Sense and Sensibilia is a landmark work of ordinary language philosophy by J. Austin , Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Austin attacks sense data theories of perception , specifically those of A. The book was published posthumously having been reconstructed from Austin's manuscript notes by fellow Oxford philosopher Geoffrey Warnock.

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He 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.

Distinctions that Austin draws in his work on speech acts—in particular his distinction between locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts—have assumed something like canonical status in more recent work. Hinton, M. 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.

Austin took up a scholarship in Classics at Shrewsbury School in , and, in , went on to study Classics at Balliol College, Oxford. He undertook his first teaching position in , as fellow and tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford.

His more contemporary influences included especially G. Moore, John Cook Wilson, and H. All three philosophers shaped their views about general philosophical questions on the basis of careful attention to the more specific judgments we make. The core components of the latter view are, first, that perception and knowledge are primitive forms of apprehension and, second, that what we apprehend are ordinary elements of our environments that are independent of our apprehending them.

All three thinkers were at one or another time committed to versions of both components of the position but for complex reasons sometimes wavered about the second. See e. Austin left the army in September with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Officer of the Legion of Merit. After the War, Austin returned to Oxford. In the same year, he took on the role of delegate to Oxford University Press, becoming Chairman of the Finance Committee in His other administrative work for the University included the role of Junior Proctor —50 , and Chairman of the Sub-Faculty of Philosophy — He was president of the Aristotelian Society — He invented the card game CASE in During this period, Austin edited H.

Austin wrote little and published less. Much of his influence was through teaching and other forms of small-scale engagement with philosophers. Strawson, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

However, although each of these thinkers was sometimes concerned, in one or another way, with our use of ordinary language, it is far from clear what in addition to that the label is supposed to entail. And it is equally unclear that the various thinkers so-labelled deserve to be grouped together. Austin cared about language for two main reasons. Second, the study of language is an aide—indeed, for some topics, an important preliminary—to the pursuit of philosophical topics.

He could not have adopted a special tone of voice, or attitude of mind, for philosophical questions. Hampshire In short, it mattered to Austin that, in attempting to make out positions and arguments, philosophers should meet ordinary standards of truth, accuracy, and so forth.

On the one hand, this presented a general challenge to philosophers, a challenge that they might easily fail to meet. The challenge is either to make use of an ordinary vocabulary, or ordinary concepts, in order to make claims or judgments that are, according to ordinary standards, at least true or accurate, etc.

On the other hand, it provided Austin with what he took to be a reasonably secure approach to general philosophical questions: first, find a connection between those general philosophical questions and the more specific claims or judgments that we ordinarily make and take ourselves to be secure in making; second, make sufficiently many of the relevant claims or judgments, in a sufficient variety of circumstances, in order to address the general philosophical questions.

Austin held that, in their hurry to address general philosophical questions, philosophers have a tendency to ignore the nuances involved in making and assessing ordinary claims and judgments. Among the risks associated with insensitivity to the nuances, two stand out. First, philosophers are liable to miss distinctions that are made in our ordinary use of language and that are relevant to our concerns and claims.

Second, failure to exploit fully the resources of ordinary language can make philosophers susceptible to seemingly forced choices between unacceptable alternatives. Here Austin warns:. It is worth bearing in mind…the general rule that we must not expect to find simple labels for complicated cases…however well-equipped our language, it can never be forearmed against all possible cases that may arise and call for description: fact is richer than diction.

But special, or especially complicated, cases may require special treatment. This is apt to be an especial liability when it comes to the question whether a sentence can be used in a particular circumstance to state something true or false:. We say, for example, that a certain statement is exaggerated or vague or bold, a description somewhat rough or misleading or not very good, an account rather general or too concise.

Is it true or false that Belfast is north of London? That the galaxy is the shape of a fried egg? That Beethoven was a drunkard? That Wellington won the battle of Waterloo? There are various degrees and dimensions of success in making statements: the statements fit the facts always more or less loosely, in different ways on different occasions for different intents and purposes. Austin makes two points here. First, when faced with a putative choice of this sort, we should not insist on deciding in simple terms whether a statement is true or false or whether an expression applies or fails to apply to something.

First, words are our tools, and, as a minimum, we should use clean tools: we should know what we mean and what we do not, and we must forearm ourselves against the traps that language sets us. Secondly, 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 re-look at the world without blinkers.

Thirdly, and more hopefully, our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the connexions they have found worth making, in the lifetimes of many generations: these surely are likely to be 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 matters, than any that you or I are likely to think up in our arm-chairs of an afternoon—the most favoured alternative method.

His concern was only that such theorising should be properly grounded, and that it should not be driven, for example, by an initial failure to keep track of distinctions that we mark in our ordinary use of language. Rather, judgments about appropriateness are driven also by, for example, our sensitivities to the demands of rational co-operation with our conversational partners.

And it has been thought that, in one or another way, ordinary language philosophers, including Austin, have been insensitive to the additional parameters to which judgments of appropriateness are beholden for early attacks of this sort, see Ayer and Searle It is beyond the scope of this entry to attempt to assess either the extent to which Austin should really be seen as a target of such objections or, if he should, whether they demonstrate weaknesses in his work.

Rather, Austin is—as we are—sensitive to more fine-grained appraisals of uses of bits of language and, when he judges that an utterance on an occasion would be false or nonsensical, he intends that judgment to contrast with less damaging negative appraisals—for example, about what it would be merely inappropriate or impolite to say.

Moreover, Austin is sensitive to the specific features of situations upon which we base one or another more fine-grained appraisal of uses of sentences. And Austin is sensitive to the details of both participants in that and other forms of transaction between word and world.

Amongst the distinctive claims Austin makes about truth are the following:. And he accused his opponents of committing the descriptive fallacy : the alleged fallacy of treating expressions, or aspects of the use of expressions, that really serve performative purposes as having only a descriptive purpose. In pursuing that aim, Austin also made a number of distinctive proposals about the descriptive function of the truth predicate. Austin presents his account of truth as an account of truth for statements.

However, statings are not ordinarily said to be true or false, except derivatively insofar as what is stated in them is true or false. Rather, statings are assessed as, for example, correct or incorrect, appropriate or inappropriate, and so forth. However, it is plausible that stating correctly is closely associated with making a statement that is true. When is a statement true? And as a piece of standard English this can hardly be wrong. Indeed, I must confess I do not really think it is wrong at all: the theory of truth is a series of truisms.

Still, it can at least be misleading. The two obvious sources of potential misdirection in the formula that Austin endorses here are its appeal to correspondence and its appeal to facts. In giving an account of correspondence, Austin makes appeal to two types of what he calls conventions as per 3 above : [ 8 ]. The descriptive conventions associate sentences with types of ways for things to be: ways for situations, things, events, etc. A variety of different historic situations might be of that type.

Similarly, cat-mat pairings that took place at different times would be different historic situations or events and yet might be of the same type. The demonstrative conventions, by contrast, associate particular statings—themselves historic events—with some amongst the accessible historic situations, things, events, etc.

Consider, for example, the following simplified case. There are two accessible situations, one of which is of the cat-on-mat type and one of which is of the dog-on-linoleum type.

In order to achieve that, the speaker must find a way of making manifest that their goal is to select, say, the dog-on-linoleum situation. They might achieve this by, for example, their use on a particular occasion of the present tense, or by pointing, etc. A statement is said to be true when the historic state of affairs [or e. Austin expands on his account in the omitted footnote:.

According to Austin, a stating by use of that sentence would be correct if the thing selected in the stating via the demonstrative conventions were sufficiently like standard situations or states of affairs in which a selected thing is red. So, we rely on the existence of a range of standard instances that are assumed to be of the required type. We can see that the thing selected in this stating, via the demonstrative conventions, is now in various ways similar and dissimilar from those standard instances.

The question we need to answer is this: Is this thing of the same type as the standard instances with respect to its colour? That is, is it the same colour as they are? According to Austin, we cannot answer that question simply by looking. In an at least attenuated sense we must make a decision as to whether the present instance is, in relevant respects, sufficiently similar to the standard instances as to mandate treating it as of the very same type.

To that extent, they do not alone determine which propositional statements are true of them. The things to which true statings correspond, then, are in at least that sense particulars see 2 above.

The things to which statings correspond, then, appear to be quite different from facts as the latter are commonly understood by philosophers. And it seems that elements of that type would mandate the correctness of one or another classification. Second, Austin sketches a view of propositional fact talk on which it is used as a way of indirectly denoting particulars as the elements that make the specified propositions true.

The role for human judgment or decision in mediating the classification of particulars leaves open that their correct classification as to type might vary depending on specific features of the occasion for so classifying them see 4 above. It may be, for example, that for certain purposes an historic state of affairs involving a rose is sufficiently like standard situations involving red things as to warrant sameness of classification, while for different purposes its likeness is outweighed by its dissimilarities from the standard cases.

Moreover, what are counted as standard cases may vary with the purposes operative in attempting to classify, and may shift as new cases come to be counted as of a specific type. The precise ways in which our statings depend for their correctness or incorrectness on the facts can vary with variation in specific features of the occasion, in particular with variation in the intents and purposes of conversational participants. As Austin puts it,.


Sense and Sensibilia



John Langshaw Austin






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