Don't Ask, Look! Linguistic Corpora as a Tool for Conceptual Analysis

Abstract

Ordinary Language Philosophy has largely fallen out of favour, and with it the belief in the primary importance of analyses of ordinary language for philosophical purposes. Still, in their various endeavours, philosophers not only from analytic but also from other backgrounds refer to the use and meaning of terms of interest in ordinary parlance. In doing so, they most commonly appeal to their own linguistic intuitions. Often, the appeal to individual intuitions is supplemented by reference to dictionaries. In recent times, Internet search engine queries for expressions of interest have become quite popular. Apparently, philosophers attempt to surpass the limits of their own linguistic intuitions by appealing to experts or to factual uses of language. I argue that this attempt is commendable but that its execution is wanting. Instead of appealing to dictionaries or Internet queries, philosophers should employ computer-based linguistic corpora in order to confirm or falsify hypotheses about the factual use of language. This approach also has some advantages over methods employed by experimental philosophers. If the importance of ordinary language is stressed, the use of linguistic corpora is hardly avoidable.

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