6.18.2005

truth conditions my left eye.

Here's a weird thing (taken from Wikipedia, of course!):
...close examination of natural language proved to be a powerful philosophical technique. Practitioners since have included J. L. Austin, P. F. Strawson, John Searle, Paul Grice, R. M. Hare, R. S. Peters, and J├╝rgen Habermas.
Hm... it seems like there are other philosophers who may have used close examination of natural language... like EVERY post-structuralist philosopher... EVER! It's a nerdy complaint, at first, but every time I encounter a text about the philosophy of language, I see more or less this same list of names, and little or no mention of Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Althusser, etc.

Actually, under the entry about Habermas, I thought I saw a picture that might have been Derrida, but it turned out to be the pope. So that's pretty telling. (As it turns out, Habermas and Derrida were bitterest of enemies. Also, the first time I encountered Austin and Searle was in Derrida's "Limited Inc.", in which he really just rips them to ribbons.)

The Philosophy of Language Guys are looking for the 'meaning' of language, and the rules by which it operates. The post-structuralists tend to talk about broad categories like "discourse," "writing in general," "language in general," and never, under any circumstances, about rules. Truth conditional semantics is an excellent example of this divide. In a largely unsuccessful, but useful, project, many semanticists have tried to reduce language to truth conditions, while post-structuralists argue that there is no truth outside of language; that language itself is the condition of 'truth' and 'falsehood.'

There are those, such as Stanley Fish, and Mikhail Bakhtin, whom we've mentioned on this site before, who come from literary studies using deconstructive techniques, and approach linguistics. But for the most part, the cross-over between postmodern (which i'll use loosely to mean informed by post-structuralism) thinking and linguistics/semantics/pragmatics/philosophy of language is non-existent.

In her 2002 book, The Politics of Postmodernism, Linda Hutcheon includes an epilogue which amounts to a laundry list of theorists and disciplines. She writes,
It would likely be no exaggeration to say that, like all art forms... all disciplines have engaged in some way in the postmodern debates in recent yeras. Even religious studies showed the impact of postmodern theory... New areas flourished, influenced to some extent by postmodern deconstructing impulses: critical legal studies... social theory... politics.
And where is a poststructural linguistics, and perhaps more importantly (and mysteriously!) a linguistic poststructuralism?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why does it have to be the left...?

Seb (pugnaciously) said...

This is way late, but I haven't had internet access.

But I feel obligated to stick up for analytic philosophy here, and be snarky about postmodernists.

The "there is no truth outside of language" seems a bit bogus to me--does this mean that an unarticulated belief formed out of concepts can't have a truth value? It seems like it should, but that would only be consistent with the post-structuralist view if the strongest possible Sapir-Whorf hypothesis held.

Postmodernists didn't destroy all hope of nonrelative truth or progress. Pragmatism and the philosophy of science have overcome! So you can start building back things like "meaning" up from pretty secure foundations. And if you can do that, why bother letting post-structuralists into the club? It seems like their project wasn't a very productive one.

Although that truth conditions crap and a lot of philosophy of language seems pretty bogus. The philosophers should get more empirical.

Sorry. I'm drivelling, and am shamefully uninformed about post-structuralists; thus the analytic bigotry.

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