Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




Total Pageviews

Monday, January 6, 2014

LAST MINUITE SNARKING AS I GO OUT THE DOOR


In the old days, American philosophy subsisted on European imports -- first Locke's New Way of Ideas, then Kantian rationalism, then Absolute Idealism, then Logical Positivism, then Analytic Philosophy, then Ordinary Language Philosophy, then Existentialism, then Phenomenology.  The only native American philosophical school was Pragmatism.  Because of the structure and timing of tenure, American Philosophy Departments resembled the alluvial deposits of river beds.  Young men [it was almost always men] would take up the latest European import, and just about when they got tenure and were sedimented for life, a new wave of Philosophy would wash up and a new batch of junior men would get tenure doing it.  If you cut a trough through a Philosophy Department, you could read off the successive European imports like a paleontologist.

Back when I was a lad, some Oxford philosophers with too much time on their hands spent a good deal of energy drawing subtle distinctions among a variety of English words that, to a casual observer, might seem to mean more or less the same thing.  This so-called "Ordinary Language Philosophy" was all the rage on the East Coast for a brief time.  J. L. Austin, among others, made much of the fact, for example, that there was a subtle difference of meaning between calling something an "accident" and calling it a "mistake." 

Josh Marshall runs a blog called Talking Points Memo that I click on several times each day.  This morning, after I put the sheets in the washing machine as part of the wrap-up before departing for Europe, I checked TPM.com and came across the following story:

"A San Tan Valley, Ariz. woman, Melisah Havens, on Friday accidentally shot her husband outside their residence because she thought he was an intruder trying to burglarize her vehicle, police told KTVK Phoenix."

I should explain that Marshall, in the fine old tradition immortalized by Lincoln Stephens in his Autobiography, has taken to listing every police report of gun lovers shooting themselves, each other, or their children because they have not learned the first thing about gun safety [in this respect following the lesson of their spiritual leader, former Vice President Dick Cheney.]

Look at that story again.  As soon as I read it, I heard the plumy voice of an Oxford Don saying, ever so superciliously, "My dear fellow.  You don't mean that she shot her husband accidentally.  Nor do you mean that she shot him unintentionally.  You mean that she shot him by mistake."

I guess Oxford Ordinary Language Philosophy was good for something after all.

4 comments:

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

Enjoy Paris! It's my favorite city; I'll be there in March, but far too briefly.

I had the same reaction to the story, as well as to the frequent use of "accident" in news reports of car crashes. Tom Vanderbilt, who wrote a smart book on "Traffic," had a series on his blog called "The Accidental Journalist," in which he pointed out "how predictable, preventable crashes are turned into accidents" by sloppy journalists.

It's also instructive to note how vehicles, not their drivers, are granted agency in stories about car crashes.

Unknown said...

There's always Paris
and there's always
Searle

Tsung-Yun said...

While I certainly agree with your ascerbic assessment of semantic hair-splitting, Austin's account of performative speech acts was, in its day, a much-needed corrective to the then dominant account of language as sign or representation. I wonder if "referentialism" is still dominant in analytic philosophy of language, about which I know very little.

tbs said...

Much as I admire Bob and his work, I think him barking at the wrong tree here. The distinction of mistake and accident determines the nature of the incident. More importantly, Austin was showing in his little story
(a footnote)that putting things in a revelatory context makes a difference and basis of being responsible for what one says. She did not shoot by accident (Aiming as it were at the duck in the next tree), nor did she shoot him unintentionally (she was trying to hit him); but she did shoot him by mistake. (Manslaughter 3 unless he lived and refuses to press charges).