The Linguistic Turn Essays In Philosophical Method In Political Science

The linguistic turn was a major development in Western philosophy during the early 20th century, the most important characteristic of which is the focusing of philosophy and the other humanities primarily on the relationship between philosophy and language.

Very different intellectual movements were associated with the "linguistic turn", although the term itself is commonly thought popularised by Richard Rorty's 1967 anthology The Linguistic Turn, in which it means the turn towards linguistic philosophy. According to Rorty, who later dissociated himself from linguistic philosophy and analytic philosophy generally, the phrase "the linguistic turn" originated with philosopher Gustav Bergmann.[1][2]

On the linguistic turn[edit]

In the tradition of analytical philosophy, according to Michael Dummett the linguistic movement first took shape in Gottlob Frege's 1884 work The Foundations on Arithmetic, specifically paragraph 62 where Frege explores the identity of a numerical proposition.[3][4][further explanation needed] This concern for the logic of propositions and their relationship to "facts" was later taken up by the notable analytical philosopher Bertrand Russell in "On Denoting", and played a weighty role in his early work in logical atomism.[5]

Ludwig Wittgenstein, an associate of Russell, was one of the progenitors of the linguistic turn. This follows from his ideas in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that philosophical problems arise from a misunderstanding of the logic of language, and from his remarks on language games in his later work. His later work (specifically Philosophical Investigations) significantly departs from the common tenets of analytic philosophy and might be viewed as having some resonance in the poststructuralist tradition.[6] In analytic philosophy, one of the results of the linguistic turn was an increasing focus on philosophy of language and ordinary language philosophy. Later in the twentieth century, philosophers like Saul Kripke in Naming and Necessity drew metaphysical conclusions from closely analysing language.[7]

Decisive for the linguistic turn in the humanities were the works of yet another tradition, namely the structuralism of Ferdinand de Saussure and the ensuing movement of poststructuralism. Influential theorists include Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. The power of language, more specifically of certain rhetorical tropes, in historical discourse was explored by Hayden White. The fact that language is not a transparent medium of thought had been stressed by a very different form of philosophy of language which originated in the works of Johann Georg Hamann and Wilhelm von Humboldt.[8]

These various movements often lead to the notion that language 'constitutes' reality, a position contrary to intuition and to most of the Western tradition of philosophy. The traditional view (what Derrida called the 'metaphysical' core of Western thought) saw words as functioning labels attached to concepts. According to this view, there is something like 'the real chair', which exists in some external reality and corresponds roughly with a concept in human thought, chair, to which the linguistic word "chair" refers. However, the founder of structuralism, Ferdinand de Saussure, held that definitions of concepts cannot exist independently from a linguistic system defined by difference, or, to put it differently, that a concept of something cannot exist without being named. Thus differences between meanings structure our perception; there is no real chair except insofar as we are manipulating symbolic systems. We would not even be able to recognize a chair as a chair without simultaneously recognising that a chair is not everything else - in other words a chair is defined as being a specific collection of characteristics which are themselves defined in certain ways, and so on, and all of this within the symbolic system of language. Thus, a large part of what we think of as reality is really a convention of naming and characterising, a convention which is itself called language.

See also[edit]


  1. ^Rorty, 'Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Reification of Language' in Essays on Heidegger and Others
  2. ^Neil Gross, 'Richard Rorty, The Making of an American Philosopher'
  3. ^
  4. ^M. Dummett, "Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics"
  5. ^The Philosophy of Physical Atomism, p. 178
  6. ^Although Wittgenstein never used the term Linguistic turn. See Analytic Philosophy: Beyond the Linguistic Turn and Back Again (St. Johns College website)
  7. ^Brian Garrett (25 February 2011). What Is This Thing Called Metaphysics?. Taylor & Francis. p. 54. ISBN 978-1-136-79269-4. 
  8. ^Introduction to Structuralism, Michael Lane, Basic Books University of Michigan, 1970.

Further reading[edit]

  • Neil Gross (2008), Richard Rorty, The Making of an American Philosopher. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
  • Richard Rorty (ed.), 1967. The Linguistic Turn: Recent Essays in Philosophical Method. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
  • Rorty, Richard. 'Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Reification of Language.' Essays on Heidegger and Others. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • Clark, Elizabeth A. (2004), History, Theory, Text: Historians and the Linguistic Turn, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Toews, John E. (1987), "Intellectual History after the Linguistic Turn: The Autonomy of Meaning and the Irreducibility of Experience", The American Historical Review 92/4, 879–907.
  • White, Hayden (1973), Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.
  • Cornforth, Maurice (1971), Marxism and the Linguistic Philosophy, Lawrence & Wishart, London (repr. of 1967). The classical critique from the left-wing standpoint.

External links[edit]

Richard Rorty rewrote the history of philosophy by reinvigorating American pragmatism. He believed with William James "that if a debate has no practical significance, then it has no philosophical significance." He was an independent thinker who enjoyed debating with his opponents orally and in writing. His views offended some philosophers and other scholars, but they were expressed in a language that avoided "sterile scholasticism." In his quiet and gentle manner, he provoked and often disturbed audiences to reconsider their values about the good, the true, the just, and the beautiful.

This collection of essays by international authors conveys Rorty's international role. The contributions come from scholars in many disciplines: philosophy, sociology, history, poetry, and literary studies. The aim has been to provide a study of Richard Rorty that explores the range and significance of his insights.

Trained as a philosopher at the University of Chicago and Yale University, his teaching career began at Princeton in the department of philosophy, continued at the University of Virginia as University Professor of Humanities, and concluded at Stanford University as Professor of Comparative Literature. The three positions suggest the move from analytic philosophy as his initial commitment to his gradual broadened intellectual range that led Rorty to become a pragmatist who urged the importance of political action rather than a concern for purely disciplinary problems.

The Linguistic Turn, his first book, was a volume that he edited and that consisted of analytical essays to which he wrote commentaries.1 The "turn" refers not only to a linguistic shift in philosophy, but to turns in the vocabulary of science and of philosophy. Rorty used the term "narrative" or "story" to identify the kind of changes that occurred and what interested him was the way in which such stories are achieved. Every such change, he noted, is also identified by some features of the narrative it displaces.

Rorty believed that essays are conversations with other writers, and he created a conversational style that often resembles a dialogue in which he seeks as carefully as possible to answer critics who oppose the pragmatic position he develops. Some of his papers were given as lectures in the United States and other countries. They seek to do justice to his [End Page vii] pragmatist explanation of truth, representation, objectivity, relativism, interpretation, and so forth. Depending on the audiences involved, he often deliberately employs different levels of language.

The publication of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature in 1979 was, in his own words, an effort to try "to isolate more of the assumptions behind the problematic of modern philosophy, in the hope of generalizing and extending Sellars's and Quine's criticisms of traditional empiricism."2 Rorty was forty-seven when this book was published; it was met with attacks from some analytic philosophers upon his views of epistemology, truth, and representation. This response was countered by a much more enthusiastic one from critics of literature, who appreciated that his approach was pragmatic rather than analytic and that his models were the American pragmatists William James and John Dewey. Whereas in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature he had assumed that using analytic techniques to get behind the "problematic of modern philosophy" was therapeutic, he came to see pragmatism as equally "therapeutic." He explained in an interview, "I think of pragmatism as primarily therapeutic philosophy—therapy conducted on certain mind-sets created by previous philosophers. Insofar as reading pragmatism frees you up from various old habits and convictions, it does it in the same way that a startling new literary text does. It makes you think, 'Gee, I never knew you could look at it that way before!' But therapy isn't the same as providing criteria or a theory."3

Rorty saw pragmatism as freeing the mind-set that philosophy developed; pragmatism was not another mind-set but a procedure for freeing the mind without imposing a set. He resists identifying his version of pragmatism as a "discipline," "a system," "a theory." These are terms that imply the very order that he opposes. In fact, the uses of language that he favors, irony and story, are processes that undercut conventional linguistic uses. When confronted...

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