Wittgenstein’s influence on Austin’s philosophy of language

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 26 (2):371-395 (2018)
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Many philosophers have assumed, without argument, that Wittgenstein influenced Austin. More often, however, this is vehemently denied, especially by those who knew Austin personally. We compile and assess the currently available evidence for Wittgenstein’s influence on Austin’s philosophy of language. Surprisingly, this has not been done before in any detail. On the basis of both textual and circumstantial evidence we show that Austin’s work demonstrates substantial engagement with Wittgenstein’s later philosophy. In particular, Austin’s 1940 paper, ‘The Meaning of a Word’, should be construed as a direct response to and development of ideas he encountered in Wittgenstein’s Blue Book. Moreover, we argue that Austin’s mature speech-act theory in How to Do Things with Words was also significantly influenced by Wittgenstein.

Author Profiles

Daniel W. Harris
Hunter College (CUNY)
Elmar Unnsteinsson
University College Dublin


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