18 Pages

A Plea for Linguistics

O N E type of ‘linguistic’ philosophy is primarily an attempt to discriminate the uses of related expressions in what is vaguely called ‘ordinary language’—that is, educated, non-technical English. The most authoritative and detailed exposition of the aims and methods of this kind of analysis is contained in J. L. Austin’s celebrated paper ‘A Plea for Excuses’. The aims have aroused a good deal of more or less inconclusive controversy, but not much has been said about the methods. Yet it is the methods that are most obviously controversial. In fact they are open to objections that are fatal to this type of investigation as Austin conceived it. These objections are revealed by a consideration of the relationship between philosophy and linguistics. A clear distinction must be drawn between the methods of descriptive linguistics and those of philosophical analysis. Neglecting this distinction has led some philosophers to talk about philosophy as though it were linguistics and about linguistics as though it were philosophy; which they are not. Not that philosophy and linguistics have no concern with each other: in some respects at least they clearly have. Only they should not be confused.