Analytic Philosophy

Ordinary Language Philosophy

Who was J.L. Austin?

John Langshaw (J.L.) Austin (1911–1960) was educated in the classics at Oxford and served in military intelligence during World War II. He was appointed White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford University in 1952, and he also visited at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley. Austin did not think that all philosophical problems were the results of confusions about language, but he referred to ordinary speech for important distinctions. In Sense and Sensibilia (edited from his lecture notes in 1962), Austin attacked the sense-data theory on the grounds that we do not perceive sense data, but real objects.

Austin is best remembered for his performative theory of certain types of language. For example, saying “I promise,” or “I do” in a wedding ceremony, constitutes the actions of promising and marrying someone. While everybody knows such things in common sense, previous theories of language had not attended to this performative function. He further elaborated his theory of speech with the following distinctions among what he called “forces” in speech: locutionary forces are associated with meaning, illocutionary with intention, and perlocutionary with the consequences of saying certain things.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Philosophy Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App