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Christopher Norris HOME THOUGHTS FROM ABROAD: DERRIDA, AUSTIN, AND THE OXFORD CONNECTION THERE IS NO philosophical school or tradition that does not carry along with it a background narrative linking up present and past concerns. Most often this selective prehistory entails not only an approving account of ideas that fit in with the current picture but also an effort to repress or marginalize anytíiing that fails so to fit. Bertrand Russell's History Of Western Philosophy is one fairly blatant example of mis strategy at work.1 The story it tells is a Whiggish account of how drinkers managed — against all the odds of metaphysical delusion — to come out at last (with Russell and his peers) on the high plateau oflogical consistency and truth. On the way to this dénouement Russell avails himself ofvarious techniques for pointing up die narrative drift. His coverage takes in all the accredited "major" thinkers, some of whose opinions Russell is hard put to summarize without remarking how nonsensical they appear from a modern (logical) point of view. Elsewhere — as with Leibniz or Kant — he takes the more accommodating line of winnowing out the structures of valid argument and consigning what remains to the history of dead metaphysical abstractions . It is this latter technique that has characterized the approach of analytical philosophers to the history of their discipline. The question is not so much, what did these drinkers mean or knowingly hope to achieve by posing the issues as they did? Rather it is to ask what techniques exist for translating their concerns into an up-to-date idiom based upon certain (mainly linguistic) terms of analytical enquiry. P. F. Strawson's revisionist reading of Kant is probably the best-known example of how such techniques can be used to achieve a distinctively modern understanding of otherwise recalcitrant texts.2 What remains of Kant after this cleaning-up 2 Philosophy and Literature operation is still "metaphysics" of a kind, but relieved of its excess conceptual baggage and couched (as Strawson would claim) in a "descriptive" rather than a "prescriptive" idiom. Thus philosophy comes to terms with its own errant precursors by explaining what they would presumably have said if equipped with die latest analytical tools. The result of such meuiods is to rewrite intellectual history from a standpoint of self-assured logical grasp where present concerns decide what shall count as the relevant or useful aspects ofpast tradition. And the same selective process goes to construct that typecast narrative which treats the "British" and die "Continental" styles of philosophizing as two completely separate, indeed antagonistic lines of descent. Thus it is taken for granted that the two sides are so far apart, with so little in the way of shared methods and assumptions, mat any kind of dialogue is certain to produce mere bafflement or cross-purpose talk. British philosophers with an interest in "Continental" theory feel themselves forced into a marginal role by the highly professionalized ethos that prevails within their discipline. This feeling is only strengthened by their more or less accepting the background mythology that explains how the two "traditions" grew up in a state of hostility often amounting to downright mutual contempt. There are several different versions of this story at present, but they all serve equally to reinforce the sense of incommensurable aims and languages. One (the "ordinary language" version) takes its lead from the later Wittgenstein in arguing that most of the problems that have long vexed philosophers — and continue to vex those "Continental" thinkers — result from dieir use ofa poindess metaphysicaljargon which puts them at odds with the commonsense wisdom of everyday usage. On this account, such thinkers have failed to learn the lesson bequeaüied by a long tradition of misguided speculative thought. They have persisted in errors and delusions of their own creating, hooked on a kind of malign verbal magic — "bewitchment by language," as Wittgenstein described it — which prevents them from seeing the plain sense ofthings. The other exemplary narrative is Uiat which takes not "ordinary language" but logic (or the modern refinements oflogic introduced by philosophers like Frege) as its reference point for deciding which episodes ofprevious or subsequent diought are to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 1-25
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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