Library discovers lectures by J. L. Austin

February 6, 2017
photo of J. L. Austin

Two recordings of a lecture and Q&A session given by the philosopher J. L. Austin to a Swedish audience in October of 1959 were recently discovered to be among the uncatalogued holdings of the Robbins Library of Philosophy. The recordings had apparently once been stored in a filing cabinet drawer but had somehow dropped out through a gap at the back. It was only upon removing the drawer that the recordings—along with a collection paper clips, envelopes, and other debris—were discovered. It is unclear who initially recorded the lectures, which concerns Austin's concept of the performative utterance.

A distinguished member of the philosophy faculty at the University of Oxford, Austin visited Harvard in 1955 to give the William James Lectures, lectures that would become Austin's most well-known published work How to Do Things With Words. Austin's approach to philosophy exerted a powerful influence on a generation of younger philosphers, including Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value (Emeritus) Stanley Cavell, who was a Ph.D. student in the department at the time of Austin's visit.

The digitized recordings are available to the public through the department's Youtube channel

See also: Department News