Philosophy Pages

    Dictionary    Study Guide  Logic   F A Q s
  History Timeline Philosophers   Locke

John Langshaw Austin

Life and Works
. . Ordinary Language
. . Speech Acts
Internet Sources

J. L. Austin was born in Lancaster and educated at Oxford, where he became a professor of philosophy following several years of service in British intelligence during World War II. Although greatly admired as a teacher, Austin published little of his philosophical work during his brief lifetime. Students gathered his papers and lectures in books that were published posthumously, including Philosophical Papers (1961) and Sense and Sensibilia (1962). Austin

In "A Plea for Excuses" (1956), Austin explained and illustrated his method of approaching philosophical issues by first Austin patiently analyzing the subtleties of ordinary language. In How to Do Things with Words (1961), the transcription of Austin's James lectures at Harvard, application of this method distinguishes between what we say, what we mean when we say it, and what we accomplish by saying it, or between speech acts involving locution, illocution (or "performative utterance"), and perlocution.

Recommended Reading:

Primary sources:

  • J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Harvard, 1975)
  • J. L. Austin, Philosophical Papers, ed. by J. O. Urmson and Geoffrey J. Warnock (Oxford, 1990)
  • J. L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia, ed. by Geoffrey J. Warnock (Oxford, 1962)

Secondary sources:

  • G. J. Warnock, J. L. Austin (Routledge, 1991)

Additional on-line information about Austin includes:

Creative Commons License
The Philosophy Pages by Garth Kemerling are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

©1997, 2011 Garth Kemerling.
Last modified 22 November 2011.
Questions, comments, and suggestions may be sent to: the Contact Page.