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J. L. Austin, J. O. Urmson, and G. J. Warnock

Print publication date: 1979

Print ISBN-13: 9780192830210

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/019283021X.001.0001

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A Plea for Excuses 1

A Plea for Excuses 1

(p.175) 8 A Plea for Excuses1
Philosophical Papers

J. L. Austin

J. O. Urmson

G. J. Warnock

Oxford University Press

On the meta-level, ‘A Plea for Excuses’, sometimes regarded as the manifesto of ordinary language philosophy, illustrates Austin’s method of approaching philosophical issues, by patiently analysing the subtleties of ordinary language, by example. On the object level, the key distinction with regard to human actions that appear to be worthy of blame, Austin holds to be between a justification, which denies that the performed action was wrong, and an excuse, which instead denies that the agent was responsible for performing it. Austin gives careful attention to particular cases of exculpatory speech, including precise word order and varying emphasis, etymological studies, and the special function of adverbial qualifying phrases, and shows how legal precedents and abnormal psychology may also be helpful in understanding why some efforts to excuse fail. In the final analysis, excuses are properly seen as setting limits to the ascription of moral responsibility, by stating explicitly how they differ from the more usual cases.

Keywords:   Austin, blame, excuses, justification, moral responsibility, ordinary language philosophy, word

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