J. L. Austin was born in Lancaster and educated at Oxford, where he became a professor of philosophy following several years of service in British intelligence during World War II.
Although greatly admired as a teacher, Austin published little of his philosophical work during his brief lifetime.
Students gathered his papers and lectures in books that were published posthumously, including
How to Do Things with Words (1962) and
Sense and Sensibilia (1962).
In "A Plea for Excuses" (1956), Austin explained and illustrated his method of approaching philosophical issues by first patiently analyzing the subtleties of ordinary language.
Application of this method led him to distinguish between what we say and what we accomplish by saying it, or between locution and illocution ("performative utterance").