Nonsense: a user's guide

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Many philosophers suppose that sometimes we think we are saying or thinking something meaningful when in fact we’re not saying or thinking anything at all: we are producing nonsense. But what is nonsense? An account of nonsense must, I argue, meet two constraints. The first constraint requires that nonsense can be rationally engaged with, not just mentioned. In particular, we can reason with nonsense and use it within that-clauses. An account which fails to meet this constraint cannot explain why nonsense appears meaningful. The second constraint requires that nonsense does not express thoughts. An account which fails to meet this constraint undercuts the critical force of the concept of nonsense. I offer an account which meets both constraints. The central idea is that to be under the illusion that some nonsense makes sense is to enter a pretence that the nonsense is meaningful.

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Manish Oza
University of Western Ontario


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