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Austin, John Langshaw (1911–60)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD005-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

J.L. Austin was a leading figure in analytic philosophy in the fifteen years following the Second World War. He developed a method of close examination of nonphilosophical language designed to illuminate the distinctions we make in ordinary life. Professional philosophers tended to obscure these important and subtle distinctions with undesirable jargon which was too far removed from everyday usage. Austin thought that a problem should therefore be tackled by an examination of the way in which its vocabulary is used in ordinary situations. Such an approach would then expose the misuses of language on which many philosophical claims were based.

In ‘Other Minds’ ([1946] 1961), Austin attacked the simplistic division of utterances into the ‘descriptive’ and ‘evaluative’ using his notion of a performatory, or performative utterances. His notion was that certain utterances, in the appropriate circumstances, are neither descriptive nor evaluative, but count as actions. Thus to say ‘I promise’ is to make a promise, not to talk about one. Later, he was to develop the concepts of locutionary force (what an utterance says or refers to), illocutionary force (what is intended by saying it) and perlocutionary force (what effects it has on others).

Citing this article:
Urmson, J.O.. Austin, John Langshaw (1911–60), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD005-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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