Martin Gustafsson: “Perfect Pitch and Austinian Examples: Cavell, McDowell, Wittgenstein, and the Philosophical Significance of Ordinary Language”

I just learned of an essay on Cavell, McDowell, and Wittgenstein that I thought would interest many of our regular readers. Written by the philosopher Martin Gustafsson, the essay is entitled “Perfect Pitch and Austinian Examples: Cavell, McDowell, Wittgenstein, and the Philosophical Significance of Ordinary Language” (published in Inquiry, August 2005). To access the essay online, please click here. (Many thanks to Naomi Scheman for bringing this essay to my attention.)

Here is the article’s abstract:

In Cavell (1994), the ability to follow and produce Austinian examples of ordinary language use is compared with the faculty of perfect pitch. Exploring this comparison, I clarify a number of central and interrelated aspects of Cavell’s philosophy: (1) his way of understanding Wittgenstein’s vision of language, and in particular his claim that this vision is “terrifying,” (2) the import of Wittgenstein’s vision for Cavell’s conception of the method of ordinary language philosophy, (3) Cavell’s dissatisfaction with Austin, and in particular his claim that Austin is not clear about the nature and possible achievements of his own philosophical procedures, and (4) Cavell’s notion that the temptation of skepticism is perennial and incurable. Cavell’s reading of Wittgenstein is related to that of John McDowell. Like McDowell, Cavell takes Wittgenstein to be saying that the traditional attempt to justify our practices from an external standpoint is misguided, since such detachment involves losing sight of those conceptual and perceptual capacities in terms of which a practice is understood by its engaged participants. Unlike McDowell, however, Cavell consistently rejects the idea that philosophical clearsightedness can or should free us from that fear of groundlessness which motivates the traditional search for external justification.

–B.R.

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