The philosophy of language is one of the most interesting currents of those born in modern philosophy and one of its great representatives is the protagonist of this article.
John Langshaw Austin he is perhaps the greatest of the philosophers of language along with John Searle, Noam Chomsky and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Born and raised in the UK, he is one of the authors, along with Searle, of Speech Act Theory, providing the three main categories in how we humans pronounce our sentences.
His life, although short, has been one of the most influential in his field. Let’s take a closer look at its interesting history throughout John Langshaw Austin biography.
Biography of John Langshaw Austin
The life of this philosopher of language is characterized neither by a prolific publication nor, unfortunately, by having lived for many years. Yet this British thinker knew how to make the most of his years of life, being the creator of one of the most important theories in the field of psycholinguistics, In addition to having received a number of awards.
1. Early years and training
John Langshaw Austin was born in Lancaster, England on March 26, 1911.
In 1924, he enrolled at Shrewsbury School, where he studied the great classics of all time. He then studied classical literature at Balliol College, Oxford in 1929.
In 1933 he received a degree in classical literature and philosophy, in addition to the Gaisford Prize for Greek prose. He finished his studies by being the first of the class. In 1935 he began teaching at Magdalen College, also in Oxford. Later he would enter the field of Aristotle’s philosophy, being a great referent throughout his life.
2. Formation of your reflection
But among his first interests is not only Aristotle (later, between 1956 and 1957, Austin was president of the English Aristotelian Society). He also addressed Kant, Leibniz and Plato. As for its most contemporary influencers, one can find at GE Moore, HA Prichard and John Cook Wilson.
The vision of the most modern philosophers has shaped their way of seeing the main questions of Western thoughtAnd it was from this moment that he began to take a particular interest in how we humans make specific judgments.
During World War II, Austin served his country by working in British intelligence. In fact, it has been said that he was one of the leaders responsible for the preparation of D-Day, that is to say the D-Day Landings in Normandy.
John Austin left the military with the rank of lieutenant colonel and was recognized for his work in intelligence with the Order of the British Empire, the French Croix de Guerre and the American Legion Award.
3. The last years
After the war, Austin he worked at Corpus Christi College, Oxford as a professor of moral philosophy.
In life, Austin was not particularly prolific when it came to publications (he only published seven articles), but that didn’t stop him from becoming famous. His influence was mainly due to the fact that he held very interesting lectures. In fact, he became famous for giving some of them on Saturday mornings, which was quite striking for a teacher at the time.
Thanks to this, and to the increase in his popularity, John Austin was a visitor to the decade of the 50 ‘universities like those of Harvard and Berkeley.
It is from these journeys that the material emerges to write How to do things with words, a posthumous work that captures, in substance, his entire philosophy of language. too much It was during these years that he had the opportunity to meet Noam Chomsky, Become very good friends.
Unfortunately for the linguistic world, John Langshaw Austin died at the age of 48 on February 8, 1960, shortly after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
Philosophy of language and its method
Austin felt unhappy with the way philosophy was conducted in his day, especially logical positivism. According to this author, logical positivism was responsible for producing philosophical dichotomies which, instead of clarifying things and helping to understand the world around us, seemed to oversimplify reality and tend towards dogmatism.
Austin developed a new philosophical methodology, which will later lay the foundations for philosophy based on ordinary language. John Austin did not see this method as the only valid one, however, it seemed to bring Western philosophers closer to solving problems as old as freedom, perception, and responsibility.
For Austin, the starting point was to be to analyze the forms and concepts used in the language of the world, And recognize their limitations and prejudices. It would reveal those mistakes that have been made from time immemorial in philosophy.
According to this author, in common parlance, all the distinctions and connections made by human beings. It is as if words have evolved by natural selection, surviving those that best suit the linguistic context and those that would describe the world we perceive, humans. It would be influenced by each culture, expressed in a different way of seeing things.
Theory of speech acts
The theory of speech acts is arguably John Austin’s best-known contribution to the field of the philosophy of language. The theory of speech acts is a theory of how communication intentions manifest. In this theory, the concepts of intention and action are incorporated as fundamental elements of the uses of language.
In his time, most philosophers were interested in the functioning of formal language, that is to say, formed with logical rules. An example of formal language would be: mammals suck, dogs suck, therefore dogs are mammals. However, Austin chose to describe how everyday language is used to describe and change reality.
One of the most interesting aspects of Austin’s interest in ordinary language was understanding how, according to what is said, it is possible to create a situation in oneself. In other words, there are expressions which, when given, are in themselves what they describe as being done. To better understand:
Being at a wedding, the chaplain who officiates the ceremony, after having given rings to the bride and groom, says aloud: “For the moment, I declare you husband and wife”. By saying “I declare”, the chaplain is not describing a reality, he is creating it. By his words, he officially made a two-person marriage. And he accomplished it by means of an act of speaking, in this case a declaration.
Thus, speech acts are understood as linguistic expressions, oral and written, which, when uttered, imply a change of reality in themselves, that is, they are what they are. say do.
In Austin’s theory, with speaking act, a term that was originally used by John Searle and Peter Strawson, refers to statements that constitute, by themselves, an act involving some kind of change with regard to the relationship between the interlocutors, As seen in the case of marriage.
In the same theory, John Austin distinguishes three types of acts:
1. The speech acts locutoris
They are just saying something. This is how the act is called when the human being says or writes something, whether it is true or not or whether it constitutes in itself a change of reality.
2. Illocutionary speech acts
These are acts that describe the speaker’s intention by being stated. For example, a case of an illocutionary act would be to congratulate, which in itself involves doing an act, which is to congratulate.
3. The word acts perlocutionary
These are the effects or consequences that flow from the act of issuing an illocutionary act, that is to say the response to having said something, or a congratulation, an insult, an order …
These are acts done by saying something. They reflect the result of an act uttered by the speaker which has had an effect on the listener.
It is not enough to recognize the intention of the speaker, but the receiver must also believe in it. They are not performed for the simple act of uttering.
- Austin, JL 1940. “The Meaning of a Word”. The Moral Sciences Club of the University of Cambridge and the Jowett Society of the University of Oxford. Printed in 1961, James O. Urmson and Geoffrey J. Warnock (eds), Philosophical Papers (pp. 55-75). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Austin, JL 1946. “Other Minds”. Proceedings of Aristotelian Society, Additional Volumes 20, 148-187. Reprinted 1961, James O. Urmson and Geoffrey J. Warnock (eds.), Philosophical Papers (pp. 76-116). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Austin, JL 1950. “Truth”. Acts of Aristotelian Society, Additional Volumes 24, 111-128. Reprinted in 1961, James O. Urmson and Geoffrey J. Warnock (eds.), Philosophical Papers (pp. 117-133). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Austin, JL 1956a. “A pleasure for the apologies.” Acts of the Aristotelian Society 57, 1-30. Reprinted 1961, James O. Urmson and Geoffrey J. Warnock (eds.), Philosophical Papers (pp. 175-204). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Austin, JL 1956b. “Yews and cans”. Acts of the Aristotelian Society 42, 109-132. Reprinted in 1961, James O. Urmson and Geoffrey J. Warnock (eds.), Philosophical Papers (pp. 205-232). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Austin, JL 1961. Philosophical Documents. JO Urmson and GJ Warnock (eds), Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Austin, JL 1962a. Sense and Sensibilia, GJ Warnock (eds). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Austin, JL 1962b. How to do things with words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Austin, JL 1966. “Three Ways to Pour Ink”. The Philosophical Review 75, 427-440. Printed in 1961, James O. Urmson and Geoffrey J. Warnock (eds), Philosophical Papers (pp. 272-287). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Austin, JL 1975. How to do things with words, James O. Urmson and Marina Sbisa (eds.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd edition.