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Friday, August 31, 2018

J. L. Austin and language

J. L. Austin (1911-1960) was an British philosopher philosopher best known for his analysis of ordinary language and speech acts. Guy Longworth said,


"[J. L. 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... 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." (The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2013)


The rest of this post is some quotes from Austin.


Language and reality


"After all we speak of people 'taking refuge' in vagueness - the more precise you are, in general the more likely you are to be wrong, whereas you stand a good chance of not being wrong if you make it vague enough." (Sense and Sensibilia, 1962 posthumous)


"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." (Philosophical Papers, 1979 posthumous)


Word meaning


"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." (Philosophical Papers, 1979 posthumous)


"Philosophers often seem to think that they can just 'assign' any meaning whatever to any word; and so no doubt, in an absolutely trivial sense, they can (like Humpty-Dumpty)." (Sense and Sensibilia, 1962 posthumous)


Word creation


"Our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, the connexions they have found worth marketing, in the lifetimes of many generations; these surely are likely to be more numerous, more sound, since they have stood up to the long test of the survival of the fittest, and more subtle, at least in all ordinary and reasonably practical matter, than any that you or I are likely to think up in our arm-chairs of an afternoon..." (


"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... 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." (A Plea for Excuses, 1956)