J.L. Austin described his method as “linguistic phenomenology”. It is highly likely that this is an allusion to Husserl’s phenomenology: Husserl’s work was well known in Oxford in Austin’s time and Gilbert Ryle had a special interest in Husserl (he was a colleague of Austin’s). A cheeky allusion, perhaps, but an allusion nonetheless. However, there is no evidence that I know of that Austin ever studied Husserl, and if he did it made no discernible impact on him. Is Austin’s linguistic phenomenology at all like Husserl’s phenomenology? Do any of Husserl’s concepts show up in Austin’s work? Is Austin’s linguistic phenomenology phenomenological? Husserl’s phenomenology emphasizes consciousness, the first-person perspective, intentionality, noesis and noema, the epoche, suspension of the natural standpoint, and other concepts of the phenomenological tradition (going back to Descartes, Hume, Brentano, and others). No trace of this is to be found in Austin’s writings; he is not doing the phenomenology of language at all, i.e., the way language manifests itself in consciousness. The notion of consciousness does not appear in Austin’s work on language. Nor does the notion of intentionality. There is no suspending of the natural standpoint in order to focus on the contents of consciousness as such. What Austin appears to mean by “phenomenology” is simply careful description as opposed to premature theory and spurious explanation, which is not a natural or normal interpretation of that word. Austin is surveying the phenomena of language but not doing the phenomenology of language. One would think that he might, after appropriating Husserl’s use of the word, make a point of investigating what Husserl has to say, but apparently, he did not (or it didn’t have any impact). In point of fact, Husserl does a good deal of linguistic phenomenology in his sense, investigating meanings, predication, propositions, indexicality, and other linguistic phenomena. But none of this seems to have influenced Austin’s work. Pity: it would have been interesting if Austin had produced a comparative study of himself and Husserl; and it might have enriched his own efforts. Actually, there is really no phenomenology in the analytic tradition devoted to language: what we call philosophy of language includes no phenomenology of language in Husserl’s sense. Frege discusses thought, but his philosophy of language makes no reference to consciousness, or even intentionality. Russell talks a lot about sense-data, but he never tries to describe what it is like to speak or understand speech. Wittgenstein is all logic and no consciousness in the Tractatus; and the Investigations, though avowedly descriptive, never examines language from the first-person point of view, preferring to look at it from the outside. Nor do we find any phenomenology in Carnap, Quine, Davidson, Strawson, Kripke, Montague, Searle, Kaplan, and numerous others. You might think that for this tradition meaning and consciousness have nothing to do with each other. It is noteworthy that Husserl studied with Wundt as well as Brentano: so, he was steeped in introspectionist methodology, as opposed to the behaviorism that influenced later thinkers. In any case, there is no such thing as linguistic phenomenology in the analytic tradition. And this despite the fact that Husserl intended to found a school of philosophy that could claim to be a rigorous science (he was also a mathematician and physicist)—as analytic philosophy in some of its forms also aspired to be. What Husserl called “transcendental phenomenology” is not that different methodologically from the school of thought known as “ordinary language philosophy”, in that both seek to study the human creature as abstracted from the world of natural science: that is, consciousness as it is in itself independently of the natural world and language as a system of communication divorced from the reality outside of it—consciousness as such and speech as such. Ordinary language philosophy also had its epoche. Even speech act theory, which stresses the psychological aspects of speech behavior (Grice in particular), avoided consciousness and its inherent structures; so, real phenomenology never found a place in analytic philosophy of language. It is also interesting that what we might call “linguistic existentialism” never took off (except perhaps subliminally): I mean the application of concepts drawn from existentialism to speech. Sartre’s views derive from Husserl and deliver a distinctive approach to human existence, which might be carried over to language. Thus, is there any room for the contrast between Being and Nothingness and the idea of radical freedom in the philosophy of language? Is meaning an example of the intentionality of consciousness with its negative essence? Certainly, a Sartrean view of intentionality is opposed to a Fregean theory of sense and reference, since the conscious mental act has no nature not conferred by its reference—its essence is nothingness (compare the idea of direct reference, which also dispenses with mediating senses). And the idea that speech acts are instances of free action comports well with certain strains of thought concerning the nature of human action in general (I am thinking of Chomsky’s views on linguistic performance). So, we can see parallels between ideas found in existentialism and ideas familiar from the (so-called) analytic tradition. Sartre’s conception of consciousness as nothingness is redolent of Mill’s view of names (also Russell and Kripke), and his view of action as radically unconstrained is like Chomsky’s view of performance (and other libertarian views familiar from the analytic tradition). Accordingly, we can envisage linguistic existentialism as we can envisage linguistic phenomenology; and both have their counterparts in strands of the intellectual tradition more familiar to most of us (the “analytic”). Austin could easily have become a phenomenologist and existentialist! He just needed to open up about consciousness and read some Husserl and Sartre. I suspect it was a deep-seated hostility to Descartes in the English-speaking world that inhibited that delightful rapprochement. Might it be because Descartes was a Frenchman, est-ce possible?
 In case readers are wondering, my first published paper was on Mach and Husserl (1972).
 In all the literature on proper names and definite descriptions is there anything on the phenomenology of using names and descriptions? Don’t different kinds of meaning inhabit consciousness differently?
 I don’t believe there is any serious intellectual distinction between what are called “analytic” and “Continental” philosophy. The difference is purely geographical and linguistic (i.e., what language the philosophy is written in).
 I’m joking, of course, but I do find the hostility to Descartes hard to understand. Ryle had it in spades, and Wittgenstein nourished it, and Quine embodied it. There is a clear line leading from Descartes through Locke, Berkeley and Hume, up through Russell, Brentano, and Husserl; but the twentieth century saw a determined effort to expunge his legacy from the canon. It’s quite puzzling but should not be underestimated. I do wonder whether, if he were an Englishman, the hostility would be quite so marked. No Englishman wants to be labeled a Cartesian. Something similar is true of Sartre.