“Nobody would really talk that way!”: the critical project in contemporary ordinary language philosophy

Synthese:1-32 (2018)
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Abstract
This paper defends a challenge, inspired by arguments drawn from contemporary ordinary language philosophy and grounded in experimental data, to certain forms of standard philosophical practice. There has been a resurgence of philosophers who describe themselves as practicing "ordinary language philosophy". The resurgence can be divided into constructive and critical approaches. The critical approach to neo-ordinary language philosophy has been forcefully developed by Baz (2012a,b, 2014, 2015, 2016, forthcoming), who attempts to show that a substantial chunk of contemporary philosophy is fundamentally misguided. I describe Baz's project and argue that while there is reason to be skeptical of its radical conclusion, it conveys an important truth about discontinuities between ordinary uses of philosophically significant expressions ("know", e.g.) and their use in philosophical thought experiments. I discuss some evidence from experimental psychology and behavioral economics indicating that there is a risk of overlooking important aspects of meaning or misinterpreting experimental results by focusing only on abstract experimental scenarios, rather than employing more diverse and more ecologically valid experimental designs. I conclude by presenting a revised version of the critical argument from ordinary language.
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First archival date: 2018-04-17
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