Philosophical Revolutions: Abstracts

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The linguistic phenomenological turn: John Cook Wilson and the origins of Oxford ordinary language philosophy 

 In this talk I explore the origins of Oxford ordinary language philosophy in the work of John Cook Wilson (1849–1915). Oxford philosophy in the first three decades of the twentieth century has been relatively neglected in the story of twentieth-century philosophy, with its standard focus on the development of analytic philosophy (in Cambridge and Vienna), phenomenology (in Germany), and pragmatism (in America). Yet Cook Wilson had a significant influence on both Gilbert Ryle and J. L Austin, in the later phase of analytic philosophy. Ryle once referred to himself as a "Fidgetty Cook–Wilsonian", and Austin described his own methodology as 'linguistic phenomenology' – a term that not only aptly captures his approach but also highlights the connections as well as differences between 'ordinary language philosophy' (or 'linguistic philosophy' or 'Oxford analytic philosophy') and phenomenology. The roots of the linguistic phenomenological turn in twentieth-century philosophy lie in the work of John Cook Wilson

The Immeasurable Wilderness of Mind


May we find at the point of the Royce-Husserl relation terms of reconciliation between Anglo-American and Continental philosophy?  
Josiah Royce, a central founder of American pragmatism and an early champion of phenomenological and analytic methodology, appears to be the first to comment on Edmund Husserl's phenomenology in the English language, in 1902, while Husserl was the first in Germany to direct a dissertation on Royce: in 1912, Husserl requested that the Canadian Winthrop Bell, his first Anglophone doctoral student, who had earlier been Royce's Master's student at Harvard, write on Royce's relevance to phenomenology. 
Using this dissertation, Husserl's 1913 Ideen--a work largely composed during a peak period of Husserl's interest in Royce, and Royce's published and unpublished writings on phenomenology as guides, we will seek to map relations among pragmatism, phenomenology, and analytic philosophy, and in turn to discuss what their combined effort may contribute to mapping what Royce called'the immeasurable wilderness of mind.'"

Wittgenstein and Husserl: Two very different, but potentially complementary Readings of William James

I propose to develop two theses: 
1) The radically different readings of William James’ Principles of Psychology by Husserl and Wittgenstein have contributed significantly to the methodologies of the founding works of Phenomenology and Analytic Philosophy.
2) A more comprehensive reading and appraisal of the content and the spirit of James’ work wuld go a long way towards mitigating the misunderstandings and conflicts between contemporary proponents of these traditions

In developing the first thesis, I shall focus on the following:
1) How Husserl’s general endorsement of James’ methodology in the Principles, and in particular his adoption of James’ account of time-consciousness and self-awareness yielded the predominantly “first-person” approach that has characterized the subsequent Phenomenological tradition.
2) How Wittgenstein’s criticisms of James’s account of consciousness yielded the priority given to a “third-person” approach that has shaped the methodology of Analytic tradition ever since.

In developing the second thesis, I shall describe how “two dogmas” of Analytic Philosophy and “two counter dogmas” of Phenomenology may be deconstructed by a return to the full richness of James’ philosophy.  In this endeavor, I shall be guided by Thomas Nagel’s thesis that the reconciliation of  first-person and third-person points of view within a general account of rationality is “a primary philosophical task of human life.”

Crisis, Reconstruction, and Rigor in Philosophy

Western philosophy at the close of the 19th century experienced at least a two-fold crisis.  First, it experienced a crisis regarding its very identity and role as a discipline.  So much of its classical subject matter had been claimed by newly emergent and separate sciences:  what had traditionally been termed "natural philosophy" was now being carried on in departments of physics and biology, and economics and sociology claimed to have made sciences of what had been traditionally studied as "moral philosophy."  What was there left for philosophers to do?  For some, philosophy would become a science of language, modeled on the natural sciences, while others would attempt to re-invoke traditional philosophical questions about meaning, claiming that natural and human sciences were methodologically incapable of addressing such questions.  Second, some would claim that the growing inability of Western science and philosophies modeled on that science to address adequately traditional questions about the meaning of human existence constituted a further "crisis" (e.g., Husserl).  Although the responses to these crises varied, there was agreement that philosophy must be re-conceived or "reconstructed" (Dewey), and the various strategies for reconstructing the discipline formed the bases for the philosophical traditions to which we commonly refer as analytic philosophy, phenomenology, and pragmatism.  Moreover, each tradition, as part of its own reconstruction of philosophy, would develop standards of philosophical rigor by which it would judge the other traditions as lacking. 

Robert Brandom’s Three Strikes

Robert Brandom has claimed that the mistakes of the founding pragmatists included: a) neglect of the role of beliefs in producing further beliefs, b) neglect of the fact that "what actions rationalize or produce depends on what desires, aims, or pro-attitudes they are conjoined with," and c) identification of truth with success of actions, which they equated with the satisfaction of desires. I suggest that Brandom's reading of the classical pragmatists is faulty on all three counts. First, for Peirce logical conclusion (satisfactorily fixed belief) is not action, but habit; action cannot be a logical interpretant because it lacks generality. The purpose of inquiry is to move successfully from belief to belief. Action is intermediate. Second, Dewey's classic essay on the reflex arc concept in psychology proposes that the stimulus to belief is not external to the organism, but a function of the organism/environment nexus that includes desires, aims, and, one might even say, “pro-attitudes.” Dewey also anticipates Brandom's distinction between "dispositional-causal" desires and "intentional-normative" desires. (This appears to be another way of articulating his, Brandom’s, distinction between immediate inclination that does not involve the need to decide what is true, such as the desire to scratch an itch, and “conceptually articulated” desires that yield reasons for action.) Despite Dewey’s statement in Human Nature and Conduct that “Intelligence converts desire into plans, systematic plans based on assembling facts, reporting events as they happen, keeping tab on them and analyzing them,” Brandom insists that the pragmatists failed to make this distinction. Third, James characterizes truth as a matter of satisfaction of objective conditions–not as a matter of satisfaction of subjective desires, which he calls a parody of his view.

Doubt in Conduct: Pragmatism's Methodological Revolution

A number of debates within classical pragmatism concern how to cash out the central idea of “making a practical difference.”  This debate explicitly features in public and private exchanges between Peirce and James over the status of experience and conduct in pragmatism. I argue that these debates should be seen as focusing on methodological, rather than metaphysical, issues.  I also argue that the emphasis on conduct featured by all of the pragmatists, but perhaps most notably in James' writings prior to 1896, represents the best path forward for pragmatism today. This requires pushing contemporary pragmatism beyond both its experience-centric (empiricist) and discourse-centric (linguistic-turn) phases. This is of wider philosophical significance in that it suggests the possibility of both affirm contingency (or deny necessity) and countenance normativity (or deny relativism).

Russell, Pragmatism, and Meaning as Use
James Levine, Trinity College, Dublin

W. V. Quine begins his John Dewey lecture, “Ontological Relativity”, by arguing that in the years when “Wittgenstein still held his copy theory of language”, Dewey in Experience and Nature (1925) was already “writing in … a naturalistic vein” regarding language.  For Quine, “when with Dewey we turn … toward a naturalistic view of language and a behavioral view of meaning, … we give up an assurance of determinacy.”  However, even before Dewey’s Experience and Meaning, Bertrand Russell wrote in 1919: “A word has meaning, more or less vague; but the meaning is only to be discovered by observing its use: the use comes first, and the meaning is to be distilled out of it.”  My purpose in this paper is to examine the sources of Russell’s post–1918 behaviorist approach to the study of language and compare his views with those of the pragmatists Dewey and F.C.S. Schiller.

Pragmatism's Analytic Heritage: C.S. Peirce and Frank Ramsey

Pragmatism is often thought to be set against the analytic tradition. Russell and Moore had a lot to do with setting up that opposition, when they attacked James's view of truth in the early 1900's. But in the 1920’s, the young Frank Ramsey was taking a serious interest in the neglected Peirce. Had Ramsey lived past the age of 26, pragmatism’s fortunes would have been very different. For not only were Ramsey's important papers on truth and probability heavily and explicitly threaded with Peirce’s thoughts, but at the time of his death in 1930, he was working on a book on truth that expanded on these pragmatist ideas. He takes his cue from Peirce and argues that all there is to truth is what we can get out of belief and assertion. And, as David Wiggins puts it, hard on the heels of the thought that truth is related to our practices of assertion comes the thought that truth is also related to inquiry, reason-giving, evidence, and standards of good belief.  If we unpack the commitments we incur when we assert, believe, or inquire, we find that we have imported all these notions. This is the analytic pragmatism of Peirce and Ramsey and it will well repay our renewed attention.


The paper discusses the relations between pragmatism and other (early) twentieth-century philosophical approaches by drawing special attention to the role of logical empiricism both as a philosophical orientation partly influenced by classical pragmatism and as an important background of neopragmatism that emerged later in the twentieth century. For instance, Carnap's "tolerance principle" and the related doctrine of linguistic frameworks can be understood as embodying a version of pragmatism; these ideas had, arguably, a crucial influence on the ways in which later pragmatists and (post-)analytic philosophers close to pragmatism, such as Quine and Putnam, understood the pragmatist tradition. Wittgenstein's status within, or at the limit of, the pragmatist tradition is also an important issue in this regard.

Charles S. Peirce and The Scientific Conception of the World: The Vienna Circle
AGNIESZKA HENSOLDT, University of Opole

Some scholars (E. Nagel, G.H. von Wright, J. Nubiola, Ch. Hookway) argued that most of the key features of analytical philosophy had been previously present in Peirce, however those statements were quite often based on discovering of some familiarities between Peirce's and the late Wittgenstein's thoughts (R. Rorty, Ch. Hardwick, G. Deledalle).

My aim in this paper will be different. I shall trace shared ideas present in Peirce's philosophy and in logical positivism. My point of departure for this task will be a comparison of Peirce's ideas and ideas expressed in the Vienna Circle manifesto. I shall examine whether (and to what extent) the same themes are present in Peirce and in the Vienna Circle manifesto. The general answer will be positive: (1) respect to the knowledge acquired by special sciences and (2) clarifying its meaning and implications as important philosophical task; (3) fallibilistic attitude towards knowledge offered by sciences as well, as by philosophy; (4) crucial role of community and of team work in scientific and philosophical life; (5) ethical and political neutrality; will be pointed out as shared philosophical ideas.

Some help with my task will be also Ernest Nagel's article Impressions and Appraisals of Analytic Philosophy in Europe (1936), written after a year's study in Europe. Nagel's raport is devoted to the philosophy professed at Cambridge, Vienna, Prague, Warsaw, and Lwów, to “the men whose thought (…) bear[s] directly on questions of logic and method.” Nagel argues that there are quite many important ideas shared by all “those men” – he enumerates and describes four general common themes.

Finally, I will pose the question about possible origins of these familiarities between Peirce's philosophy and ideas from The Vienna Circle manifesto.

Humanism and Transcendence: Pragmatism, Phenomenology and the Sciences of the Mind
GUY BENNETT-HUNTER, University of Aberdeen

This paper focuses on a major thread connecting pragmatism and phenomenology: their joint debt to psychology and psychiatry, 'the sciences of the mind'. It examines the impact of the early (pre-1935), scientific work on the later philosophy of a representative figure of each tradition: William James and Karl Jaspers. It attempts to articulate the intimate relationship between their scientific methods and concerns and their humanistic approach to philosophy which revolutionarily informs both thinkers' accounts of the nature of transcendence.

Drawing on the scholarship of Eugene Taylor and Russell B. Goodman, the paper points to ways in which James's early psychological work is characterized by the humanism articulated in his philosophy. Focusing on his sustained commitment to the primacy of subjective experience, the paper identifies James's famous engagement with the experience of transcendence as a main philosophical implication of his commitment to humanism.

In parallel, the paper explains Karl Jaspers's description of his classic *General Psychopathology* as "a work of philosophy" in terms of his humanistic approach, specifically his resistance to dogmatism and commitment to methodologically self-conscious ways of theorizing. The paper shows how Jaspers's humanism deeply influences the character of his theory of transcendence and his revolutionary descriptions of 'philosophical faith'.

The paper concludes by arguing, in response to Scott Aiken (2006), that pragmatist naturalism is compatible with phenomenology. Indeed, an indebtedness to the sciences, together with a broad, humanistic conception of 'the natural', is precisely what connects them. Moreover, James's concept is broad enough to incorporate transcendent experiences, while Jaspers's account of transcendence is given in the broadly naturalistic terms of human engagement with the world. It is in this way that the indebtedness of pragmatism and phenomenology to the sciences of the mind is closely related to their revolutionary conjunction of humanism and transcendence.

The Lifeworld Well Lost
DAVID LESLIE, Harvard University

Reflecting back on the remarkable revolution in Western thinking brought about by the contemporaneous rise of phenomenology and pragmatism in the early twentieth century, one is immediately struck by the appearance of a deeper conceptual parallelism. Common to the development and maturation of both movements, that is, was an intensifying call for a return to lived-experience, a call for a renewed awareness of the intricate warp and woof of the practical involvements of human life and of the meaning-complexes of thought and action wherein those involvements alone gained significance. From Nietzsche to Weber, Dilthey to Jaspers, Heidegger and the late Husserl, Peirce to James, Schiller and Dewey, the eruption of this mindfulness of the primacy of experience heralded an entirely fresh perspective about the legitimate starting point of conceptual inquiry. Somewhat ironically, perhaps, in seeking out this novel terminus a quo of philosophical investigation, both pragmatic and phenomenological forms of thinking seemed theoretically to crane back behind “the world,” towards which its Occidental antecedents had for over two millennia been ontologically and predicatively directed, in order to arrive at a genuine basis in the pretheoretical and the prescientific contextures of “life” per se—a basis remarkably to be achieved in an animate cross-reference with itself. Indeed, it is in the improbable torsion of just such a deflationary momentum of recoil that the concept of the lifeworld was born.

From the start, however, this parallelism in the development of lifeworld-thinking also signaled, in its train, a concurrent ambiguity in the construction of the Lebenswelt concept inasmuch as the latter seemed to be fraught ab initio with a subtle but devastating syncretism: it was defined in terms of the primacy the practical engagements of speaking and interacting humans simultaneously as it was conceived of as a horizonless background of cultural significance, an encompassing framework of interconnected symbolic meanings.

Peirce, for instance, writes of the “pragmatic dimension of the sign function” and primitivizes the experiential dimension of semantics vis-à-vis the meaning-determinative role of the practical success of language-users at the same time as he refers to the preeminence of the “sign-actions” of interpretants, which taken together constitute the infinite semiosis of language itself. Likewise Heidegger takes as the starting point of his “hermeneutics of facticity” the caring and concerned involvement of Dasein in its everyday environment simultaneously as the very factity of In-der-Welt-sein is equivocally determined by the anonymous “worlding” of the referential totality into which Dasein is always already heaved. Under the rubric of this adoption of what we might think of as the misplaced priority of an action-sign schema, the pragmatist and phenomenological promise of a pioneering leap past the dualist cul-de-sac of the cognitivist “quest for certainty” seemed here only to end in a re-constitution of the very sort of dichotomization it endeavored to avoid. In this paper I will explore this latter possibility, and interrogate the extent to which, owing to this dualistic recidivism, at the very moment of its inception the auspicious concept of the lifeworld prefigured its own demise.

Husserl and Russell Revisited: A Matrix of Influence and Ignorance

By around 1920, Husserl has successfully ruined the two most promising chances for an interaction between his phenomenology and the nascent analytic philosophy. As recent philological advances in Husserl scholarship show, both Bertrand Russell’s planned review of the Logical Investigations and the reception of Husserl’s guest lectures in London were jeopardized by what were almost conscious decisions on Husserl’s part to prefer forays into his transcendental phenomenology rather than presenting it for foreign audiences.

It is Husserl’s involvement in the debate on intentionality by the School of Brentano that could raise the hope of establishing a relevant link between Husserl and the early analytic philosophy, since between 1904 and 1907, in the course of formulating his celebrated theory of descriptions, Russell has extensively discussed Meinong’s theory of objects. Caution is, however, needed here: Not only that Husserl’s involvement in this debate (mainly through his critique of Twardowski in 1894-1896) has antedated the development of Meinong’s full-fledged theory of objects, but Husserl’s taking stance against Twardowski was also guided by a fictionalist theory of propositions about non-existing objects that, as a closer look could reveal, is deeply rooted in Herbartian philosophy Husserl was exposed to in Austria. As the critique of Husserl’s treatise on Twardowski by Paul Natorp amply demonstrates, there was an abundance of available contemporary theories similar to Russell’s, which highlights the aim of the Brentano disciples to preserve the intentional character of propositions about non-existing objects. Finally, the missing link is provided by unpublished manuscripts of Husserl around 1907 which show that Husserl has read Russell’s critique of Meinong and relate it to his own critique of Meinong and to his earlier positions.

It would be misleading to claim that Husserl was influenced by Russell (i.e. that there was a direct link between his phenomenology and early analytic philosophy). But it is possible to reconstruct a matrix of incremental theory changes motivated by influences and own philosophical agendas. The combination of these could characterize how Husserl diverged from the shared philosophical context of late 19th century European philosophy. 

Wittgenstein and pragmatism: a neglected remark in Manuscript 107 (1930)
ANNA BONCOMPAGNI, University of Roma Tre

On January, 20th 1930, while discussing the connection between meaning and expectations, Ludwig Wittgenstein points out: “Here we see the access [Zugang] to the pragmatist conception of true and false. The proposition  is true as long as it proves to be useful” (Manuscript 107). Although it is the first time Wittgenstein mentions pragmatism in his writings, the remark has not received much attention in literature. It focuses on truth and usefulness and in this respect reflects Wittgenstein’s general attitude towards the pragmatist conception of truth, which does not change significantly in his later thought; nevertheless, it is atypical in that it is embedded within considerations concerning hypotheses, symbols, representations, sense-data, immediate experience. The paper analyses this note in the context of Wittgenstein’s reflections belonging to that particular phase of his work, often associated in literature with phenomenology on the one hand, and with the Vienna Circle debates on the other hand (formal meetings between Wittgenstein and  members of the Circle began during the Christmas vacation of 1929-30). Some conjectures will be proposed in order to explain Wittgenstein’s explicit reference to pragmatism in such a discussion. Different possible sources of his idea of pragmatism, as expressed in that remark, will be examined, namely: the conversations with Frank Ramsey, whom he repeatedly met during the Twenties and particularly in 1929 after returning to Cambridge (Ramsey died on January, 19th 1930, one day before Wittgenstein wrote the remark); William James’ and (less likely, but not to be excluded) Charles S. Peirce’s writings; Bertrand Russell and George E. Moore’s criticism of the jamesian conception of truth. Finally, the conclusion will broaden the perspective by referring to some better-known judgments that Wittgenstein expressed about pragmatism in his later work.

Experience and Foundation: Dewey, Heidegger, and the Ambiguity of Lived Experience
DEVIN FITZPATRICK, New School for Social Research

The resistance to traditional metaphysics and epistemology encountered in the later work of Dewey and the early work of Heidegger at the beginning of the 20th century coincides with a refusal to accept fundamental dualisms which divide reality from ideality, subject from object, and experience from the world which is experienced. In their descriptions of lived experience in all its depth and complexity, classical pragmatism and post-Husserlian phenomenology can be argued to represent philosophies of ambiguity over certainty, sharing anti-foundationalist and anti-reductionist themes which aim to reorient the project of philosophy away from the pursuit of metaphysical completeness. Yet both traditions bear the traces of their predecessors within them, calling into question the adequacy of an anti-foundationalist reading. Dewey's naturalistic metaphysics, though nuanced in its treatment of the relation between experience and nature and distinct from the Aristotelian model, would come to be regarded by later pragmatists as overly akin to the dualism it sought to overcome due to the role played by ineffable qualities in nature. Heidegger's Being and Time does not follow Husserl's ambition for phenomenology to offer a grounding for the sciences, but may assume an unjustified dependence upon the method of the phenomenological reduction. Both thinkers face in different ways a parallel dilemma, a tension between existential and transcendental philosophical ambitions: where for Dewey an opposition to dualisms and vision of philosophy as perpetual cultural critique collides with his Hegelian and Aristotelian influences, for Heidegger the analysis of Dasein and temporality are intended but fail to lead to the meaning of Being as such. I will argue that an anti-foundationalist reading of Dewey and Heiedegger that emphasizes the ineluctable ambiguity of lived experience, while not necessarily a complete reading of either philosopher, is both philosophically fruitful in a contemporary context and speaks to the sea change in the philosophy of their day, a movement away from traditional categories and toward a revitalization of inquiry and thinking as a whole. 

Understanding Dewey's Instrumentalism Through Russell's Criticism

Russell seems to have regarded Dewey “as a man of highest character, liberal in outlook, generous and kind in personal relations, indefatigable in work”. Of course, this didn't stop him from criticizing certain aspects of Dewey's philosophy. For example, in one of his papers, Russell raises several doubts about certain passages of Dewey's Essays in Experimental Logic. Here I focus on three points and build responses on Dewey's part. The purpose, however, is not to defend Dewey against his critics, but to clarify as much as possible his own views on some difficult subjects, by drawing from some of his middle and later works. The plan is the following: I briefly set out the main points of divergence and convergence between Russell and Dewey on topics that concern logic, and then narrow them down to the most important aspect of instrumentalism: inference. Starting off with a working description of instrumentalism and its components, I introduce Russell's challenges and try to respond. At times, Russell's attempts to make Dewey more clear will seem to misinterpret Dewey. However, his main challenges do hint to some of my own worries with regard to Dewey's method and I use his criticism as starting ground. The central upshot of my replies is to show that Russell's critique fails to recognize some sources of Dewey's thought. This should probably not come as a surprise since Dewey's organic thought is hard to pin down in a set of representative quotes. As one of the takehome messages I think Russell's and Dewey's broader views on the theory of knowledge and the role of philosophy can be traced back in this very brief, yet illuminating exchange. 

The phenomenological notion of sense as acquaintance with background

In this paper, I will focus on the phenomenological notion of sense which Husserl calls in Ideen I noematic sense.  My reading of Ideen I is based on the interpretation of noema as “object as it is intended”. This notion is developed from “filling sense” in LU. Similar to the Russellian “knowledge by acquaintance”, Husserl means by this notion the direct intuitive acquaintance with an intentional object.  However, unlike Russell, Husserl doesn’t restrict this notion to sense data, but extend it to the acquaintance with the perspective way of appearance of an intentional object (Erscheinungsweise, Abschattungen).  This is because, unlike Frege, Husserl includes not only intension (Materie), but also illocutionary force (Aktqualität) into his notion of sense (LU, 6. Untersuchung, p. 617). This performative notion of sense requires him to take account of the acquaintance with the background of speech acts as a constitutive part of the broadest notion of sense (Ideen I, p. 233f., 322).   If a conjecture e.g. about the back side of a cube: “the back side must be a square”, changes through a perception into a claim about it: “this side is indeed a square”, the change of the illocutionary forces, that is, the “filling sense” of the perception is expressed not by intentional materials (side, square etc.), but by indexicals, modal verbs or tenses, which are understood in a direct acquaintance with the perspective appearance of the cube. Thus, “the changing noematic way of appearance of the whole object as sense” (Husserliana vol. XI, p. 333) is the background or horizon, in implicit acquaintance with which illocutionary forces (Aktqualität in LU, noetischer Charakter in Ideen I) of propositional attitudes towards perceptual objects can be understood. 








The American Voice in Philosophy project is supported by:

  • The IRCHSS (“New Ideas” Award in the Humanities and Social Sciences)
  • UCD School of Philosophy
  • The International Journal of Philosophical Studies
  • UCD Clinton Institute for American Studies.
  • Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy
  • UCD Seed Funding

Principal Investigators

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