Verbal Fallacies and Philosophical Intuitions: The Continuing Relevance of Ordinary Language Analysis

In Brian Garvey (ed.), Austin on Language. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 124-140 (2014)
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Abstract

The paper builds on a methodological idea from experimental philosophy and on findings from psycholinguistics, to develop and defend ordinary language analysis (OLA) as practiced in J.L. Austin’s Sense and Sensibilia. That attack on sense-datum theories of perception focuses on the argument from illusion. Through a case-study on this paradoxical argument, the present paper argues for a form of OLA which is psychologically informed, seeks to expose epistemic, rather than semantic, defects in paradoxical arguments, and is immune to the main objections to ordinary language philosophising, including those arising from the semantic/pragmatics distinction: A key project in current experimental philosophy is to develop psychological explanations of philosophically relevant intuitions that help us determine what warrant thinkers have for accepting them. Psycholinguistic work on the role of stereotypes in verb-comprehension has shown that intuitive judgments can be generated by automatic cognitive processes that duplicate both semantic and pragmatic inferences and are shaped by dominant uses of words. For systematic reasons, philosophers are prone to unwittingly deviate from such dominant uses. Where this happens, they are liable to automatically infer unwarranted conclusions that strike them as intuitively compelling. OLA helps us to determine those dominant uses, to identify unwitting deviations from them, and thus to expose unwarranted intuitions – e.g., in the premises of paradoxical arguments. Ordinary language does not determine the bounds of sense but shapes our leaps of thought. The paper shows how this enables its ‘Austinian’ analysis to contribute to a novel, epistemic, resolution of philosophical paradoxes and problems.

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Eugen Fischer
University of East Anglia

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