Born This Day: J.L. Austin

1911 – 1960

John Langshaw Austin (not to be confused with John Austin (1790) who also wrote on philosophy of language) was a British philosopher mainly known for his William James lectures delivered at Harvard in 1955 and published posthumously as How to Do Things with Words.

  • Died at 48 of lung cancer
  • Held White's Chair of Moral Philosophy at Oxford even though his field of study was in linguistics.
  • Developed a theory of language characterized by "speech-acts." He defined three types of speech-acts:

    "Beyond intending to sentence in English, a person who utters the sentence The door is open', e.g., is likely to be intending to perform... (1) the locutionary act of saying (expressing the proposition) that a certain door is open, (2) the illlocutionary act of making the statement (expressing the belief) that it is open, and (3) the perlocutionary act of getting his listener to believe that it is open. In so doing, he may be performing the indirect speech act of requesting (illocutionary) the listener to close the door and of getting (perlocutionary) the hearer to close the door." Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (1st edition, 758)
  • Influenced the philosophy of UC Berkeley philosopher John Searle and was heavily influenced by the "common sense" philosophy of G.E. Moore.
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