J. L. Austin

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John Langshaw Austin (March 28, 1911February 8, 1960) was an English philosopher of language and speech theorist, remembered primarily as the developer of the theory of speech acts.


  • Going back into the history of a word, very often into Latin, we come back pretty commonly to pictures or models of how things happen or are done. These models may be fairly sophisticated and recent, as is perhaps the case with 'motive' or 'impulse', but one of the commonest and most primitive types of model is one which is apt to baffle us through its very naturalness and simplicity.
  • There are more ways of killing a cat than drowning it in butter; but this is the sort of thing (as the proverb indicates) we overlook: there are more ways of outraging speech than contradiction merely.
    • John Langshaw Austin, Marina Sbisà (1975) How to Do Things with Words. p. 48.
  • Infelicity is an ill to which all acts are heir which have the general character of ritual or ceremonial, all conventional acts.
    • Austin (1975, p. 18–19) as cited in: James Loxley (2006) Performativity. p. 81.

Philosophical Papers (1979)[edit]

  • J. L. Austin; James Opie Urmson, Geoffrey James Warnock eds. (1979) Philosophical Papers, 3rd ed. New York: Oxford.
  • The Nicomachean Ethics is only intended as a guide for politicians, and they are only concerned to know what is good, not what goodness means...and in any case one can know what things are good without knowing the analysis of 'good'
    • p. 22.
  • Why should it not be the whole function of a word to denote many things?
    • p. 38.
  • In one sense 'there are' both universals and material objects, in another sense there is no such thing as either: statements about each can usually be analysed, but not always, nor always without remainder.
    • p. 43.
  • But surely, speaking carefully, we do not sense 'red' and 'blue' any more than 'resemblance' (or 'qualities' any more than 'relations'): we sense something of which we might say, if we wished to talk about it, that 'this is red.'
    • P. 49.
  • It may justly be urged that, properly speaking, what alone has meaning is a sentence.
    • p. 56.
  • Faced with the nonsense question 'What is the meaning of a word?' and perhaps dimly recognizing it to be nonsense, we are nevertheless not inclined to give it up.
    • p. 58.
  • Ordinary language blinkers the already feeble imagination.
    • p. 68.
  • If we say that I only get at the symptoms of his anger, that carries an important implication. But is this the way we do talk?
    • p. 107.
  • But suppose we take the noun 'truth': here is a case where the disagreements between different theorists have largely turned on whether they interpreted this as a name of a substance, of a quality, or of a relation.
    • p. 73.
  • We become obsessed with 'truth' when discussing statements, just as we become obsessed with 'freedom' when discussing conduct...Like freedom, truth is a bare minimum or an illusory ideal.
    • p. 130.
  • Like 'real', 'free' is only used to rule out the suggestion of some or all of its recognized antitheses. As 'truth' is not a name of a characteristic of assertions, so 'freedom' is not a name for a characteristic of actions, but the name of a dimension in which actions are assessed.
    • p. 180.
  • Words are not (except in their own little corner) facts or things: we need therefore to prise them off the world, to hold them apart from and against it, so that we can realize their inadequacies and arbitrariness, and can relook at the world without blinkers.
    • p. 182.
  • 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.
    • p. 185.
  • However well equipped our language, it can never be forearmed against all possible cases that may arise and call for description: fact is richer than diction.
    • p. 195.
  • Let us distinguish between acting intentionally and acting deliberately or on purpose, as far as this can be done by attending to what language can teach us.
    • p. 273.

About Austin[edit]

  • John Langshaw Austin... made a number of contributions in various areas of philosophy, including important work on knowledge, perception, action, freedom, truth, language, and the use of language in speech acts. Distinctions that Austin draws in his work on speech acts—in particular his distinction between locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts—have assumed something like canonical status in more recent work. His work on knowledge and perception places him in a broad tradition of “Oxford Realism”, running from Cook Wilson and Harold Arthur Prichard through to J. M. Hinton, M. G. F. Martin, John McDowell, Paul Snowdon, Charles Travis, and Timothy Williamson. His work on truth has played an important role in recent discussions of the extent to which sentence meaning can be accounted for in terms of truth-conditions.
    • Guy Longworth (2013) "John Langshaw Austin", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Summer 2013 Edition, Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

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