Must we mean what we say?

  • S. Cavell
Part of the Controversies in Philosophy book series (COIPHIL)


That what we ordinarily say and mean may have a direct and deep control over what we can philosophically say and mean is an idea which many philosophers find oppressive. It might be argued that in part the oppression results from misunderstanding; that the new philosophy which proceeds from ordinary language is not that different from traditional methods of philosophising, and that the frequent attacks upon it are misdirected. But I shall not attempt to be conciliatory, both because I think the new philosophy at Oxford is critically different from traditional philosophy, and because I think it is worth trying to bring out their differences as fully as possible. There is, after all, something oppressive about a philosophy which seems to have uncanny information about our most personal philosophical assumptions (those, for example, about whether we can ever know for certain of the existence of the external world, or of other minds; and those we make about favourite distinctions between the descriptive and the normative’, or between matters of fact and matters of language) and which inveterately nags us about them. Particularly oppressive when that philosophy seems so often merely to nag and to try no special answers to the questions which possess us — unless it be to suggest that we sit quietly in a room. Eventually, I suppose, we will have to look at that sense of oppression itself: such feelings can come from a truth about ourselves which we are holding off.


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  1. 15.
    John Hospers, Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1953).Google Scholar
  2. 16.
    Charles Stevenson, Ethics and Language (New Haven, 1944) p. 26.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1971

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Cavell
    • 1
  1. 1.Harvard UniversityUSA

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