THE PHILOSOPHICAL IMPORT OF ORDINARY LANGUAGE: AUSTIN, RYLE, WITTGENSTEIN, AND THEIR CONTEMPORARY SIGNIFICANCE
Research project funded by the Academy of Finland 2013-2017
Project leader: Martin Gustafsson
Project members: Kim Berts, Stina Bäckström, Lars Hertzberg, Yrsa Neuman, Camilla Kronqvist
Professor James Conant, Department of Philosophy, University of Chicago, USA
Associate Professor Alice Crary, Department of Philosophy, The New School for Social Research, USA
Dr Simon Glendinning, European Institute, London School of Economics, UK
Professor Marina Sbisà, Department of Philosophy, Università di Trieste, Italy
Dr Julia Tanney, Department of Philosophy, University of Kent, UK
General aims of the project
‘Ordinary language philosophy’ is a risky label. It is often taken to pick out a fairly unified conception of the method and aim of philosophy, associated with thinkers such as J. L. Austin, Gilbert Ryle and the later Wittgenstein. Supposedly, this conception dominated Anglophone philosophy in the 50’s and the first half of the 60’s, but was outdated already around 1970, when it had become apparent that it was mistaken in fundamental ways (for a recent and influential account to this effect, see Soames 2003).
It is true that much of Austin’s, Ryle’s and Wittgenstein’s work can be made to fit the following rough description: Ordinary language philosophy aims to show that many of the questions that puzzle philosophers are in fact based on linguistic confusions, and that the adequate method for clearing up those confusions and thereby get rid of philosophical questions is to investigate the nuances of ordinary language as it is used in everyday circumstances.
On the other hand, in order to properly understand and evaluate the philosophical modes of investigation present in the works of these thinkers, every key word in this rough description – ‘linguistic’, ‘confusion’, ‘philosophical’, ‘method’, ‘nuances’, ‘ordinary’, ‘use’, ‘circumstances’ – would be in need of further clarification. The present project aspires to such clarification, by means of comparative studies of Austin’s, Ryle’s and the later Wittgenstein’s writings.
One main aim of the project is the following:
(1) To reassess three common criticisms to the effect that ordinary language philosophy has little to offer with regard to the most difficult and debated philosophical issues today. More precisely, the following charges will be investigated: (a) Ordinary language philosophy is obsolete due to its failure or refusal to provide systematic theories in the philosophy of language; (b) Ordinary language philosophy is obsolete due to its anti-metaphysical stance; (c) Ordinary language philosophy is obsolete due to its pre-Davidsonian stance in the philosophy of action and mind.
In order to successfully and thoroughly pursue this aim, it will be necessary to – as a part and parcel of the project – answer the following two questions:
(2) To what extent do the four classic methodological criticisms of ordinary language philosophy succeed?: (a) The charge of saying/implicating conflation, viz., that ordinary language philosophers fail to distinguish between what is said and what is implicated, or between semantics and pragmatics (cf. Mates 1958, Grice 1989, Soames 2003); (b) The analyticity charge, viz., that ordinary language philosophy works with a spurious conception of philosophy as trafficking in purely analytic (as opposed to synthetic) truths (Quine 1960, Soames 2003); (c) The language police charge, viz., that ordinary language philosophers mistakenly treat ordinary language as a ‘sacrosanct’ standard by reference to which any deviant use can be denounced as nonsensical (Quine 1960); and (d) The armchair philosophy charge, viz., that ordinary language philosophers fail to see that how people ‘ordinarily’ use language is an empirical question, to be verified by polls or other means (Mates 1958, Fodor and Katz 1963). A working hypothesis is that these charges involve misunderstandings of Austin’s, Ryle’s and Wittgenstein’s notions of ordinary language use and of the way in which it matters to philosophy. The assignment is to assess the correctness of this hypothesis, clarify possible misunderstandings, and identify what elements of the criticisms remain valid.
(3) What is philosophical clarity to Austin, Ryle and Wittgenstein? And what did they take the value of such clarity to be? This is a key question when it comes to understanding the similarities and differences between the three philosophers, and also when it comes to the assessment of the criticisms listed above. A careful comparative study of Austin’s, Ryle’s and Wittgenstein’s works from this angle, where they are contrasted as much as seen as allies, would be a timely effort at a nuanced characterization of their philosophical contributions. It would also help decide to what extent the unity suggested by the label ‘ordinary language philosophy’ is real or spurious.
These three overall research questions are tightly interconnected in various ways. Pursuing them together is essential to the project and constitutes its main novel contribution. Arguably, by looking at how the various charges described above actually relate to the writings of Austin, Ryle and Wittgenstein, it will be possible to clarify important and often neglected differences between these thinkers, thus substantiating the suspicion ventured above, that ordinary language philosophy is significantly less homogeneous than is often assume.
WESTERMARCK AND BEYOND: EVOLUTIONARY APPROACHES TO MORALITY AND THEIR CRITICS
Multidisciplinary research project funded by Kone Foundation 2009-2011
Project leader: Olli Lagerspetz
Senior supervising members: Kirsti Suolinna (Sociology, ÅA) and Lars Hertzberg (professor emeritus in philosophy, ÅA)
Project members: Jan Antfolk (Philosophy/Psychology, ÅA), Ylva Gustafsson (Philosophy, ÅA), Camilla Kronqvist (Philosophy, ÅA), Antti Lepistö (General history, Helsinki University) Hannes Nykänen (Philosophy, ÅA)
The research project focuses on evolutionary approaches to human behaviour as objects of study. It is based on the recognition that such approaches are, in themselves, worth examining – historically, methodologically, and conceptually. In other words, our aim is neither to apply evolutionary perspectives nor to reject them, but to highlight their meaning and their role in contemporary debates. At present, the legitimacy and relevance of evolutionary approaches to human behaviour are intensely debated. We believe that, in this situation, there is a need to address conceptual issues, such as the question what it means to claim that a feature of human behaviour is ‘based’ on biology. And, in order fully to understand the conflicting claims, we also need to understand their background in history and society. Without such analysis, there is a risk that those who adopt or reject evolutionary approaches literally do not know what they are doing. For this purpose, the project brings together researchers from philosophy, sociology, history, and psychology. The aim is to create surplus value by establishing connections between existing research efforts. Such analytic work obviously needs to address specific examples of the use of evolutionary approaches. We have chosen to focus, in particular though not exclusively, on the work of Edward Westermarck, the Finnish sociologist, philosopher and anthropologist (1862 – 1939), possibly the most famous scholar or scientist that Finland has ever produced. This is in part because of the inherent interest of his work and in part because of our unique access to relevant manuscript material. Part of this material is currently being digitised (scanned and transcribed) and published on the initiative of the Finnish Philosophy Web Portal (www.filosofia.fi), in collaboration with the Manuscript Department of Åbo Akademi Library, which houses the Westermarck collections.
EMOTIONS IN DIALOGUE: PERSPECTIVES FROM THE HUMANITIES
Multidisciplinary Research Project funded by the Academy of Finland 2009-2011
Project leader: Olli Lagerspetz
Senior supervising member: Peter Nynäs (Comparative religion, ÅA)
Project members: Habibe Erdis (Comparative religion, ÅA), Ylva Gustafsson (Philosophy, ÅA), Camilla Kronqvist (Philosophy, ÅA), Martin Nybom (Philosophy, ÅA) and Sofie Strandén (Nordic Folkloristics, ÅA)
This projects aims to elaborate the insight that an emotion cannot be properly understood or described in abstraction from the meaningful situation in which it is embedded. A leading thought of the project is that emotions are dialogical in character. By ‘dialogue’, we are not only referring to linguistic interchange; one may obviously have emotions without talking about them. Yet the meaning of human activity and expressivity is dependent on their being connected with relations to others. It is only possible to make sense of the roles that emotions have in life – indeed, in important cases, to recognize what emotions they are – by reflecting on interpersonal moral relations, rather than only focusing on internal states of individuals.
The implications of this approach are explored both philosophically and empirically, with a view on how philosophy and the development of qualitative field methods may mutually enrich each other. The project brings together already existing research efforts from different fields of the humanities. In their varying approaches to human dialogue, Philosophy, Folklore Studies, and Comparative Religion complement each other in valuable ways. Thus our aim is not just to introduce philosophical sophistication into empirical research methods. Philosophy has something to learn from the other humanities. Current philosophical discussion of the emotions to some extent consists of reactions to views no longer recognised as relevant in concrete fieldwork practices.
LEGITIMACY AND MORALITY / LEGITIMITET OCH MORAL
Multidisciplinary Research Project 2005 – 2008
The LEMO project builds on the results of the LARM project (2001-2004). LARM took its point of departure in an understanding of morality (ethics) that questions a number of relativistic and rationalistic moral theories that characterize the majority of the literature on moral philosophy in the Anglo-Saxon world. The internal relationship of the moral concepts to the agent was put in focus. The LARM projects studied from different angles the relationship of morality, legislation and law. Emphasis was e.g. laid on religion, ethics and law, as well as on Human Rights as a moral and legal concept.
The results of the LARM project points at open questions. LEMO continues the work of LARM and studies closely the question of legitimacy, in the sense of the moral validity of a legal system in a society. A fundamental question is in which way the moral validity can be upheld. If morality is understood as internally related to the people of a community, then the legitimacy of a community based on the rule of law must continuously be related to the people that make up that community. LEMO intends to study what this may mean. For fundamental ideas of its understanding of morality the project draws on a number of mainly English speaking writers (E Anscombe, C Diamond, R Gaita, S Hauerwas, KE Lögstrup, M Nussbaum, P Pettit, H Pitkin, R Rhees, C Taylor, P Winch). A critical discussion is carried through with some influential moral theoretics in the field (among others J Rawls, J Habermas). The LEMO project further puts focus on the concepts of ”a democratic discourse”, ”a moral discourse”, and ”a moral community” (M Walzer). On different levels the different individual projects study what the prerequisites for a moral discourse are, as well as how the moral dimension finds expression in political and societal decisions. Methodologically, the participants move at both an empirical and a conceptual level in their research.
EMOTIONS AND UNDERSTANDING
Research Project funded by the Academy of Finland 2002-2005
The increasing academic interest in emotions has led more and more scholars in different fields (psychology, cognitive science, pedagogy, philosophy etc.) to argue for a reassessment of the relationship between emotions and understanding. This project sets out to explore the issue philosophically, and to inquire into the risks and possibilities involved in discussing the emotions (fear and love form the respective topics of two of the PhD students) philosophically. The three PhD students are supported by expertise in the history of the philosophy of emotions and in feminist perspectives on emotions, as well as by the conceptual approach typical to the Wittgenstein-inspired spirit of the host department.
THE GRAMMAR OF COMMUNITY
Research Project funded by the Academy of Finland 1998-2000
How does philosophy enhance our understanding of reality – or does it? That is, what is the authority by which the philosopher can claim to have something new to say?
There is a long received tradition of invoking the notion of rationality as such an authority. At the same time, the notion of a universal, context-independent rationality has itself been increasingly questioned by both Analytic and Continental philosophers.
In political discourse, the recent years – maybe in reaction to internationalisation and supra-national integration as well as the development of new technologies – have seen a shift from universalism to arguments made in terms of national or communal belonging. But here, too, one may ask from where such arguments derive their authority.
The Socratic view, taken over by Wittgenstein – that of philosophy as articulation – could be argued to deny that philosophy could arrive at any normative conclusions. Yet this view, too, seems to make an implicit appeal to a community of understanding whose linguistic practices are articulated by the philosopher. And again we may ask why this community should be seen as authoritative.
We suggest that philosophy, instead, should be seen as dialogue. The community of understanding is not predefined or static but rather constituted in the dialogue itself. The dialogue articulates the boundaries of existing communities as well as challenging those boundaries by making new forms of understanding possible.