The breath of sense: Language, structure, and the paradox of origin

Konturen 2 (2010)
Within contemporary analytic philosophy, varieties of “naturalism” have recently attained an almost unchallenged methodological and thematic dominance. As David Papineau wrote in the introduction to his 1993 book Philosophical Naturalism, “nearly everybody nowadays wants to be a naturalist,” although as Papineau also notes, those who aspire to the term also continue to disagree widely about what specific methods or doctrines it implies. My purpose in this paper, however, is not to argue for or against philosophical naturalism on any of the several conceptions current among analytic philosophers, but rather simply to suggest that a closer look at the history of the analytic tradition can offer helpful terms for rethinking what can be meant by applying the categories of “nature” and “culture” within philosophy’s ongoing reflection on the constitutive forms of human life and practice. For, as I shall argue, the central experience of this history – philosophy’s radical encounter with what it envisions as the logical or conceptual structure of everyday language – also repeatedly demonstrates the existence of a fundamental aporia or paradox of origin and practice at the center of the claim of language upon an ordinary human life. The appearance of this paradox has repeatedly determined the results and projects of the analytic tradition, even as analytic philosophers have also reacted to it, on the level of positive theory, in characteristic modes of dismissal, denial, or repression. Besides offering to elicit more clearly what analytic philosophy still offers to show us about our everyday relation to the language that we speak, I shall argue, documenting the existence and effects of this aporia can also yield a clarified sense of the relationship of the analytic tradition itself to the neighboring streams of “continental” philosophy that have also taken up the question of language during the twentieth century.
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