What’s wrong with the philosophy of language?

  • J. Fodor
  • J. J. Katz
Part of the Controversies in Philosophy book series (COIPHIL)


The unsuitability of the positivist’s view of natural language has led many philosophers to reject this approach and to turn instead to a careful study of the details of a natural language. But the approach known as ordinary-language philosophy has been rightly criticised by the positivists as lacking in systematicity and theoretical orientation. One must agree with the positivist’s charge against the ordinary-language philosopher that any account of a natural language which fails to provide a specification of its formal structure is ipso facto unsatisfactory. For it is upon this structure that the generative principles which determine the syntactic and semantic characteristics of a natural language depend. These principles determine how each and every sentence of the language is structured and how sentences and expressions are understood. It is his failure to appreciate the significance of the systematic character of the compositional features of languages which accounts for the ordinary- language philosopher’s disregard of the study of sentences and sentential structure.


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  1. 3.
    H. Putnam, ‘Minds and Machines’, in S. Hook (ed.), Dimensions of Mind (New York, 1960) p. 166.Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1971

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Fodor
  • J. J. Katz

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