J. L. Austin

M. W. Rowe


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Oxford University Press
11 May 2023
ISBN: 9780198707585
688 pages

From the publisher

The first biography of the philosopher who became a mastermind of Allied intelligence in World War Two. Austere, witty, and formidable, J. L. Austin (1911-1960) was the leader of Oxford Ordinary Language Philosophy and the founder of speech-act theory. This book-the first full-length biography of Austin-enhances our understanding of his dominance in 1950s Oxford, examining the significance of his famous Saturday morning seminars, and his sometimes tense relationships with Gilbert Ryle, Isaiah Berlin, A. J. Ayer, and Elizabeth Anscombe. Throwing new light on Austin's own intellectual development, it probes the strengths and weaknesses of his mature philosophy, and reconstructs his late unpublished work on sound symbolism. Austin's philosophical work remains highly influential, but much less well known is his outstanding contribution to British Intelligence in World War Two. The twelve central chapters thus investigate Austin's part in the North African campaign, the search for the V-weapons, the preparations for D-Day, the Battle of Arnhem, and the Ardennes Offensive, and show that, in the case of D-Day, he played a major role in the ultimate Allied victory. While exploring Austin's dramatic and romantic personal history, Rowe pays close attention to his harsh schooling and pre-war affair with a married Frenchwoman; his wartime marriage, bomb injury, and response to a colleague's murder; and his post-war family life, the growing influence of America, and his tragically premature death. Adding considerably to our knowledge of World War Two, and Austin's diverse and enduring influence, this biography reveals the true complexity of his character, and the full range and significance of his achievements.