II. Radical Translation and Intersubjective Practice

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Philosophy and the Vision of Language

Paul M. Livingston

Philosophy and the Vision of Language

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 4

Preface 6

Ch. 1: Introduction: Language and Structure 11

I. Early Analytic Philosophy

Ch. 2: Frege on the Context Principle and Psychologism 58

Ch. 3: ‘Meaning is Use’ in the Tractatus 89

II. Radical Translation and Intersubjective Practice

Introductory: From Syntax to Semantics (and Pragmatics) 112

Ch. 4: Ryle and Sellars on Inner-State Reports 132

Ch. 5: Quine’s Appeal to Use and the Genealogy of Indeterminacy 167

III. Critical Outcomes

Introductory: From the Aporia of Structure 211

to the Critique of Practice

Ch. 6: Wittgenstein, Kant, and the Critique of Totality 224

Ch. 7: Thinking and Being: Heidegger and Wittgenstein on 248

Machination and Lived-Experience

Ch. 8: Language, Norms, and the Force of Reason 287

IV. Conclusion

Ch. 9: The Question of Language 329

Works Cited 376

Notes 401


Over the four-year process of writing this book, I have received help and support from many sources. One of my first debts is to those who read the manuscript, in part or as a whole. Tim Schoettle read almost every page in draft and has provided immensely helpful suggestions and responses, especially for the first and last chapters, and I am deeply indebted to our conversations for much of the ultimate critical direction of the book. Jim Wetzel has also provided many helpful ideas and responses based on his reading of the entire manuscript. Among those who have read and commented on parts, I would like especially to thank Brian Keith Axel, Jeffrey Barrett, Jake Berger, Walter Brogan, David Chalmers, Richard Eldridge, Wayne Martin, Alan Nelson, David Woodruff Smith, and Amie Thomasson. I would also like to thank two anonymous referees for the Journal of Philosophical Research who provided detailed and helpful comments on an earlier version of chapter 8.

Much of the material in the book was developed in graduate and advanced undergraduate seminars at Villanova over the past four years. I would like to thank all those who have participated; my debts to those discussions are multiple and deep. In particular, John Bova and Jeffrey Gower provided especially detailed readings and comments. Some of the material in the book originated even longer ago, while I was still a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine. Chapter 7 originated in a graduate seminar I took with Leonardo Distaso, and I would like to thank him for the inspiration to begin thinking about the issues therein. Coursework and discussions with Bill Bristow, Wayne Martin, Alan Nelson, and David Woodruff Smith have also played a decisive role in inspiring many of the ideas in the book.

The last sections of the book were completed while I was an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation research fellow at the Karl-Ludwigs Universität in Freiburg im Breisgau, from March to August, 2007. I would like to thank the Humboldt Foundation for their gracious support. I would also like to thank my sponsor, Günter Figal, for his support of the project.

Some of the material in chapter 7 appeared in an earlier version in Inquiry 46:3 (2003), pp. 324-45. An earlier version of chapter 2 appeared in Philosophical Investigations 27:1 (2004), pp. 34-67. A version of chapter 6 will appear in Philosophy and Social Criticism 33:6 (2007), pp. 691-715. I would like to thank the editors of these publications for their permission to reprint this material.

Finally, as always before and now again, I especially wish to acknowledge my wife, Elizabeth Amberg Livingston. Without the conversations and experiences we have shared, this project would not have been possible; and beyond this, her constant love and support over the last four years have meant more than any language can say.


This book has several origins, widely separated in time and space. One of the first of these was the ambiguous reaction I had upon my initial encounter with analytic philosophy as an undergraduate in a prominent American philosophy department in the mid-1990s. There, the projects of Quine and Davidson were still current, those of Carnap and Russell much less so, and phenomenology and “continental” philosophy widely dismissed and barely discussed at all. The pedagogy that communicated the current projects to me did a good job of expounding their details, but was less successful at showing their deeper programmatic motivations and larger philosophical significance. It took me longer to see the currently favored projects themselves as arising from, and hence interpretable in terms of, a long and revealing history. This history, I realized later, connects the contemporary projects of analytic philosophy to what was once experienced as nothing short of a revolution in thought: the attempt to grasp in symbolic logic the very structure of the world, and so to make the terms of language speak into existence the clarity of a demystified life. It was then, especially in reading Wittgenstein, that I realized that whatever “analytic philosophy” might today be said to be, its particular methods and styles could be understood as resulting from a radical and unprecedented opening of language to philosophical investigation and reflection. Discerning the effects of this opening in the history of the tradition might help as well, I reasoned, to determine what is really at issue in the question of its continuance into the future.

At the same time, I had taken up reading some of the texts of twentieth-century “continental” philosophy, particularly the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger. The accusation of “unclarity” that analytic philosophers often direct against them did not convince me, and as I read further, I began to see the possibility of a much closer conversation than is now customary between analytic philosophy and these and other “continental” texts. The close connections between Husserl’s phenomenology and the projects of Frege and the early Vienna Circle, the significant parallels between the analytic tradition’s midcentury critique of Cartesianism and Heidegger’s critique of subjectivism, and (above all) the common origination of all of these projects in developments of Kant’s critique of reason, all spoke for the possibility of a renewed discussion of the two traditions’ common methodological and thematic strands.

I grew convinced, at the same time, that the epochal discovery of language for philosophical criticism at the beginning of the analytic tradition gestured toward an “object” whose occurrence is too pervasive, and implications too general, in ordinary human life for its philosophical relevance to be limited to a specialized consideration of the conceptual problems of scientific knowledge or a mere systematization of pre-existing or commonsensical “intuitions.” Continental philosophers, largely unschooled in the methods of analysis, clarification, and criticism deriving from Frege, might see formally based reflection on language as irrelevant to a larger consideration of the problems of meaning and existence; analytic philosophers might continue to dismiss these problems themselves as too vague and intractable. Even within the analytic tradition itself, the question of language, once opened for philosophical reflection, has again and again subsequently been partially or wholly concealed or obscured, dissimulated and repressed. It nevertheless remains possible, in a broader historical context, as I have attempted to show herein, to grasp the analytic tradition’s inquiry into language as one of the most complete and radical developments of philosophy’s continuing critical encounter with what was long ago grasped as logos, and brought down through the ages as reason and ratio, the immanent form of thought and the order of the world.

Another origin of this book came later, in my reading, in graduate school, of contemporary texts that seek to theorize and account for the regularities and norms of meaningful language. These texts, more or less universally, presupposed a conception of language as grounded in intersubjective “social practices” controlled by public criteria of application and evaluation. But when I read the definitive documents of the middle of the twentieth century (most of all, those of Quine and Wittgenstein) that were supposed to have actually proven this basis, I was surprised to find that they seemed to drive toward a quite different (indeed almost opposite) conclusion. For far from establishing the possibility of basing an account of linguistic meaning in an account of praxis, they seemed to me to locate an essential gap or aporia between signs and their application in an ordinary human life, demonstrating an essential incommensurability of linguistic meaning with any theoretically describable structure of practice or action. The skeptical or critical results that demonstrate this gap, it seemed to me as well, must have deep consequences for the form of our ordinary access to language’s structure, and hence for our understanding of the diverse and varied contexts and situations of human life wherein language is regularly at issue.

If the question of language has indeed been definitive for the analytic tradition, this definitiveness is nevertheless not immediately evident either in the prevalent methods of the tradition as it is currently practiced or in much of the historiography that has recently begun to recount their development. As the methods of analytic philosophy have gained a position of unquestioned prominence in Anglo-American philosophy departments, the underlying motivations of its original project have often nevertheless been lost, hidden, or obscured within an ostensibly neutral set of practices of expository clarity and rational argumentation. This obscuration arises, as we shall see, for essential reasons from the deep and nearly unresolvable ambiguities to which the philosophical critique of language is exposed as soon as it attempts to gain theoretical clarity about its own positive methodological basis. Nevertheless it amounts to an artificial and premature closure of a set of essential questions that have by no means either been answered or dissolved by positive theory.

In the various specific investigations of this book, I have therefore tried to trace the consequences of the philosophical vision of language for the development of some of the main historical projects of the analytic tradition, asking, in each case, what ensures or precludes the openness of language to philosophical reflection, what constitutes language as an object or ensures the possibility of a critical inquiry into its structure or limits, and also what permits, and what problematizes, our everyday rational reflection about the bearing of language on the form of a human life.

My aim in posing these historical and conceptual questions is not to espouse or invite any positive doctrine or theory. Instead, I hope only that this book can serve as a kind of signpost or marker, a historically based indication of a question that was once open for philosophy and could be taken up again, not only in the future inheritance of its specific methods, but also in the practices and events of an everyday life that knows itself as transfigured by the language it takes up.

-Freiburg im Breisgau

July 2007

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