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Sense and Sensibilia

4.8 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195003079
ISBN-10: 0195003071
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"An excellent book presenting many of the major issues of ordinary language philosophy--very readable."--Mark Hamilton, Ashland University


"The clarity, the wit, and the patience of the writing are liable to deceive the reader on only one point, namely the amount of hard work that lies behind these thoughts....This book is the one to put into the hands of those who have been over-impressed by Austin's critics....[Warnock's] brilliant editing puts everybody who is concerned with philosophical problems in his debt."--The Guardian


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (1964)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195003071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195003079
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.4 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #312,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Austine is one of the greatest philosophers that came out of Oxford's ordinary langauge school of philosophy. His text is both aggressive but pleasant to read. Much of his critique of logical positivism is still convincing, however there have been those who criticize his method (not unfairly). I highly recommend this book to any one interested in seeing an example of how to use language, as the first step, in analyzing complex positions.
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One of those rare breed of philosophers who can actually write, with a whimsical humor, Austin was one of those chiefly responsible for demolishing the pretensions of the positivists, an arrogant group of Anglo-American intellectuals (with a few Poles and Viennese thrown in) who believed that the secrets of the Universe can be found by analysing the language of one particular intelligent biped, and treating its syntax in the same manner as the laws of physics are deduced with mathematics. Austin was one of those who pointed out the obvious; language evolved as a means of communication between people; as such words are far too complex enteties to be reduced to simple meanings that can then be played with in the form of symbols and all the 'problems' of philosophy thus magically solved. His skewering of A. J. Ayer, one of the principle exponents of this doctrine, is especially satisfying. The book itself contains almost no technical vocabulary at all,and hardly any words over ten letters, which is an achievement in itself. On the negative side it is completely deconstructive; it offers no positive insights into the mysteries of life whatsoever, if that is what you are looking for. But within its limits it is a gem, and in its day it virtually rescued philosophy from oblivion. One noteworthy factor about it; almost as much credit as the author must be given to the editor G.J. Warnock, who compiled it from lecture notes, and even includes a rather devastating critique of one of his own works in the final chapter.
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John Langshaw Austin (March 28, 1911 - February 8, 1960) was born in Lancaster and Educated at Balliol College, before serving with MI6 during World War II. Later he became White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford from 1952 until his death in 1960. His language philosophy lectures form the basis for this book, which was compiled by G. J. Warnock with help from J. O. Urmson. The title was clearly chosen for its similarity to that "other" J. Austen's work, "Sense and Sensibility".

J. L. Austin challenged the sense-data theories of perception of the day. Specifically he takes aim at Alfred Jules Ayer's "The Foundation of Empirical Knowledge". He also talks about H. H. Price's "Perception", and G. J. Warnock's book on "Berkeley". Even though the book suffers a little from being formed from lectures rather than Austin writing a book on the subject, Warnock has done an excellent job of compiling the lectures, and the result is a very readable book, which can be enjoyed by readers of all backgrounds.

The entire book is only a little over 140 pages long, consisting of a foreword by G. J. Warnock, and then 11 sections based on the lectures which Austin gave between 1947 and 1959. It is unfortunate that Austin himself never put together a book, for it would be interesting to see how well it would match what G. J. Warnock has put together here. In lieu of that, I think readers will find this book accessible, humorous and insightful.
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Format: Paperback
Bertrand Russell seems to have complained that Austin clipped philosophy's wings. Undoubtedly, Austin doesn't soar into any empyrean. There are no great abstract or abstruse constructs in his thinking, there are no special philosophical languages, one is not adrift when reading him in any uncharted sea of unfamiliar concepts. Instead, one's nose gets rubbed hard, and very entertainingly at times, in the basic realities (excuse the term for the moment) of common everyday speech.

On the other hand, it was this same Russell who derided the German philosophers (including the mighty Kant himself) who followed Hume, after a period of dumbstruck silence, with highly obscure philosophies. The very opaqueness of these, opined Russell, is a good indication of how unsuccessful they were in refuting Hume. I think he was right, but I think his love of mathematical and logical modelling has led him into a similar trap when it comes to his own contemporary Austin. Hume's placid and implacable reasoning drove abstract thought into the buffers. You can't drive through them, and if you try to go around them you get into a swamp. You can go there if you want, or you can try to fly upwards into something more ostensibly sublime, or you can burrow downwards, or you can go round in circles - there is just nowhere further to go on the same lines. With Austin the problem is something similar - he's a spoiler. A contemporary of mine, irritated by my enthusiasm for Austin, called him `simple-minded'. I believe exactly the opposite is the case. When Austin states the obvious it's not from simple-mindedness, it's a matter that his mental footwork is just more agile than most and he leaves others standing. To call his reasoning common sense is true in a way but misleading.
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