We have called this cluster of essays “Feminist Investigations,” in reference to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.1 The five essays that follow work in the philosophical tradition after Wittgenstein, J. L. Austin, and Stanley Cavell. Although we call this tradition “ordinary language philosophy” (OLP for short), most of us have misgivings about the name. Some of us feel that the term “ordinary language philosophy” may lead to misunderstandings, not least among philosophers, who often take it to mean either a certain Oxford-based, post-war linguistic philosophy centered on Austin, or certain contemporary analytic continuations of that linguistic philosophy.2 Moreover, the term “ordinary language philosophy” doesn’t explicitly include another fundamental source of inspiration for many of us, namely Cora Diamond’s pathbreaking work on Wittgenstein, moral philosophy, and literature. Despite our reservations, we have decided to use the term in this introduction.
Although the members of our group differ on many philosophical issues, we share an experience of profound liberation at the discovery of the power of OLP to revolutionize our most fundamental understanding of language, theory, and philosophy. We believe that OLP helps feminists to understand everyday experience in transformative ways. In their attunement to the ordinary, the philosophers in the OLP tradition offer us a chance to rethink the everyday contexts in which normative relations of gender and sexuality are reproduced.
This leads to a two-pronged project. In our engagement with feminist theory, we must show how to escape theoretical pictures that block our return to our everyday lives. Such a project entails a diagnosis and description of the philosophical pictures that hold us captive (cf. PI § 115), a challenge taken up by most of the essays in this cluster. But we must also show, through analyses of particular cases, what our own engagement with the everyday actually looks like. This leads us to work on everyday experience, on ethics, and on aesthetics.
From the beginning, our project has been frankly polemical: we believe that feminist theory in some of its most influential incarnations—notably, poststructuralism and various forms of scientism, including certain strands of posthumanism, and analytic philosophy—has drifted precariously far away from its roots in feminist practice. The metaphysical [End Page v] subliming of human experience characteristic of these strands of feminist theory is a standing temptation for philosophically minded theorists, feminist or not.
In opposition to such tendencies, we seek to “bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use” (PI § 116). The phrase “everyday use” is not to be taken univocally. Wittgenstein did not mean that each word has one everyday use, or a finite range of everyday uses. To the contrary: in Investigations he explores the ways in which human beings, in their everyday activities—including their theorizing—naturally project words into new contexts and thereby, to the extent that these new uses are comprehensible and engaging, change what can be done with these words.
We have all experienced a certain exhaustion with the various schools of feminist theory that purport to provide the definitive account of gender (e.g., as biologically grounded, as constructed, as performative, etc.). Precisely because we remain committed to the original project of feminist theory—to make visible and intelligible the everyday experiences of human beings whose sufferings and aspirations do not count in sexist and heteronormative regimes of oppression and exclusion—we have found ourselves increasingly wary of theory itself.
OLP makes us question the assumption that it is the task of theory to provide an ontological picture of how things really are. We question the theoretical and political usefulness of trying to reconstruct the ontological presuppositions, the conditions of possibility, of gender as such. We believe that this desire for universalizing theoretical reconstruction, what Wittgenstein aptly called the “craving for generality,” leads to the kind of “contemptuous attitude toward the particular case” that we find problematic.3 OLP calls attention to this craving for generality, invites us to ask what motivates the craving, and enables us to speak about individual cases without yielding to the politically untenable particularism that so often bedevils feminist refusals to...