11 Pages

A Critical Study of Sense and Sensibilia

M ANY philosophers outside Oxford have been puzded by Austin’s remarkable influence over his colleagues, an influence picturesquely described in Mr. G. J. Warnock’s words as reported in the New Yorker of December 9th, 1961: ‘Like Wittgenstein, Austin was a genius, but Wittgenstein fitted the popular picture of a genius. Austin, unfortunately, did not. Nevertheless, he did succeed in haunting most of the philosophers in England, and to his colleagues it seemed that his terrifying intelligence was never at rest. Many of them used to wake up in the night with a vision of the stringy, wiry Austin standing over their pillow like a bird of prey. Their daylight hours were no better. They would write some philosophical sentences and then read them over as Austin might, in an expressionless, frigid voice, and their blood would run cold.’* The lectures here published hardly have the range and depth of genius, rather they are like a brilliant light concentrated on a narrow patch of the philosophical field, but they do enable one to see how Austin was able to cow many of his Oxford contemporaries. Partly this was achieved by his acuteness in spotting hidden assumptions in his opponents’ positions, assumptions which had only to be stated in his direct uncompromising manner to appear ridiculous; partly it was his picking on departures from ordinary usage and making them seem to be errors about it, such elementary errors that anyone committing them appeared unfitted for philosophy or academic life; and partly it was the lively, vigorous style of his castigations, for while he was kinder to his pupils he could be merciless with those who had pretensions to philosophical expertise.