Critical ordinary language philosophy: A new project in experimental philosophy

Synthese 201 (3):1-34 (2023)
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Several important philosophical problems (including the problems of perception, free will, and scepticism) arise from antinomies that are developed through philosophical paradoxes. The critical strand of ordinary language philosophy (OLP), as practiced by J.L. Austin, provides an approach to such ‘antinomic problems’ that proceeds from an examination of ‘ordinary language’ (how people ordinarily talk about the phenomenon of interest) and ‘common sense’ (what they commonly think about it), and deploys findings to show that the problems at issue are artefacts of fallacious reasoning. The approach is capable, and in need of, empirical development. Proceeding from a case-study on Austin’s paradigmatic treatment of the problem of perception, this paper identifies the key empirical assumptions informing the approach, assesses them in the light of empirical findings about default inferences, contextualisation failures, and belief fragmentation, and explores how these findings can be deployed to address the problem of perception. This facilitates a novel resolution of the problem of perception. Proceeding from this paradigm, the paper proposes ‘experimental critical OLP’ as a new research program in experimental philosophy that avoids apparent non-sequiturs of OLP, extends and transforms experimental philosophy’s ‘sources program’, and provides a promising new strategy for deploying empirical findings about how people ordinarily talk and think about phenomena, to address longstanding philosophical problems.

Author's Profile

Eugen Fischer
University of East Anglia


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