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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Grice's Linguistic Turn


Gustav Bergmann once said, in the 1950s, "Of late philosophy has taken a linguistic turn" -- which he, a philosopher, was apparently ready to take.

Indeed, Bergmann used the (shall we call it, after Donnellan) 'indefinite' description: 'a linguistic turn'. Rorty turns it into a definite description ('the' linguistic turn) as do I, in the subject line. Granted, I don't use 'the', but the use of "Grice" in the possessive (or genitive, as I prefer) case, would translate to most languages as involving 'the' -- even in clumsy English: "The linguistic turn of Grice".


Now, is 'the' linguistic turn of Grice an identificatory (referential) or merely non-identificatory use of 'the'? Surely identificatory in MY case. It's not markedly identificatory in Rorty's case -- hence the many criticisms he received. And it is notably NON-identificatory in Bergman's non-identificatory INdefinite use of 'a' (Grice's example: "I broke a finger yesterday").


So we have SOME sort of 'turn', and this needs some explaining. Why would Grice take a, or the, linguistic turn?


And was it fruitful? My short answer will be yes: it gave humanity the idea of implicature!


But before dwelling on the history of 'linguistic turns' or 'a linguistic turn' that "philosophy" "of late" has taken" or 'the' linguistic turn that brought fame to Rorty (his is possible the biggest compilation ever -- and still in print!) a little anecdote on another mannerism of Bergmann.


Grice suggests that Gustav Bergmann was once invited to attend a seminar by Austin (or a Saturday morning meeting, I forget). Bergmann apologised politely, saying he had other things to say than waste his time with a bunch of English futilitarians. The phrase struck Grice.

Later that night, Grice thought to himself: "Perhaps Bergmann is being right and I am an English futilitarian."

The problem with English futilitarianism is that we are never sure how futile futile can be. The Latin adjective, futilis, used as a noun meant "a water vessel broad above and pointed below"), hence "leaky, unreliable," from fundere "to pour, melt," from PIE root *gheu- "to pour" (see found (v.2)).

So in some way English futilitarianism is philosophy that pours, as it should. And this may relate to Bergmann's observation, "Of late philosophy has taken a linguistic turn", only since he was also referring to himself, it must have a sort of 'complimentary' side to it -- 'self-complimentary' if you wish (We implicate that 'self-insults' generally disimplicate themselves).

I'm not sure what credentials Bergmann had but since Plato wrote "Cratylus", it seems like philosophy is taken a linguistic turn. It should have gone full circle by now! Bergmann loved the expression the 'linguistic turn' -- his first language was German, hence his fascination with the Englishness of 'the English turn' that he used it again and again. First in the his negative review of Grice's student's book: Strawson’s Individuals.

His review article where he, yet again, uses the indefinite description 'a linguistic turn', was published in The Journal of Philosophy, and while it was entitled ‘Strawson’s Ontology’, it was largely concerned, yet again, with Bergmann himself, specifically with outlining Bergmann’s own methodology and conception of philosophy.

For the record, we have to acknowledge that Bergmann LOVED his coinage, 'a linguistic turn': he used the expression for the thid time (in print -- I'm counting -- he uttered the expression some hundred times to his American students, while he had used the vernacular Austrian another hundred times to his Austrian students) in the subsequent article ‘The Glory and Misery of Ludwig Wittgenstein’ (This appeared in Italian, in "Rivista di Filosofia" 52 (1961)). Note that I would be happy to write an essay on 'The Glory of Grice', or "Grace and Glory', I would find 'misery' to trigger the wrong implicature on occasion, unless you are John Lennon.


I'm the kind of guy
Who never used to cry
The world is treating me bad.

I've lost her now for sure
I won't see her no more
It's gonna be a drag.

Send her back to me
Cos everyone can see
Without her I will be in miseree

In miseree,  

My miseree.


(Lennon distinguishes between being 'in misery' and only later turns to a definite description, 'my' misery -- which is the equivalent of Bergmann speaking of 'the' misery of Wittgenstein.


Not happy with the above, Bergmann found occasion to use 'a linguistic turn' for a foruth time, now applied to that genial philosopher Stenius ‘Stenius on the Tractatus’ (Theoria 29 (1963)


Stenius says that the use of ˫ of ! in front of what he calls a sentence-radical is of crucial importance. Grice agreed. But added: "If you're going to use the word 'radical' you must just as well symbolise it" -- recall the dictum by Grice reported in Strawson's obituary: "If a thing cannot be put into symbols it is not worth being put at all!"


Grice's example is


~!√this little piggy went to market.


The 'radix' is "This little piggy went to market", hence the use of the symbol for a radix. Since it is preceded by the "!" mode sign, it should be interpreted as an imperative, and the use of ~ turns the whole thing into a prohibition ("You should have forbidden this little piggy to have gone to market").


(Grice prefers the mathematical interpretation of a 'radix', whereas Stenius sticks to the use of the expression in chemistry and atomic theory -- but as Grice says, even if the atomic interpretation is preferred, 'a symbol is a symbol is a symbol'.


So here we have four uses by Bergmann of 'a linguistic turn'. Enough for Rorty to want to edit the biggest compilation ever (after perhaps the Bible), using the same descriptor in a definite way (Bergmann's "a linguistic turn" becoming "the linguistic turn".


So if we need a historical explanation of that, we should proceed by seeing if Rorty is respecting Bergmann, and actually illuminating us as to why Bergmann's indefinite description becomes definite, and what philosophy gained by it.

The linguistic turn, according to Bergmann, is a "fundamental gambit as to method" agreed upon by two different groups of linguistic philosophers: ‘ordinary language philosophers’ (exemplified, in Bergmann’s view, by Strawson -- and he doesn't quote him but he means it, Strawson's tutor, H. P. Grice) and ‘ideal language philosophers’ (such as Bergmann himself).

The methodological gambit is to talk about the world by talking about a suitable language, such as English.

The disagreement between the two groups -- for informalists or neotraiditonalists and the formalists or modernists, in Grice's parlance -- of philosophers turns, according to Bergmann,
on what is to count as a language and what makes it suitable as an object of investigation that will
shed light for philosophical purposes on the nature of the world, in particular on ontology.

Why should the linguistic turn be taken?

In Bergmann’s view, for three reasons.

First, words are used either ordinarily, i.e. ‘commonsensically’, or philosophically. Philosophical uses of words are prima facie unintelligible, and require commonsensical explication. That is a requirement of the method.

Second, much of the obscurity of pre-linguistic-philosophy (pre-Cratylus philosophy, as I prefere) stems from failure to distinguish linguistic statements from meta-linguistic statements. The method is the safest way to avoid the ensuing confusions.

Third, there are some things which any language can only show. For example, the relation of exemplification shows itself by subject predicate juxtaposition (e.g. ‘a is F ’ shows that the property F is exemplified by the object a). Such things, however, (pace Wittgenstein) are not ineffable. Rather they can be spoken about, as we have just done, in a meta-linguistic discussion of the syntax and interpretation of a language. Hence, again, the linguistic turn.

Ordinary language philosophers (Futilitarians), according to Bergmann, talk about the language we speak.

They study communication, explore how we learn language, and how we communicate by using it.

This, he declared, is a psychological study.

In the hands of ‘extremists’, like J. L. Austin, that is all it is. Since we use ordinary language to communicate about the world, there is some sense in which it ‘must therefore be a picture of the world’, and must, in a minimal sense, be a ‘suitable’ language by the study of which one can engage in ontological investigation. If that purpose is disregarded, and the three reasons for the linguistic turn neglected, then ordinary language philosophy degenerates into trivial linguistics – this being Bergmann’s judgement on Austin -- an English futilitarian. Grice fared no better. 

But because the primary use of ordinary language is communication, it is actually most unsuitable as a philosophical tool.

What is needed is an ‘ideal language’, or, more accurately, a schema of a language, which adequately pictures the world. And that is the instrumental goal of ideal language philosophers. If it is not, then ideal
language philosophy degenerates into trivial design of calculi – this being (presumably) Bergmann’s
judgement on Carnap’s philosophy.

The misconstruals of both the Carnapian wing of the Vienna Circle (who can be deemed
‘ideal language philosophers’) and of Strawson and others of the Oxford group of post-war
philosophers (whose classification as ‘ordinary language philosophers’ requires clarification, and was
rejected by Strawson and Gric himself) is startling.

Carnap did not construct artificial calculi for ontological purposes. Indeed, in ‘Empiricism, Semantic and Ontology’, he argued that ontological questions are no more than questions about the framework of the language one chose to use – questions about a language and its utility, not questions about reality.

Far from inventing artificial calculi for ontological purposes, Carnap invented them in order to shed light on the language of science and to resolve philosophical problems and dissolve pseudo-problems.

So called ordinary language philosophers, who would better be denominated ‘natural language philosophers’ (in contrast to ideal language philosophers) were not engaging in psychology or in linguistics.

The reasons Bergmann gave for the so called linguistic turn are equally spurious.

There is indeed something that might be called the linguistic turn in philosophy (it started with Cratylus) but, the reasons for it are very far removed from Bergmann’s peculiar list.

Had the matter rested with Bergmann, the expression ‘the linguistic turn’ would very likely
never have been heard again.

But for some reason the name appealed to Richard Rorty (who read Henry James?) – and he put it to good use in an eponymous anthology of writings.

The Linguistic Turn contained 37 essays.

The book was divided into four parts, and he failed to include Grice.

The first Part consisted of essays by Schlick, Carnap, Bergmann, Ryle, Wisdom and Malcolm.

These all argued, in very different ways and for very different reasons, that philosophical questions
are, in a sense which they duly tried to elucidate, ‘questions of language’.

Part II was entitled ‘Metaphilosophical Problems of Ideal Language Philosophy’ and consisted of essays by Copi, Bergmann, Black, Ambrose, Chisholm, Cornman and Quine.

Part III was called ‘Metaphilosophical Problems of Ordinary Language Philosophy’ in which a symposium on Austin (was given pride of place, and various criticisms of so-called ordinary language philosophy were

The final part of the anthology was ‘Recapitulations, Reconsiderations, and Future
Prospects’ in which Shapere, Hampshire, Urmson, Strawson, Black, Katz and Bar-Hillel severally
attempted an overview of the state of play in analytic philosophy.

It is clear from this description of the contents of his anthology that Rorty took from
Bergmann the division of the linguistic turn into a dual carriageway, one lane of which was ‘ordinary
language philosophy’ (but without Grice!) and the other ‘ideal language philosophy’.

Wisely, he did not repeat Bergmann’s very confused and misleading characterization of these two tendencies.

Rorty appreciated that a sea-change had occurred in analytic philosophy in the 1930s, and had continued after the Second World War. He characterized philosophers who participated in this change as ‘linguistic
philosophers’ and restricted his selection largely to philosophers active in Oxbride, Leeds, and America.

The revolutionaries were held to include many who would have been loath to accept the banner
‘linguistic philosophy’, such as Carnap, Quine, and Bar-Hillel. For the name ‘linguistic philosophy’
was already associated with the group of Oxford philosophers like Grice in the post-war years whom Bergmann had (misleadingly) characterized as ‘ordinary language philosophers’.

But Rorty was well guarded against any accusation of misdescription.

Rorty characterises linguistic philosophy as ‘the view that philosophical problems are problems that may be solved (or dissolved) either by reforming language or by understanding more about the language we presently use’ – and the first disjunct could safely be held to include the so-called ideal-language philosophers such as Carnap and regimented-language philosophers such as Quine (who did indeed have ontological preoccupations that approximate Bergmann’s specifications).

So, according to Rorty, the same linguistic turn in philosophy is exhibited by two distinctive
methodologies of two different strands within ‘linguistic’ philosophy.

However, there were further claims afoot in both Bergmann  and in.

For it is clearly not only a pair of methods that is associated with the philosophical movement that they called linguistic philosophy.

The methods go hand in hand with the claim that the source (or, at least, one major source) of the problems of philosophy lies in the misleading forms of natural languages.

And linked with that is the suggestion that philosophical questions are questions of language.

This supposition stands in need of much clarification.

Does it mean that philosophical questions are questions about language?

If so, does it follow that philosophy is just a branch of philology?

Does it mean that philosophical theories and theses are theories and theses about language?

Or does it just recapitulate the methodological claim that philosophical problems – whatever they are – are solved or resolved by one or the other of the two methods suggested?

What, according to linguistic philosophers thus understood, is the subject matter of

What is a philosophical problem and how is it to be distinguished from other kinds of problems, e.g. in science or mathematics?

What is the source  of the problems of philosophy?

What is the appropriate method for the solution of philosophical problems?

What is the result of successful philosophical investigations?

Is it philosophical truths (akin to the truths produced by successful scientific investigations)?

If so, how are they to be characterized?

What was distinctive about what Bergmann and Rorty called the "linguistic turn" ("a linguistic turn" in Bermann, 'the' linguistic turn in Rorty) in philosophy is evident in the kinds of answers given by analytic philosophers to these questions.

The linguistic turn a cliché in the development of analytic philosophy in the twentieth century.

There was nothing novel about the claim that misleading features of natural languages are responsible for philosophical confusions.

Plato points that out in the "Cratylus".

Nor was there anything new about the suggestion that careful scrutiny of the use of the terms that
lead to confusion will help dispel it.

These, out of context, are platitudes that should be known to every philosopher.

To see what was new about this distinctive movement in philosophy, it has to be located in its historical context.

It is evident that the expression ‘the linguistic turn in philosophy’ is used as a characterization of a
change of direction in the development of analytic philosophy.

It is worthwhile briefly locating analytic philosophy in relation to the development of European philosophy in the nineteenth century.

The linguistic turn that occurred in the 1920s was preceded by a logistic turn that occurred in
the mid-nineteenth century, prior to the rise of analytic philosophy.

The study of logic had been almost totally neglected from Descartes onward (with the exception of Leibniz) – indeed so much so that Kant, at the end of the eighteenth century, could declare that logic, since Aristotle, ‘has not been able to advance a step and is thus to all appearance complete and perfect’ (Critique of Pure Reason B. viii).

This illusion (which, incidentally, displayed complete ignorance of Stoic and medieval logic) was to be dispelled by a group of mathematicians and mathematically minded philosophers in the mid-nineteenth century, namely de Morgan, Boole, Venn, Jevons in England.


Mathematical logic, as de Morgan called it in 1858, was designed to represent the forms of thought by the mathematicization of logic. Boole invented logical algebra, which presented logic as a branch of abstract algebra, and his idea was taken up by
Venn, and Jevons.

The complete formalization of the propositional calculus and the axiomatization of the firstorder
predicate calculus with identity, was followed by Russell and Whitehead in Principia

The invention of modern mathematical logic inaugurated a century of intense logical
research and the creation of further forms of logic such as modal, tense and deontic logics.

This, broadly speaking, was also Whiehead's and Russell's view. They conceived of the Peano-derived symbolism and of the formation rules of Principia as the syntax of a logically ideal language.

The so-called ordinary language philosophy was represented by Oxford philosophers and their followers in the years after 1945, led by Austin and Grice.

For a quarter of a century after the war, Oxford was the centre of analytic philosophy in the world.

‘Oxford philosophy’ was not a school.

Some of the philosophers at Oxford were influenced by Wittgenstein (Strawson and Paul, "Is there a problem about sense data?" -- indeed Paul was Witters's student).

But most developed their views quite independently (notably Austin and Grice).

Oxford philosophers were fairly relaxed about the use of the term ‘theory’ in connection with philosophy, as long as a ‘philosophical theory’ was not assumed to be analogous to a scientific theory.

They were equally relaxed about the idea of philosophical propositions and their truth or falsity, as long as it was realised that they are not empirical propositions.

The leading figures at Oxford exhibited a variety of viewpoints united primarily by agreed meta-philosophical and methodological ideas, as well as a commitment to clarity of expression, perspicuity of argument, and detestation of obfuscation.


We can make a few methodological points.

i. Philosophy is distinct from the empirical sciences, and its problems cannot be solved by
observation, experiment and hypothetico-deductive theory.


Its problems are a priori, conceptual ones.

ii. Formal calculi, such as the predicate calculus, are neither the depth grammar of any
possible language nor ideal languages that illuminate or mirror the logical structure of the world
(among other things, the world has no logical structure).


Their usefulness in philosophy is very
limited indeed.


What venerable philosophical problems have been solved by recourse to an artificial language? (D. P. tried to tackle "The nothing noths" using Polish notation he learned from Geach, but not everybody is sure he succeeded -- vide Scherb).

iii. Metaphysics, understood as an investigation into the essential nature of reality is an incoherent enterprise.

Admittedly, in Individuals (1959), Strawson introduced the term ‘descriptive metaphysics’, which made the word ‘metaphysics’ philosophically ‘correct’ again after some decades on the Index.


But it was misleading of him to do so, since descriptive metaphysics is just more analytic description of the structure of our conceptual scheme, not synthetic description of the structure of the world.

iv. A major source of philosophical problems lies in the misleading forms of natural languages.


But there are other sources too – including the misleading forms of artificial calculi.

v. The task of philosophy is the clarification of our concepts and conceptual structures, partly for its intrinsic interest, partly to solve or dissolve philosophical problems.

vi. First and foremost among the methods of philosophy is the descriptive analysis of the uses of words.


There are, to be sure, other methods too, but this is a sine qua non for successful conceptual

The latter methodological commitment received divergent descriptions from four of the leading
members of the Oxford faculty

It is worth noting, influenced by Moore and altogether, unimpressed by Wittgenstein "Some like Witters, but Moore's MY man") the only two of the posthumous books Austin wrote: Sense and Sensibilia (1962) and How to do Things with Words (1962), provided exemplary synoptic surveys -- the third is "Philosophical Papers".

Be that as it may, in his occasional papers he exhibited great skill in detecting distinctions and differences of usage both in the large and in the small.

Where our language is rich, subtle and diverse, e.g. in the field of excuses, then it makes sense, in his view, to proceed from ordinary language ‘by examining what we should say when, what words we should use
in what situations’.

He was the doctor subtilis of his day, and by his skill, and perhaps by his acerbic wit, aroused immense animosity towards what became the favoured term of abuse by its enemies ‘Oxford linguistic philosophy’ or ‘Ordinary language philosophy’.

This was unwarranted.

Proceeding from ordinary language, Austin stressed, is one method in philosophy, apt for the investigation of excuses or perception, but out of place for the investigation, for example, of time.

He characterized it, tongue in cheek, as linguistic phenomenology.

But he was careful not to exaggerate its powers.

Certainly, he wrote, ‘ordinary language is not the last
word: in principle it can be everywhere superseded.

Only remember it is the first word’.

Grice (not in the least influenced by Wittgenstein – and far more prone to construct philosophical ‘theories’ than his peers) said that a proposition that would have commanded universal assent in Oxford at the time
was that ‘a careful examination of the detailed features of ordinary discourse is required as a
foundation for philosophical thinking’, and wrote of Austin’s methods that when put to work, this conception of ordinary language seemed to offer fresh and manageable approaches to philosophical ideas and problems .

When properly regulated and directed, ‘linguistic botanizing’ seemed to Grice to provide a valuable initiation to the philosophical treatment of a concept, particularly if what is under examination (and it is arguable that this should always be the case) is a family of different but related concepts.

Indeed, Grice goes further, and proclaims it as his belief that linguistic botanizing is indispensable, at a certain stage, in a philosophical inquiry, and that it is lamentable that this lesson has been forgotten, or has never been learned.

Strawson was less inclined to the careful examination of usage than Austin, but, unlike his tutor
Grice, he was markedly influenced by Wittgenstein.

But then he was not Lit. Hum., but PPE.

Strawson describes what he conceived as the most appropriate method of philosophy as connective analysis. Connective analysis was presented as the appropriate replacement for the discredited forms of decompositional and reductive analysis characteristic of the early phases of analytic philosophy, and for their equally discredited successor – logical construction.

Instead of ‘decomposing’ or ‘constructing’ anything, connective analysis aimed to describe appropriate fragments of the network of our conceptual scheme, tracing the connections between a given problematic concept and adjacent concepts with which it is linked.


This was to be done by describing the salient features of the uses of expressions and their logical dependencies, compatibilities, incompatibilities, and implications, their presuppositions and forms of contextual dependencies – all in order to resolve philosophical problems, to explode philosophical illusions and illuminate aspects of our conceptual scheme.

This method has remarkable affinities with much of Wittgenstein’s practice – although in Strawson’s hands connective analysis was put to fewer diagnostic and ‘therapeutic’ purposes.

Logical geography, linguistic phenomenology, linguistic botanizing and connective analysis flourished side by side – the differences of detail being minimal and tolerated.

No one thought that philosophy was exclusively about language (save for ‘philosophy of language’ – a term then virtually unknown), nobody thought that philosophy was a branch of philology and no one thought that scrutiny of linguistic usage was the sole method of philosophy.

Philosophers at Oxford from 1945 until the mid-1970s, and their pupils and followers throughout the English speaking world brought the ‘natural language’ branch of the linguistic turn in philosophy to an apogee.

Though none of them used the phrase ‘the linguistic turn’, and few if any of them called themselves ‘ordinary language philosophers’ – there was remarkable unanimity with regard to their conception of the nature of philosophy and the methodology of philosophical investigation.

After the mid-1970s linguistic philosophy declined. The centre of gravity of Anglophone philosophy
shifted to the USA. Quinean and Davidsonian logical pragmatism flourished.

For a couple of decades theories of meaning for a natural language occupied centre-stage, enjoying, together with Chomsky’s linguistic theory, the thrills of seeking the depth grammar of language and the inner
workings of the human mind. The excitement faded as promise exceeded performance.


Philosophy of language was gradually displaced from centre-stage by various forms of physicalist philosophy of mind that in turn transmuted into ‘cognitive science’.


This was thought to be a synthesis of the best in philosophy of psychology, neuroscience, theoretical linguistics and artificial intelligence.


Critics responded, like Bentham to Blackstone on the mixed British constitution, by wondering whether it
might not be a synthesis of the worst in each.


In the USA Quinean naturalism came to dominate the scene.


Quine’s superficial criticisms of the analytic/synthetic distinction led to an unreflective acceptance of the old Russellian idea that philosophy is continuous with and in the same cognitive business as science.


It was a sore misconception of Quine’s to suppose that the sharp distinction between philosophical and scientific investigation turned on the viability of Carnap’s distinction between analytic and synthetic statements.)


But perhaps this scientistic drift was unsurprising in an intellectual culture prone to adulate empirical science as the repository of all that we know and understand about ourselves and the world.


The upshot was the dispersal of the broad stream of analytic philosophy that had flowed so powerfully for almost a century into a multitude of rivulets meandering through a delta with little sense of direction or purpose.


At its worst, analytic philosophy moved into a characteristically scholastic phase in which pedantry displaced vision, and all that was left of an era of philosophical achievement were empty forms – the employment of the technical tools of analytic philosophy.


Misunderstandings of what the linguistic turn had consisted in, and even deeper misconceptions of what Oxford linguistic (or ‘ordinary language’) philosophy had been, became widespread.

The expression ‘the linguistic turn’, to sum up, is useful to signal an important shift in meta-philosophical reflection and in philosophical methodology that occurred in the 1920s.

This merged for a while with the logistic turn that had arisen in the mid-nineteenth-century, producing the
ideal- and regimenting-language philosophy characteristic of logical positivism and logical

This gave rise to the pursuit of theories of meaning for a natural language.

The other, and perhaps more fruitful, branch of the linguistic turn was natural language philosophy, which eschewed the construction of formal languages and pursued connective analysis for purposes of philosophical elucidation and insight.

The meta-philosophical commitment was above all that philosophy is neither a science nor an
extension of science. It is sui generis.

Philosophy is a conceptual investigation that results in the description and clarification of conceptual structures and in the elimination of conceptual confusions.


It is not a contribution to human knowledge, as the natural and social sciences are, but a contribution
to a distinctive form of human understanding.


Some held that there are no philosophical propositions in the sense in which there are propositions of natural science; others (such as Strawson) were less fastidious, but held the propositions they advanced to be a priori conceptual truths.

This difference is not deep.

The primary methodological commitment was to meticulous examination of linguistic usage (ordinary or technical as the case may be) as a sine qua non for successful philosophical investigation.


What was then to be done with the conceptual data thus obtained differed importantly both between the two branches of the linguistic turn (e.g. Strawsonian connective analysis) and within each branch (contrast Austin with Grice).


And, to be sure, this also depended greatly on the skills of the philosophers in marshalling the linguistic/conceptual data.

There was also a diagnostic consensus that surface features of the sentences of natural language are one major source of philosophical confusion.

This, of course, was no novelty.

What was novel was the manner in which these confusing features were winkled out, arrayed and used to shed light upon the conceptual problems of philosophy and to explain what leads us to build houses of

The linguistic turn, linguistic philosophy, and so-called ordinary language philosophers were and still are subject to much criticism from many who have not properly followed the linguistic turn.

Viewed cursorily and unsympathetically from afar, one cannot see the twists and turns of the
linguistic turn, let alone the panoramas to which it gave access and the views across philosophical
landscapes that it made possible.

But the phrase 'linguistic turn' has the wrong implicatures.

One is the supposition that in order to describe linguistic usage one needs to consult one’s
linguistic intuitions.

And, it is then queried, why should one’s own intuitions – especially those of Oxford dons such as Grice – be preferable to anyone else’s?

The second, and consequent idea is that if one wants to determine usage, one should do proper empirical surveys in which one would ask people to fill out questionnaires like any other decent social scientist.

Then ‘ordinary language philosophy’ would be revealed as what it is, namely no more than a debased form of sociology of language.

The idea that in order to say what the correct use of a word or phrase is one has to consult
one’s intuitions is akin to supposing that in order to play chess a chess-master has to consult his
intuitions on the rules of chess, or that a skilled mathematician has to consult his intuitions on what 12
x 12 is.

An intuition is just a hunch or guess – and it is no more a hunch of a competent speaker that
one says ‘he was in the field’ not ‘he were in the field’, than it is a hunch of a chess-master that the
chess-king moves one square at a time or of a mathematician that 12 x 12 is 144.

It is precisely because of this that the idea that to specify the correct use of a familiar word one needs to do social surveys is misguided.

A competent speaker of a natural language by definition knows how to use the common (and, if he is a specialist, the technical) words he uses, just as a competent chess-player or mathematician knows the rules constitutive of their expertise.


That does not mean that he may not slip occasionally, overlook some familiar feature or other, or hesitate over borderline cases.


What it does mean is that in marshalling grammatical rules in order to pinpoint the differences between, say, accident and mistake, or perception and sensation, or mental images and photographic images, one does not need to consult anyone – only to reflect, and occasionally to use a good dictionary to jolt one’s memory.
If one encounters disagreement over usage, that itself is an important datum – and one may proceed from there.

Philosophical skill does not consist merely in remembering features of usage with which any competent speaker or technical practitioner is familiar, but in selecting and marshalling those features of usage that will illuminate the problem at hand and show what linguistic analogies led one up the garden path.

This may be no more than the first steps in one’s philosophical endeavours. But unless one learns how to take them, and then takes them, one will continue barking up the wrong tree.

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