Linguistics in Philosophy

New Scholasticism 44 (3):469-469 (1970)
During the first half of the present century a number of outstanding philosophers realized that language theory could profitably be viewed as far more than merely a means of studying one among the many human faculties, or merely sharpening the tool we use to philosophize - they realized that there is a sense in which philosophy of language comprises (almost) the whole of philosophy. This was the famous linguistic turn: philosophers came to accept that everything that is is in a sense through language, and that to study what there is is to study what our words mean.1 The enigma of the language-world relationship was brought to the centre of philosophical discussion early in this century by Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Austin and others. Their original point was that we cannot take the representing capacities of language at face value, that in order to treat of things - which cannot be done save with the help of words - we must first treat of words and make sure which of them are really capable of treating of things. Thus the philosophers undergoing the linguistic turn slowly gave up asking what is consciousness (matter, evil etc.)? in favour of asking what is the meaning of 'consciousness' ('matter', 'evil' etc.)? This simple turn seemed to have tremendous consequences for philosophy. By replacing the question what is consciousness? by the question what is the meaning of 'consciousness'? we seem to lose nothing (any meaningful answer to the former question seems to be recoverable from an answer to the latter), and yet it seems to take us from the weird realms of mind to the commonplace domain of language, from the troublesome immersing into people's heads to straightforward observing how they use words. It also seems to guard against the "bewitchment of our reason by language" (Wittgenstein) caused by words which are only seemingly meaningful: such questions as what does the word 'ether' stand for? can be answered simply by nothing, whereas the question what is ether? presupposes that there is something as ether (as....
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DOI 10.5840/newscholas197044343
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