UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Austin and sense-data Todd, Donald David


From 1947 to 1959 the late Oxford philosopher J.L. Austin lectured on several of the main philosophical problems of sense-perception. After his death, his former student, Mr. G.J. Warnock, working from Austin's lecture notes, published Austin's views on the philosophy of perception in a book entitled Sense and Sensibilia. Austin's purposes in lecturing on the philosophical problems of perception were entirely negative; his aim was to undermine a whole tradition in the philosophy of perception, namely that of sense-datum analysis. His method was that of careful and detailed piecemeal analysis of what he regarded as the chief doctrines, methods, assumptions, and implications inherent in and necessary to any sense-datum analysis. He is widely reputed to have succeeded in his aims, and his analysis of particular aspects of sense datum philosophy are highly regarded as models of philosophical analysis. The purpose of this thesis is to examine critically several of the most important parts of Austin's critique of sense-datum philosophy, especially his analysis of the sense-datist use of the Argument from Illusion, his analysis of perceptual locutions such as "looks," "seems," and "appears," and his analysis of the meaning of "real'' Austin's work is examined in the light of three critical questions, viz. (l) When it looks as if Austin is engaged in careful exposition of an opponent's position, is he fair to his opponent or does he distort it?, (2) Are the assumptions and implications of sense-datum theory which Austin tries to expose really what he says they are?, and (3) Even if Austin's analysis against a particular opponent is sound, is it relevant against sense-datum theory in general? The argument of the thesis seeks to establish four main points: (1) Many of Austin's criticisms of the sense-datist use of the Argument from Illusion rest upon misstatements of the sense-datist position, and thus miss their mark. Morover, even when Austin's criticisms have considerable merit, they are not decisive, but merely require some revision or reformulation of the sense-datists' arguments. (2) Austin's analysis of "looked," "seems," and "appears," while correct as far as it goes, is incomplete; it fails to tell the whole story as regards the uses of these locutions. Supplemented and completed, it is consistent with the sense-datum analysis of the meanings of these expressions. (3) Austin's analysis of "real" is partly correct and partly incorrect. Where correct, it is consistent with a sense-datum analysis of "real." Where wrong, Austin's analysis can be corrected in a manner which is consistent both with the correct parts of Austin's analysis of "real" and the sense-datum analysis. (4) Austin's analysis of "looks," "seems," and "appears" and of "real" are inconsistent with each other as they stand in the text. Supplemented and corrected, they are consistent with each other and with sense-datum theory. In the interstices of criticisms of Austin, many positive suggestions are made pointing to further development of sense-datum theory.

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