, 1911-1960, one of the great intellectual figures of the 20th century. With Ludwig Wittgenstein
he revolutionised our understanding of reality by demolishing metaphysics
by the rigorous practice of analytic philosophy
, which starts from ordinary language
, analyses its description
of a situation, then shows that confusion arises from applying the language
in a way it was never intended for. However, he never cliamed that ordinary language was the final or sole arbiter of problems.
He was highly influential in his teaching, but left only three books: How to Do Things With Words and Sense and Sensibilia (and a pun is a pleasant thing to do with words), and the Collected Papers of what he had contributed to journals.
John Langshaw Austin, his full name, was educated at Shrewsbury School and was in the Signals Corps during the War. For recreation he enjoyed playing the violin, and was very fond of Bach.
He believed in taking things to their logical conclusion. Although he did not believe in certain current theories such as that of sense data (Sense and Sensibilia is a demolition of that idea, associated with the logical positivists), he was willing to phrase problems in terms of rival theories, on their own grounds, instead of claiming he couldn't understand what they were talking about.
His colleagues included A.J. Ayer and his students included Isaiah Berlin, whose recollections in his book Personal Impressions give a vivid portrait of Austin, among others. Berlin mentions one occasion when they decided to discuss some contemporary idea (the doctrine of qualia), and give a joint presentation, arguing for and against. Berlin presented the case for. Austin listened carefully, then opened his own presentation by saying that it seemed to him that what Berlin had said was complete nonsense. Thereupon Berlin realised it was not going to be simply a polite seminar, but a fight to the death: his own.
J.L. Austin's usual opponent in his classes, however, was the dogged A.J. Ayer, and often the others were largely observers to a logical battle between the two, with Ayer infuriated by the calm and relentless demolitions and dismissals from Austin. This went on for many years, starting in 1936 when Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic appeared, and Austin after expressing great admiration began tearing it down in long walks with Berlin.
He coined the terms illocutionary force and perlocutionary force, which have gained wide acceptance in describing the consequences of a speech act.