Vindication of the humpty dumpty attitude towards language

Inquiry 3 (1-4):185 – 198 (1960)
Effective objective (sachlich) verbal communication is dependent upon the use of linguistic locutions which are: a) suitable for some special purposes, b) clear ( i.e ., having a satsifactorily high degree of subsumability), and c) in accordance with some ordinary (i.e. , frequently occurring) language usages. Only in so far as point c is concerned is a study of actual language usage of (indirect) value to philosophers. And this holds true regardless of whether one's underlying assumption tends towards the view: 1) that ordinary language is perfect (Oxford), or: 2) that ordinary language is a mess (Oslo). In any case, one needs to know about the most ordinary usages to prevent unnecessarily drastic deviations from them. Drastic deviations may mislead the sender, as well as the receiver, create communicational disturbances, misunderstandings, and confusion (vide: Strawson's use of “presupposition"). However, considerations of a) suitability for special purposes, and b) clarity (subsumability) will most often, if not always, prevent a communicator from flatly adopting any one of the existing language usages of a given important linguistic locution. He would feel the need for: “explications,”; “rational reconstructions”; or conceptual alterations of one kind or another. In fact, there are instances where the sender finds it most advantageous to disregard completely ordinary language (vide: Einstein's use of “simultaneity"): He “makes words mean what he wants them to mean.”; This is the Humpty Dumpty sender attitude towards language. The corresponding receiver attitude manifests itself as awareness of and tolerance for language ambiguities.
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DOI 10.1080/00201746008601317
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