The Reference Book [book]

John Hawthorne, David Manley
2012 unpublished
Why does language matter to philosophy?' is the name of a minor classic by Ian Hacking published in 1975. It's a good question. Among the many charges laid against academic philosophy, one of the more familiar is that it concerns itself excessively with verbal or 'merely semantic' questions, at the expense of the real questions of philosophy. And yet those who have made a serious attempt to engage with philosophical problems quite soon finds themselves grappling with the very words they use to
more » ... words they use to formulate the problems. Hacking argued that in the early modern period, 'ideas' were the focus of philosophical investigation, and philosophical theories of knowledge, perception, mind and matter, cause and effect (etc.) were based around the examination of 'ideas'. For example, rather than discussing cause and effect directly, Hume took himself to be discussing our 'ideas' of cause and effect. The 20 th century philosophers' obsession with language can be understood as a way of approaching the same topics, but in terms of 'meanings' rather than 'ideas'. Just as the 17 th century was the 'heyday of ideas', the 20 th was the 'heyday of meanings'. The common role shared by meanings and ideas was as 'the interface between the knowing subject and the world'. Language was 20 th century Anglophone (or analytic) philosophy's version of this interface. Some went further. Michael Dummett argued that the concern with language was the defining feature of analytic philosophy. In a famous discussion, Dummett
doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199693672.001.0001 fatcat:du77rdkdjvbpjgee2ih7bhbgce