Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The philosopher J.L. Austin and the success of D-Day

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J.L. Austin (1911-60) - John Langshaw Austin - was an academic philosopher. He did not publish much (that would never do today), but his teaching at Oxford was hugely influential.

Like Ludwig Wittgenstein later in his career, he believed that many traditional philosophical problems arose because philosophers misused the language. If only we attended to the proper use of ordinary language, and to the many subtle distinctions it contains, those problems would disappear.

You can read about this 'ordinary language philosophy' here.

The reason for this post is that I recently discovered Austin's role in the second world war.

Guy Longworth wrote of Austin in the TLS earlier this month:
His philosophical career was interrupted by the Second World War, during which he undertook intelligence work. He was honoured for this work with an Order of the British Empire, the French Croix de Guerre, and the US Officer of the Legion of Merit. It has been said that “he more than anybody was responsible for the life-saving accuracy of the D-Day intelligence”. 
He returned to academic philosophy with the hope that philosophers might work together on the collection and analysis of common-sense judgements and that, in so doing, they would make the sorts of progress that had been made by collective wartime intelligence operations.
Longworth also give a good introduction to Austin's philosophy. For more on his wartime career, read this extract from a memoir of him.

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