josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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15 Jan '13 09:45:36 AM

The fourth of Cavell's characterizations of philosophical appeals to ordinary language (Claim 153–54), 'statements of initiation' (179), is backed by a substantial statement about the idea of initiation (178):

'Instead, then, of saying either that we tell beginners what words mean, or that we teach them what objects are, I will say: We initiate them, into the relevant forms of life held in language and gathered around the objects and persons of our world. For that to be possible, we must make ourselves exemplary and take responsibility for that assumption of authority; and the initiate must be able to follow us, in however rudimentary a way, naturally; and he must want to follow us. "Teaching" here would mean something like "showing them what we say and do", and "accepting what they say and do as what we say and do", etc.; and this will be more than we know, or can say.'

The idea of authority appears soon after Cavell names these appeals 'statements of initiation', and likewise soon after the second characterization of the appeals, as reminders of our criteria, turns to Cavell's comparison between Wittgensteinian criteria and the idea of a social contract (17–28) (in fact, it is the point of disanalogy between ordinary criteria and Wittgensteinian criteria, that their 'source of authority' is 'we', 'the human group as such', which prompts the comparison).

In those settings, Cavell is generally concerned to distinguish the sort of authority invoked from any sort of dogmatism (18, 20, 153, 179), as he was when he first characterized the appeals to ordinary language as 'appeals to the "Transcendental Logic" of our language' (see e.g. 'Must We Mean…', 2, 13; 'Availability', 56–70). His attempts along these lines connect up in various ways with what could be seen as substitutes, in the philosophical tradition, for an ordinary or traditional idea of authority (closely related to religion and morality, and in need of critique): the authority attaching to the first person (and his incorrigible perceptions or his indubitable consciousness of his own existence, for example) or to something like the a priori or the necessary (thus, to truths knowable by reason alone, or to certain universal features of thought or the world).

Where some Wittgensteinians would be quick to meet an accusation of dogmatism with a denial to have properly claimed anything ('these are just reminders!'), Cavell generally replies by invoking authority which is asserted to be legitimate and legitimately invoked. (I think the latter is probably the best site at which to situate Mulhall-style readings of Cavell as non-dogmatically or resolutely 'responsive' to interlocutors.) When that authority is rooted in features of first-person utterances or in a form of necessity attaching to some of those utterances ('when we say… we mean…', 'you can't call that…'), the presence of the idea of authority does make sense in light of the connection to the traditional philosophical invocations of it. But it's less obvious why authority need play a role at all, apart from that. (Weren't the traditional philosophical uses of it, meant to displace or re-constitute more ordinary or traditional forms of authority, also something like distortions of the ordinary ideas of authority? So why hold on to Wittgensteinian relatives of them?)

The appearance of the idea of authority in the passage above seems as if it would give a basis for the use of the idea of authority in Cavell's characterizations of appeals to ordinary language. In the passage above authority is given a source, and Cavell's claims about our each being fully authoritative in making such appeals seem to me to make more sense in light of our prior sharing in the authority we each inherit upon initiation into our language. (Conveniently, this characterization of appeals to ordinary language occurs in an 'Excursus' which Cavell introduces by referring to 'the vision of language underlying ordinary language procedures in philosophy', which at least situates the shared authority in the right place, 'underlying'. If it seems as if these ought to be on the same level—possession of a natural language, and the use of ordinary language procedures in philosophy—then the difference probably depends on seeing the latter as a kind of cultural achievement, which is also a theme of the 'Excursus'.)

12 Jan '13 06:38:43 AM

Some philosophical texts are open, some are closed. World as Will and Representation is closed, its second volume notwithstanding. Philosophical Investigations is open.

It's a prejudice to think that all questions put to closed texts must be given settled, final answers. The texts we write in response to closed texts can themselves be open.

Open texts question persistently.

11 Jan '13 03:32:37 AM

The human being, the kind of animal who wears pants and has congresses and stuff.

10 Jan '13 04:02:19 AM

Bill Callahan records from before K., Bill Callahan records from with K., and Bill Callahan records from after K.

10 Jan '13 02:00:07 AM

The working conditions of college faculty are ultimately the learning conditions for college students.

10 Jan '13 01:02:43 AM

Whenever an ethicist ends his list of theoretical options with 'virtue ethics, feminist ethics', I know I'm not dealing with a serious person.

10 Jan '13 01:01:00 AM

The difference between not knowing you're getting crumbs all over yourself and really not knowing you're getting crumbs all over yourself.

8 Jan '13 11:26:09 AM

Because of a maxim’s brevity and by its characteristic manner of formulation, it will seem compressed. It asserts or draws connections between its elements in ways which cannot falsify their possible relationships, but which are not likely to be obvious upon first thought of each of the elements in isolation or in its characteristic deployment apart from the maxim. (The aspect of defamiliarization.) Often the perception of the truth of a maxim will amount to a recognition that its elements do admit of the possibility of combination indicated in the maxim.

7 Jan '13 01:13:52 PM

Make us take your word for it.