Home Thoughts from Abroad: Derrida, Austin and the Oxford Connection



There is no philosophical school or tradition that doesn’t carry along with it a background narrative linking up present and past concerns. Most often this selective prehistory entails not only an approving account of ideas that fit in with the current picture but also an effort to repress or marginalise anything that does not so fit. Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy is one fairly blatant example of this strategy at work.1 The story it tells is a Whiggish account of how thinkers managed — against all the odds of metaphysical delusion — to come out at last (with Russell and his peers) on the high plateau of logical consistency and truth. On the way to this dénouement Russell avails himself of various techniques for pointing up the narrative drift. His coverage takes in all the accredited ‘major’ thinkers, some of whose opinions Russell is hard put to summarise without remarking how nonsensical they appear from a modern (logical) point of view. Elsewhere — as with Leibniz or Kant — he takes the more accomodating line of winnowing out the structures of valid argument and consigning what remains to the history of dead metaphysical abstractions. It is this latter technique that has characterised the approach of analytical philosophers to the history of their discipline.


Ordinary Language Textual Critique Performative Utterance Bodleian Library Western Metaphysic 
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© Ceri Crossley and Ian Small 1988

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