoning, assessing, diagnosing. These may concern facts or values. The class of Exercitives includes acts of exerting powers, rights or influence as appointing, voting, ordering, warning. These presuppose that the speaker has a certain kind of authority or influence.

The class of Commissives includes acts that commit the speaker to doing something as promising, undertaking, consenting, opposing, betting. The class of Expositives includes acts that clarify reasons, arguments, or communications as affirming, denying, stating, describing, asking, answering.

The class of Behabitives includes acts having to do with attitudes and social behavior as apologizing, congratulating, commending, thanking. Austin characterizes the illocutionary act as the conventional aspect of language to be contrasted with the perlocutionay act. As we said before, for any speech act there must exist an accepted conventional procedure having a certain conventional effect condition A.

This claim seems plausible as far as institutional or social acts like naming a ship, or betting are concerned: the conventional dimension is here manifest because it is our society and sometimes our laws that validates those acts. The claim seems less plausible as far as speech acts in general are concerned: nothing conventional, or semantic, makes of 5 an order, or a challenge, or an entreaty — the illocutionary force of the utterance is fixed by the context of utterance.

Austin specifies three kinds of conventional effects: the performance of an illocutionary act involves the securing of uptake, that is, bringing about the understanding of the meaning and force of the locution; the illocutionary act takes effect in conventional ways, as distinguished from producing consequences in the sense of bringing about changes in the natural course of events; and many illocutionary acts invite by convention a response or sequel Austin , Ayer, and Austin were the main participants , and its topic was a much debated one in the middle decades of the twentieth century.

In Sense and Sensibilia Austin applies his linguistic analysis to the sense-data theory and the more general foundational theory of knowledge, within which sense-data played the role of the basis of the very structure of empirical knowledge, in order to gain a clarification of the concept of perception.

Sense and Sensibilia These lectures represent a very detailed criticism of the claims put forward by A. Ayer in The Foundations of Empirical Knowledge , and, to a lesser extent, of those contained in H.

Austin challenges the sense-data theory, according to which we never directly perceive material objects. On the contrary, it is claimed by such theory, we perceive nothing but sense-data. The notion of sense-data is introduced to identify the object of perception in abnormal, exceptional cases, for example, refraction, mirages, mirror-images, hallucinations, and so forth.

In all such cases, the sense-data theorist maintains, we directly perceive sense-data. The subsequent step in this argument, named the argument from illusion, is to claim that in ordinary cases too we directly perceive merely sense-data. The argument from illusion amounts to a misconception inasmuch as it introduces a bogus dichotomy: that between sense-data and material objects. Besides chairs, tables, pens and cigarettes, indicated by the sense-data theorist as examples of material objects, Austin draws attention to rainbows, shadows, flames, vapors and gases as cases of things we ordinarily say that we perceive, even though we would not classify them as material things.

By recalling the familiarity of the circumstances in which we encounter these phenomena and the ways in which we ordinarily consider them, Austin intends to show how the dichotomies between sense-data and material objects, and between illusory perceptions and veridical ones, are in fact spurious alternatives. Austin does not want to rule out the possibility of tracing, for theoretical purposes, new distinctions, and thus of emending our linguistic practices by introducing technical terms, but he rather proposes always to pay attention to the ordinary uses of our words, in order to avoid oversimplifications and distortions.

Knowledge of Particular Empirical Facts Austin engages in an examination of the kinds of answers we would provide, in ordinary, concrete and specific circumstances, to challenges to our claims of knowledge. The ways in which, in ordinary circumstances, our claims can be challenged, or be wrong, are specific ways that the context helps us to determine , and there are recognized procedures appropriate to the particular type of case to which we can appeal to justify or verify such claims.

These conditions are the ones we typically appeal to in order to justify our claims of knowledge should they be challenged. It is on this special nature that the analysis of Austin in this paper is meant to shed light.

Moreover, emphasis is placed on the fact that in order for feelings and emotions to be attributed, and also self-attributed, a problem of recognition, and of familiarity with the complexities of such pattern, seems to be in place, due to the very way in which the uses of the relevant terms have been learnt.

Apart from this kind of intrinsic vagueness, doubts may arise as to the correctness of a feeling attribution, or its authenticity, due to cases of misunderstanding or deception. Again, it may still be open to contention whether this is sufficient to refute skepticism. According to the method dear to Austin, through the analysis of abnormal cases, or failures, it is possible to throw light on the normal and standard cases.

An examination of excuses should enable us to gain an understanding of the notion of action, by means of the preliminary elucidation of the notions of responsibility and freedom. Far from being reducible to merely making some bodily movements, doing an action is organized into different stages: the intelligence, the appreciation of the situation, the planning, the decision, and the execution.

In particular, by using a certain term to describe what someone did, we can cover either a smaller or larger stretch of events, distinguishing the act from its consequences, results, or effects. The logical limits of these combinations enable Austin to single out the differences among the concepts under investigation. Subsequently, as a second step, such differences are made apparent by an analysis of the grammar and philology of the terms adjectival terminations, negative forms, the prepositions used to form adverbial expressions, and so forth.

Austin does not provide a positive account of the notion of freedom: it is rather elucidated through attention to the different ways in which our actions may be free. Legacy a. Here we will concentrate on two main strands: the dispute between conventionalism and intentionalism on the one hand, and the debate on pornography, free speech, and censorship on the other.

Although almost all the developments of SAT contain, in different degrees, both a conventionalist and an intentionalist element, it may be useful to distinguish two main traditions, depending on the preponderance of one element over the other: a conventionalist, Austinian tradition, and an intentionalist, neo-Gricean one. The hallmark of such effects is, unlike physical actions, their being liable to annulment, their defeasibility.



Explore the Home Gift Guide. Sense and Sensibilia Would you like to tell us about a lower price? Page 1 of 1 Start over Page 1 of 1. English Choose sensiibilia language for shopping. Austin — — Oxford University Press. Austin — — In Bernard Williams ed. Sayre — — Philosophical Studies Austin believes that many philosophical problems arise because philosophers are not careful enough about how words are actually used.


John Langshaw Austin (1911—1960)

Sense and Sensibilia Not quite as good, but almost as combatative, and it makes some good points. Feb 17, Jake Bornheimer rated it really liked it Shelves: It belongs in the tradition of ordinary language philosophy. WarnockOxford, Oxford University Press. There was a problem filtering reviews right now.


J. L. Austin




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