Call for Abstracts: “What’s Wrong (and What’s Right) with Ordinary Language Philosophy?”

The 8th Nordic Wittgenstein Society Symposium

Åbo Akademi University (Turku, Finland) May 5-6, 2017

The  label “ordinary language philosophy” (OLP) was probably coined by its detractors. Common objections against OLP are that philosophers engaging in it gratuitously limit their attention to the most common ways of using words, that they give current or non-specialized usage normative ascendancy over more sophisticated uses, and that they neglect the need for empirical investigation in settling issues of usage.

In defence of OLP it has been suggested that much of the criticisms are due to misunderstandings of methodologies such as those adopted by Wittgenstein, Austin, and others. The ordinary language philosophers are the ones who intend to approach language without preconceptions, by attending to the way words actually occur in interaction – not so much the language of everyday as the everyday of language. Nor are ordinary languagephilosophers out to chart maps of current or correct usage: their aim is rather to dissolve worries that arise out of misconstruals of our own ways of speaking. They are not in the business of new discoveries but rather of reminding ourselves of how we speak.

The aim of this closing conference of our research project “The Philosophical Import of Ordinary Language Philosophy: Austin, Ryle, Wittgenstein, and their contemporary significance” (2013-17) is to explore the aspirations and procedures of ordinary language philosophy. Are they unified or diverse? Are they intelligible? Are they defensible? How do philosophical outlooks that have an apparent affinity with ordinary languagephilosophy, such as experimental philosophy or various contemporary forms of contextualism, relate to OLP?

Plenary speakers: Avner Baz, Jason Bridges, Robyn Carston, Niklas Forsberg, Marina Sbisà

We invite submissions from those wishing to present a paper on a topic related to the conference theme. Speakers will be given 20 minutes for presentation and 15 minutes for discussion.

Please send an abstract of up to 500 words to by February 1, 2017. Applicants will be notified of the selection result by March 1, 2017.

The conference is organized by the Nordic Wittgenstein Society and the research project “The Philosophical Import of Ordinary LanguagePhilosophy,”
 which is financed by the Academy of Finland and coordinated by Professor Martin Gustafsson, Åbo Akademi University. The organizers are doctoral candidate Kim-Erik Berts, Professor emeritus Lars Hertzberg, and Dr Yrsa Neuman.

The Great Riddle: New Book by Stephen Mulhall + NDPR Review


From the publisher:

Can we talk meaningfully about God? The theological movement known as Grammatical Thomism affirms that religious language is nonsensical, because the reality of God is beyond our capacity for expression. Stephen Mulhall critically evaluates the claims of this movement (as exemplified in the work of Herbert McCabe and David Burrell) to be a legitimate inheritor of Wittgenstein’s philosophical methods as well as Aquinas’s theological project. The major obstacle to this claim is that Grammatical Thomism makes the nonsensicality of religious language when applied to God a touchstone of Thomist insight, whereas ‘nonsense’ is standardly taken to be solely a term of criticism in Wittgenstein’s work. Mulhall argues that, if Wittgenstein is read in the terms provided by the work of Cora Diamond and Stanley Cavell, then a place can be found in both his early work and his later writings for a more positive role to be assigned to nonsensical utterances–one which depends on exploiting an analogy between religious language and riddles. And once this alignment between Wittgenstein and Aquinas is established, it also allows us to see various ways in which his later work has a perfectionist dimension–in that it overlaps with the concerns of moral perfectionism, and in that it attributes great philosophical significance to what theology and philosophy have traditionally called ‘perfections’ and ‘transcendentals’, particularly concepts such as Being, Truth, and Unity or Oneness. This results in a radical reconception of the role of analogous usage in language, and so in the relation between philosophy and theology.

Mark Addis‘ illuminating NDPR review can be found [here].

MLN: Practices of the Ordinary (Comparative Literature Issue, December 2015)

front_coverMLN’s latest comparative literature issue is out and has a lot that will be of interest to readers of OLP&Lit Online: Papers by Donatelli, Laugier, Marrati, and Shuster on Practices of the Ordinary, plus Zumhagen-Yekplé on Diamond and Woolf, and more!


Click here for the full issue.


(And thanks to Finn Otis for the heads-up.)



Thanks to Reshef Agam-Segal for passing this along:


The University of Helsinki has uploaded a video of Cora Diamond’s recent (May 18, 2016) Georg Henrik Von Wright lecture, titled “Von Wright on Wittgenstein in Relation to His Times.” The video can be found here. There you’ll also find videos of Jaakko Hintikka’s 2015 lecture and Anthony Kenny’s 2014 lecture.

Diamond’s abstract is as follows:

 My lecture focuses on the essay, “Wittgenstein and the Twentieth Century”, in which von Wright argued that Wittgenstein’s attitude to his times was unchanged throughout his life, and that his attitude to his times was intimately related to his philosophy. In my lecture, I try to show what was involved in Wittgenstein’s general attitude. I argue that we cannot see what was involved in it unless we see how deeply conflicted his conception of philosophy itself was within the Tractatus. That deep conflict, and then its subsequent resolution in Wittgenstein’s later philosophy, greatly shape how he saw his relation to his times. While it is true that in one sense his attitude to his times stayed the same, if you look behind the words, you can also see in what way that attitude shifts significantly over Wittgenstein’s life.

Just published: Issue 4 of Conversations: The Journal of Cavellian Studies

Editors Amir Khan and Sérgio Dias Branco have released the fourth issue of Conversations: The Journal of Cavellian Studies. The issue is themed around “Cavell and Literature” and features contributions from Bernhard Stricker, Eric Lindstrom, David Kaufmann, Bruce Krajewski, Darko Štrajn, and Sam Cardoen.

The entire issue is available to view and download here.

“Literature & Thought Experiments”: New Article by David Egan

The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism recently published a new article by David Egan titled “Literature & Thought Experiments.”

The article can be accessed [here].

The abstract is as follows:

Like works of literature, thought experiments present fictional narratives that prompt reflection in their readers. Because of these and other similarities, a number of philosophers have argued for a strong analogy between works of literary fiction and thought experiments, some going so far as to say that works of literary fiction are a species of thought experiment. These arguments are often used in defending a cognitivist position with regard to literature: thought experiments produce knowledge, so works of literary fiction can too. This article concedes that works of literary fiction can be put to use in thought experiments, but not in a way that is helpful to the cognitivist. In particular, it draws three disanalogies in the ways we engage critically with thought experiments and with literary fictions. First, we use thought experiments to make arguments; second, we read thought experiments in strongly allegorical terms; and third, the terms of criticism we apply to thought experiments and to works of literature differ. Although these disanalogies present problems for the cognitivist position, they also give us a sharper picture of the distinctive educative potential of works of literary fiction.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with David at the University of Chicago. I never fail to be impressed by the agility with which he thinks across the analytic/continental divide and the insight he brings, not only to works of philosophy, but to works of literature. The named article is fairly ‘analytic.’ For a sense of his range, you might see also his edited volume (together with Stephen Reynolds and Aaron Wendlend), Wittgenstein and Heidegger.


“On Reading the Dictionary”: Essay by Stephen Doty

Stephen Doty generously offered to share his essay, “On Reading the Dictionary,” with us. It begins:

Charlie Chaplin kept a dictionary in his bathroom.[1] J.L. Austin did philosophy with one, listing the words we use when making excuses.[2] Eminem read one to find ammunition for his lyrics and battles.[3] And it can spare you the sort of embarrassment a young Jerry Lewis felt when he cheered after the doctor said his grandmother “expired.”

I began reading one to avoid getting baffled by bombast. I had heard a defense lawyer declare that a detective was guilty of “defalcations and spoliation.” Afterwards, I discovered neither word was apt. A small vocabulary leads to staircase wit. Worse, you could be insulted without knowing it. Imagine a politician in a debate asked if he’s an expert at mendacity & perfidy. We did not grow up using such words, so as adults they can seem like a second language.

Nearly every use of these words seems to me like someone donning false plumes: mare’s nest, ubiquitous, untoward, ontological, plethora, quotidian. And any subtle misuse can backfire, revealing an affectation. Someone desperate to use vis-a-vis at every job interview is in trouble.

The idea behind reading the dictionary is not to start using fancy words yourself, but to avoid being imposed upon when others do.

[1] Louise Brooks, Lulu in Hollywood (Minneapolis: U of Minn. Press, 1982) xli. In 1925, at age19, in New York, Brooks had an affair with Charlie Chaplin for two months and said, “He was a self-made aristocrat… he kept a dictionary in the bathroom at his hotel so that he could learn a new word every morning.”

[2] J.L. Austin, Philosophical Papers 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford, 1979) 186. He said one way to use the dictionary is “to read the book through, listing all the words that seem relevant; this does not take as long as many suppose.”

[3] Eminem interviewed on the TV show 60 Minutes:

The complete essay is available here: On Reading the Dictionary. Enjoy!

This Weekend in Bloomington, IN: Poststructuralism and OLP

The Center for Theoretical Inquiry in the Humanities at Indiana University is sponsoring a symposium this weekend that may be of interest to our readers. The program is as follows:

Poststructuralism and Ordinary Language Philosophy: A Symposium

Joshua Kates (English), convener

Friday, April 8, Faculty Room, University Club, Indiana Memorial Union

5p.m.: Geoffrey Bennington (Emory University), “‘Différance is Reference’: Derrida and Frege.”

Moderator: Oana Panaїté (French & Italian, IU)

Geoffrey Bennington is Asa Griggs Candler Professor of French and Professor of Comparative Literature at Emory University, and Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School, as well as a member of the International College of Philosophy. He is a literary critic and philosopher, best known as an expert on deconstruction and the works of Jacques Derrida and Jean-François Lyotard. Bennington has translated many of Derrida’s works into English. His numerous publications include the book Jacques Derrida, co-written with Derrida; Writing the Event and Late Lyotard; essays on Derrida collected in Legislations, Interrupting Derrida, and Not Half No End; as well as publications on Rousseau and Kant, developing original accounts of the “paradox of the legislator” in the former and “interrupted teleology” in the latter.

Saturday, April 9, Dogwood Room, Indiana Memorial Union

9:30 a.m.: Peter Fenves (Northwestern University), “From ‘Ousia’ to ‘Singular Terms.’”

Moderator: Eyal Peretz (Comparative Literature, IU)

Peter Fenves, Joan and Sarepta Harrison Professor of Literature, is professor of German, Comparative Literary Studies, and Jewish Studies, as well as adjunct professor of Philosophy, Political Science, and English at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. He is the author of A Peculiar Fate: Metaphysics and World-History in Kant(Cornell University Press, 1991), “Chatter”: Language and History in Kierkegaard (Stanford University Press, 1993),Arresting Language: From Leibniz to Benjamin (Stanford University Press, 2001), and Late Kant: Towards Another Law of the Earth (Routledge, 2003), which was translated into German in 2010; and most recently The Messianic Reduction: Walter Benjamin and the Shape of Time (Stanford University Press, 2010). He is currently working on two books, one entitled “Revolution in the Air,” the other a brief study of Benjamin and China.

11:15 a.m.: Paul Grimstad (Independent Scholar), “The Whole Whirl of Organism: Notes on Natural Language, Discourse and Persons.”

Moderator: Jennifer Fleissner (English, IU)

Paul Grimstad is the author of Experience and Experimental Writing: Literary Pragmatism from Emerson to the Jameses (Oxford, 2013), the Introduction to which is to be the focus of a forthcoming symposium in the journal nonsite. His writing has appeared in American Literary History, Poetics Today, n +1, the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, as well as in the essay collection Consequences of Skepticism: Stanley Cavell and Literary Studies. He is now at work on two books: one on the relation of genre to literary modernism and another on polymathy and polymaths.

2:30 p.m.: Toril Moi (Duke University), “Signs, Marks, and Archie Bunker: Post-Saussurean Visions of Language.”

Moderator: Ed Comentale (English, IU)

Toril Moi is James B. Duke Professor of Literature and Romance Studies and Professor of English, Philosophy and Theatre Studies at Duke University and Director of the Center for Philosophy, Arts, and Literature at Duke. She has three broad areas of interest: feminist theory and women’s writing; the intersection of literature, philosophy and aesthetics; and ordinary language philosophy in the tradition of Wittgenstein, Cavell and Austin.  Her books include Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (1985; 2nd edition 2002), Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman (1994; second edition with a major new introduction 2008); and What Is a Woman? And Other Essays (1999), republished in a shorter version as Sex, Gender and the Body (2005). She is the editor ofThe Kristeva Reader (1986), and of French Feminst Thought (1987). In 2006, Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism: Art, Theater, Philosophy, was published in English by Oxford University Press and in Norwegian by Pax Forlag (Oslo). The book won the MLA’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for the best book in Comparative Literary Studies in 2007. She currently has a manuscript on Poststructuralism and Ordinary Language Philosophy in press.

Professor Moi will discuss Jeffrey Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels’ “Against Theory” and Paul de Man’s “Semiology and Rhetoric.”

4:15 p.m.: Roundtable Discussion.

Moderator: Joshua Kates (English, IU)

5:30 p.m.: Closing Reception at the College Arts & Humanities Center (1211 E. Atwater Ave.).

Coming Up Next Week at Duke . . .

cavell-and-modernism-web-01.pngCavell and Modernism: A Symposium

R.M. Berry and Paul Grimstad

Wednesday Mar 30
4:30 reception
Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall (FHI Garage)
C105, Bay 4, Smith Warehouse, First Floor

“Stanley Cavell’s Modernism”

R.M. Berry

In Stanley Cavell’s interpretation, modernism represents the solution to a problem pervasive in modernity but experienced concretely in theater.  In this paper, I try to explain how what Cavell has called the problem of the modern subject is solved, in both the arts and philosophy, by the elimination of the audience and discovery of an aesthetic medium.

Ralph Berry

R.M. Berry is author of the novels Frank (2006), an “unwriting” of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Leonardo’s Horse, a New York Times “notable book” of 1998, as well as two collections of short fiction,Dictionary of Modern Anguish (2000), described by the Buffalo News as “inspired…by the spirit of Ludwig Wittgenstein,” and Plane Geometry and Other Affairs of the Heart, winner of the 1985 Fiction Collective Prize.  He edited the fiction anthology Forms at War:FC2 1999-2009 and, with Jeffrey DiLeo, the critical anthology Fiction’s Present: Situating Contemporary Narrative Innovation (2007).  His essays on experimental fiction, Wittgenstein’s philosophy, and Stanley Cavell have appeared in such journals as New Literary History, Philosophy and Literature, Symploké, Narrative, and Soundings, and in such volumes as theOxford Handbook of Philosophy and Literature (2009), Stanley Cavell and Literary Studies (2011), and Ordinary Language Criticism: Literary Thinking After Cavell After Wittgenstein (2003). He is professor and former chair of English at Florida State University and the former director of the independent literary publisher FC2.   He and his wife currently divide their time between homes in Atlanta, Georgia and Tallahassee, Florida.

 “Is A Genre A Medium?: Modernist Aesthetics in Cavell’s The World Viewed

Paul Grimstad

I’ll want to look closely at (at least) two aspects of Cavell’s book: his appeal to Baudelaire’s account of modernité as anticipating the Hollywood studio system (in which, Cavell says, “a genre was a medium”) and the “Excursus On modernist painting” which I read alongside arguments about medium specificity found in Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried. I’ll want to argue that Cavell is less *essentialist* about medium specificity than either Greenberg or Fried.

Paul GrimstadPaul Grimstad is the author of Experience and Experimental Writing: Literary Pragmatism from Emerson to the Jameses (Oxford, 2013). His writing has appeared in American Literary History, Poetics Today, nonsite, n +1, the London Review of Books, the New Yorker, Raritan, the Times Literary Supplement, as well as in the essay collection Consequences of Skepticism: Stanley Cavell and Literary Studies. He is now at work on two books: one on the relation of detective fiction to literary modernism and another on polymathy and polymaths.