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  • Austin
  • Austin Langshaw John
  • J. L.


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John Langshaw Austin (1911)

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John Langshaw Austin (March 26, 1911 – February 8, 1960) was a British philosopher of language, born in Lancaster and educated at Shrewsbury School and Balliol College, Oxford University. Austin is widely associated with the concept of the speech act and the idea that speech is itself a form of action. Consequently, in his understanding, language is not just a passive practice of describing a given reality, but a particular practice that can be used to invent and affect realities. His work in the 1950s provided both a theoretical outline and the terminology for the modern study of speech acts developed subsequently, for example, by John R. Searle (the Oxford-educated American philosopher), François Récanati, Kent Bach, Robert M. Harnish, and William P. Alston.

He occupies a place in philosophy of language alongside Wittgenstein and his fellow Oxonian, Ryle, in staunchly advocating the examination of the way words are ordinarily used in order to elucidate meaning, and avoid philosophical confusions. Unlike many ordinary language philosophers, however, Austin disavowed any overt indebtedness to Wittgenstein's later philosophy, calling Wittgenstein a "charlatan". His main influence, he said, was the exact and exacting common-sense philosophy of G. E. Moore. His training as a classicist and linguist influenced his later work.

Austin made another significant contribution to philosophy, as well, of a very different sort. In 1950, he published a translation of Gottlob Frege's Foundations of Arithmetic. Together with Peter Geach and Max Black's book Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege, published in 1952, Austin's translation was what made Frege's writings available to the English-speaking world and thus helped establish Frege's important place in analytic philosophy. The translation is still widely used today.


The second son of Geoffrey Langshaw Austin (1884–1971), an architect, and his wife Mary Bowes-Wilson (1883–1948), Austin was born in Lancaster. In 1922 the family moved to Scotland, where Austin's father became the secretary of St Leonard's School, St Andrews. Austin was educated at Shrewsbury School and Balliol College, Oxford, holding classical scholarships at both. He arrived at Oxford in 1929 to read Literae Humaniores ('Greats'), and in 1931 gained a First in classical moderations and also won the Gaisford Prize for Greek prose. Greats introduced him to serious philosophy and gave him a life-long interest in Aristotle. In 1933, he got first class honours in his Finals.

After serving in MI6 during World War II, Austin became White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford. He began holding his famous "Austin's Saturday Mornings" where students and colleagues would discuss language usages over tea and crumpets, but published little.

Austin visited Harvard and Berkeley in the mid-fifties, in 1955 delivering the William James Lectures at Harvard that would become How to Do Things With Words, and offering a seminar on excuses whose material would find its way into "A Plea for Excuses". It was at this time that he met and befriended Noam Chomsky.

He was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1956 to 1957.

Austin died at the age of 48 of lung cancer. At the time, he was developing a semantic theory based on sound symbolism, using the English gl-words as data.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Остин, Джон Лэнгшо", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.