Abstracts of Completed Papers

Below are abstracts for the following papers, either published or forthcoming:

  • “Rehabilitating Austin, Reassessing Grice: The Case of Cancellability.” Forthcoming in Archiv für die Geschichte der Philosophie
  • “Literature and Thought Experiments.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 74:2 (2016), 139–50
  • “The Authenticity of the Ordinary.” Wittgenstein and Heidegger (Routledge, ed. David Egan, Stephen Reynolds, and Aaron James Wendland, 2013), 66–81
  • “Playing Well: Wittgenstein’s Language Games and the Ethics of Discourse.” The Philosophy of Play (Routledge, ed. Emily Ryall, Wendy Russell, and Malcolm MacLean, 2013), 54–63
  • Das Man and Distantiality in Being and Time.” Inquiry 55:3 (2012), 289–306
  • “Pictures in Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy.” Philosophical Investigations 34:1 (2011), 55–76

Rehabilitating Austin, Reassessing Grice: The Case of Cancellability

Forthcoming in Archiv für die Geschichte der Philosophie

This paper assesses Grice’s work on conversational implicature in the light of one of its early targets: Austin’s claim that we cannot isolate the meaning of an expression from the context in which it is used. Grice argues that we can separate the literal meaning of many utterances from their pragmatic implicatures through the mechanism of explicit cancellation. However, Grice’s conception of cancellation does not account for the fact that an explicit cancellation must be uttered, and that its utterance involves further implicatures that undermine the attempted cancellation. What Grice calls explicit cancellations are better understood as utterances that resolve ambiguities, and hence apply only in cases where there exists an ambiguity that needs resolving. If Grice’s work does not undermine Austin, we are in a position to reassess an Austinian form of philosophical criticism that emphasizes the ordinary usage of expressions deployed in philosophical arguments.

Literature and Thought Experiments

Published in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 74:2 (2016), 139–50 (web link)

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 paper 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.

The Authenticity of the Ordinary

Published in Wittgenstein and Heidegger (Routledge, ed. David Egan, Stephen Reynolds, and Aaron James Wendland, 2013), 66–81 (web link)

The appeal to ordinary language is a central feature of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy: he reminds us that our words find meaning in the ordinary practices and forms of life in which they are used. This emphasis on the ordinary may seem to clash with Heidegger’s claim that average everyday understanding is marked by inauthenticity: is Wittgenstein’s emphasis on ordinary language fundamentally inauthentic? On the contrary, I argue, Wittgenstein’s emphasis on the ungroundedness of our ordinary practices parallels Heidegger’s discussion of anxiety and uncanniness, suggesting that we can unearth something like a Heideggerian appeal to authenticity in Wittgenstein’s appeal to ordinary language.

Playing Well: Wittgenstein’s Language-Games and the Ethics of Discourse

Published in The Philosophy of Play (Routledge, ed. Emily Ryall, Wendy Russell, and Malcolm MacLean, 2013), 54–63

Ludwig Wittgenstein famously compares units of language to games, but his pupil Rush Rhees finds that analogy limiting. Unlike uses of language, says Rhees, games are not part of a larger whole and do not have a point, which means that games, unlike language, cannot lead to growth in understanding. Treating language like a game, according to Rhees, is characteristic of sophistry. But this paper claims that sophistry is not like playing a game but like playing the spoilsport. Wittgenstein’s fluid understanding of the distinction between games and non-game play allows his conception of language-games to avoid the charge of sophistry.

Das Man and Distantiality in Being and Time

Published in Inquiry 55:3 (2012), 289–306 (web link)

Heidegger’s discussion of das Man in Being and Time is notoriously inconsistent, and raises a number of interpretative issues that have been debated in the secondary literature. This paper offers two arguments that aim to make for a consistent and charitable reading of das Man. First, unlike Dasein, das Man’s way of being is not existence: das Man lacks Dasein’s particularity (it offers only general guidelines, and cannot address Dasein’s unique situation), unity (das Man is not a unified set of norms, but rather an often conflicting set of principles) and distinctness (the boundary that fixes the concept of das Man is fuzzy). Second, this paper proposes that we read das Man as standing in contrast with Abständigkeit, or distantiality. Das Man is the socially constituted set of norms that we necessarily belong to, and distantiality is the equally inescapable difference that sets us apart from others. Together, they provide a framework within which Dasein is constituted by norms without inhibiting the possibility of authentic existence.

Pictures in Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy

Published in Philosophical Investigations 34:1 (2011), 55–76 (web link)

The word “picture” occurs pervasively in Wittgenstein’s later philosophy. Not only does Wittgenstein often use literal pictures or the notion of mental pictures in his investigations, but he also frequently uses “picture” to speak about a way of conceiving of a matter (e.g. “A picture held us captive” at Philosophical Investigations §115). I argue that “picture” used in this conceptual sense is not a shorthand for an assumption or a set of propositions, but is rather an expression of conceptual bedrock on the model of an organising myth. This reading builds primarily on work by Gordon Baker and Stanley Cavell.