Open Journal of Philosophy
2012. Vol.2, No.1, 50-60
Published Online February 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
An Antidote to Use
——From Semantics to Human Rights and Back
Constantin Antonopoulos
Department of Applied Math ematics and Physics, National Technical University of Athens, Athens, Greece
Received August 9th, 2011; revi sed S eptember 14th, 2011; accepted September 23rd, 2011
I unpack the contents of the motto that “meaning is use” in fivefold fashion and point to the elements it
contains, which are open to an ideological exploitation, the main reason for its strong appeal among intel-
lectual circles. I indicate how the sense of it, “where there is use, there there is meaning”, has encouraged
equalitarian accounts of meaning and truth (In this case, of truth as coherence). I then present and dis-
cuss Austin’s distinction between the Sentence and the Statement, which entails the presence of meaning
preceding the use, and directing it, and offer a new proof that Sentences are impossible to eliminate in any
semantic scheme of things. Austin’s distinction, as explained and defended, refutes the contention that
“meaning is (just) use”. I proceed to his doctrine of Locution and Illocution, reflecting the previous, indi-
cating by a series of examples, that illocutionary varieties, which are varieties but not variances (i.e. se-
mantic mutations), can never extend beyond the se-mantic scope generically contained in the original, lo-
cutionary content; that is to say, the Sentence. Those that do, and they are several, violate the rules of
sense. I enumerate his vast differences with Wittgenstein, and proceed to defend Austin’s noted conserva-
tism against the novelties endorsed by the former and his disciples. Charging Wittgenstein’s private lan-
guage attack as circular, I conclude by marking their further contrast on the actual foundations of mean-
ing and truth.
Keywords: Austin; Meaning; Use; (The Contrast between) Sentence & Statement; Linguistic
Conservatism; Speech Acts; Locution; Illocution; Perlocution; Realism
On One’s Preferred Epistemology
To a man such as John Austin it should be no surprise that
history has been somewhat unfair. His philosophy never had
what it takes to secure for itself a lasting fame in the eyes of the
wider public. By contrast, Wittgenstein’s philosophy is not only
as alive today as it ever was among the specialists, which could
(marginally) also be said about Austin. But it has in addition
attracted the vivid interest of nonspecialists, thus perpetually
gaining in popularity. And were it not for Alan Sokal’s prank
on his philosophical descendants, the cultural relativists, some-
what slowing down the rituals of worship, it would probably
reign supreme, eliminating all reservation and opposition, as it
has been known to do ever since its first public appearance.
Sokal’s trick, operating on many levels, could also operate in
the direction of explaining why the semantics of Austin (or,
indeed, those of the logical positivists or, even, those of the
Tractatus) remain notoriously inconspicuous since the sixties or
early seventies and why the semantics of the Investigations is
still regarded by most as something of a bible. Fame is often as
ill deserved, when gained, as it were deserved, when not. And, I
would imagine, Sokal’s reply to this inequity, as witnessed by
his actions, would be to point to Ideology. The epistemology
and the semantics which are most likely to be popular, he’d say,
are the ones which are the most readily susceptible to an ideo-
logical extension or, which is the same thing, to an ideological
exploitation. Later Wittgenstein’s were. Austin’s were not.
The same phenomenon may be detected in the domain of the
philosophy of science. People with gaps in their philosophical
education too evident to miss, such as Th. Kuhn and P. K. Fey-
erabend, rose to prominence “not due to their philosophical
doctrines but due to their sociolog ical doctrines” (Katz, 1978: p.
364) Is it an accident here, that the most popular philosophy of
science ever, is at the same time the one most pliant to social
theorizing? And the one hardly to be distinguished from the
discipline now called “sociology of science”,1 hence one that
should not even belong to the field proper?
When Kuhn and Feyerabend name later Wittgenstein as their
source of inspiration, “there’s method in’t”. Kuhnian Paradigms
and Feyrabend’s semantic discontinuities both result in income-
mensurability between competing scientific viewpoints, and
thus, in effect, to the conclusion that no objective choice can be
made between them, since they are essentially incomparable.
Conflicting paradigms cannot even be said to be alternative
reconstructions of a single reality. Similar sy mptoms have been
attributed to Wittgenstein’s language games. And even were it
to be allowed, that doctrines such as these matched the needs of
social theorizing through coincidence alone, possibly never
intended in this way by their creators, that their unprecedented
success was a like product will no longer convince any one.
1Alongside the discipline called “sociology of science” there is also avail-
able the related discipline called “sociology of knowledge”, both a must in
Sociology departments and pretty close to a must in most Philosophy de-
partments already. But then science is an activity, i.e. ultimately something
that people do, of which the sociology is therefore a reasonable study. Yet
knowledge is a state, of which ther efore the so ci ology is a tr i f l e more radical
and daring than that. For it openly implies that knowing something is not
enough. Its “sociology” is also required, invariably resulting in the suspicion
that it wasn’t knowledge to begin with, if it needs a sociological account o
its acquisition. And this goes a long way, longer than the sociology of sci-
ence, to be sure.
Before Sokal’s intervention we might have thought that the
sweeping popularity of such doctrines was due to philosophical
merit alone, to the general conviction that they by far sur-
passed their rivals in clarity, consistency, precision, scope, ex-
planatory wealth and what have you. Now we know better.
Now we know that their success was just the product of fanati-
Since Sokal’s experiment demonstrated conclusively2 that
faith rather than reason was what really lay behind one’s scor-
ing high in the philosophical charts of our times, demonstrat-
ing by the same token what correlatively lay behind the con-
tinually waning interest of the public in philosophers such as
Austin; since, that is, the standard of preference exercised was
proven to be purely ideological in both cases, the favourite as
well as the underdog, the route seems to be open for reassessing
just what it was that went right with Wittgenstein and wrong
with Austin, which perhaps shouldn’t have, for either of them.
That is to say, what specific element present in the philosophy
of one man, and absent in that of the other, was responsible for
the appeal that one of them exerted and the other failed to. Now
Austin and Wittgenstein were far, far more unlike each other
than has already been officially recognized and that they really
are unlike, it certainly has (Warnock, 1969: p. 11; Urmson,
1969: p. 32). In time I will show how unlike. They held oppo-
site views on meaning, truth,3 criteria, definitions, invariance,
descriptivism, context-dependence, in ne r li f e a n d, f in a ll y , r e al i sm .
In a word, the lot.
So it is not an easy matter to isolate the key factor, the cata-
lyst, as it were, that provoked the crowd’s enthusiasm for Witt-
genstein’s later philosophy and their condescension, to say the
least, for Austin’s. But what did the trick, I would say, was
their differences over the relation between Meaning and Use.
Austin’s Speech Act Theory flatly contradicts the unfortunate
slogan that “the meaning of a word is its use” (or, briefly, that
“meaning is use”) and the general disinterest, or distrust, for
Austin’s philosophy among certain intellectual circles lies pre-
cisely within his resolute reluctance to identify the two. But
then, how exactly does the concept of Use lend itself to ideo-
logical expl oitation more readily than other concepts of seman-
tics might? This is my theory: The slogan “the meaning of a
word is its use” actually harbours within it at least five possible
interpretations (or senses), only a few of which are ideology-
cally profitable, either in isolation or in the way they blend
together. Here they are:
Sense (1): To know the meaning of a word is to know its use
(... how to use it).
Sense (2): The meaning of a word is its use-S.
Sense (3): There is no more to meaning than use.
Sense (4): It is not meaning that determines the use, but use
that determines the meaning.
Sense (5): If there is use, then there is meaning.
Now to comments. Sense (1) is the obvious, if not indeed the
trivial, sense of the motto: To know the meaning of a word is to
know how to use it, no question about it. This is definitely not
the sense intended by Wittgenstein himself, if for no other
reason, then simply because in this unprocessed form it is
indiscriminately accepted by any semantic theory available, that
of the Tractatus itself no less (Baker, 1986: p. 207). In plain
words, there is hardly a second opinion as far as this Sense of
the motto goes. However, although this was not Wittgenstein’s
actual sense, it went a long way in promoting its popularity and,
indeed, its acceptance even among the neutrals. As Findlay
points out the use of “use” characteristic of the later writings of
Wittgenstein is utterly remote from the humdrum and ordinary,
and has won its way into the acceptance of philosophers largely
because it has seemed to have the clearness and the forwardness
of the ordinary use (Findlay, 1976: p. 118; italics in the original).
This is a helpful point on many scores. Not only does it set
the record straight on several issues but, in addition, it forces
out the suspicion, how truly unlike, namely, how unclassical
Wittgenstein’s semantics of the later period is, when compared
with other standard forms available (Baker, 1986, pp. 203-205),
including Austin’s. Sense (1) of the motto is therefore classical
and we must look for nonclassical senses instea d.
Sense (2) is certainly far less classical than (1). Classical se-
mantics had naturally assumed that the meaning of a word is
the meaning of that word (the Tractatus playing a key role in
this tendency, which is not to say that the Tractatus was itself a
classical theory). It is now one of the central themes of the In-
vestigations to undermine this conviction, namely, that there is
a single meaning attached to a word, as it putatively results
from its (latent or overt) definition. In other words, Sense (2) is
the sense connected with “family resemblances”. The actual
use(s) of a word are observed to go way beyond the barriers
raised by its claimed definition, even in the cases where there is
such a definition to begin with (Which fact Wittgenstein dis-
putes at any rate [See 1978: p. 25]). For example, the use of the
word “democracy” in the Soviet Union, where t here was only a
single party to vote for, should have been drastically exluded by
the available definition. However, to a semantic descriptivist
(as good a time to introduce the term as any), who is committed
to recording actual use as it occurs without being “judgeme ntal ”
about it, this use is as legitimate as that of the use in countries
with more than one party to vote for (and more than one paper
to read).
2Briefly, Sokal’s maneuvre was this: He wrote a false paper, titled “Tr-
ansgressing Boundaries”, where he laid down all pieces of intentional
rubbish that he could think of, concluding on their basis that contemporary
science fully bears out all the claims of cultural relativists, contextualists,
subjectivists and the like. He submitted it to a journal he counted on to bite
the bait, calle d Social Text, t he journal fell for it and the paper was published
in 1996. Then he published his real views in another journal, the
agazine, exposing, in effect, not just the first journal as such but, indeed,
an entire philosophical establishment together with it (See Longino, 1997:
pp. 119-120).
3For Wittgenstein truth is (I gather) “the right move in the game”. For
Austin, characteristically, it is what it always has been for all of us
unsophi sticated simplet ons: correspondence with the facts. ( See his “Truth ”
ut, more especially, its follow up contra Strawson,“Unfair To Facts”, which
leave little room for doubt).
4I am constantly baffled by all those who regard Wittgenstein’s later
philosophy as conservative (if only it were, so far as I’m concerned).The
evidence in favour of conceptual inconstancy in it is overwhelming in
comparison. I will tackle this issue in the right place, because Austin is a
conservative and he differs from him even in this.
In this way comes about the correlative doctrine of Meaning
Variance, alias, the so-called “extension of a predicate”, if the
more innocent looking, qua more technical, term be preferred.
This, in other, and more unpretentious terms, is the doctrine
that meaning changes, the immediate consequence of family
resemblances4 (or absence of definitions). Yet a reminder to
descriptivism at this point. Insofar as plain description of
people’s linguistic practices go, the descriptivist cannot afford
to say that meanings change. For actually meanings do not
change by themselves. It is people, who change them, actual
people, if descriptivist standards are adopted, and, I might add,
not always changed with the purest of intentions. Returning to
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 51
the word “democracy” once again, is it accurate to say here that
the meaning of the word has changed, as if by its own devices,
or that certain people have seen to it (by force) and for reasons
too obvious, and too dishonest, to deserve a comment? If so,
then semantic change could well be due to fraud or propaganda
(Midgley, 1974: p. 233), when not to illiteracy or ineptitude, as
when the appropriate word missing from a certain user’s
limited vocabulary, is replaced in haste by the closest that
comes handy to him.5 Hardly a subject worthy of a philosopher’s
attention in either of these cases. Meaning-variance theorists,
without having said so explicitly, blame Meaning for its
intrinsic(?) instability, as if the changes it suffers are, somehow,
inevitable. Yet if, as it frequently turns out, it is not Meaning as
such, but people, who are actually to be blamed for this
phenomenon, then change of meaning is not inevitable at all
and, in point of fact, on the basis of the previous remarks, it
shouldn’t even be there, if left alone. Meaning change is
contrived. Not essential. This should make some difference to
the meaning-variance thesis.
Leaving Sense (3), a blood relative of Sense (4), for later, I
will presently concentrate on (4) and its own way of being non-
classical. In the interests alone of exhausting all possible senses
of the motto, however weird, the following sense eventually
suggests itself: “Use determines the meaning; not meaning the
use”. This would be a sense too scandalous to even contemplate
proposing without some outside help or encouragement. But the
outside encouragement is not wanting. This thesis actually be-
longs to D. Bloor (1983: p. 25), stated without any qualms or
hesitation, so I am exonerated.
There are clear and specific ways in which this Sense con-
nects with Sense (2). If definitions are out, leaving behind only
the vague instructions afforded by family resemblances, then in
many, if not indeed in most, of the cases to be encountered by
the ill equipped speaker, the latter will have to make a literally
ad hoc decision, whether or not to apply the concept to the
instance, and pronounce the word. If he will, then the theory
predicts that he will do so in terra incognita, in a literal linguis-
tic vacuum, thus inaugurating a novel use of the word for him-
self and all the rest that care to follow.6 In this particular case,
Senses (2) and (4) merge into one: The meaning of a word will
be its use-s, since applied far beyond the confines of currently
recorded practice, thus adding to the long list of its recipients,
which is what family resemblances are all about, namely, Sense
(2); and, at the same time, in the said absence of a prior rule to
guide the novel use, the use itself is a primitive here, and hence
precedes whatever rule, or meaning, is to subsequently, and
derivatively, follow from it; that is to say, Sense (4): The use
determines the meaning and not conversely. Senses (2) and (4)
are birds of a feather.
The Real Appeal behind the “Use”
I finally come to Sense (5), the sense italicized, because of its
central position in the plan I’m executing. Given its importance
for my case, it deserves separate treatment. For it is primarily
Sense (5), “if there is a use, the n there is a meaning” (no matter
what the experts have to say!), which has raised Wittgenstein to
the heights of his fame and popularity among subjectivists,
relativists, social anthropologists, Marxist contextualists, soci-
ologists of knowledge, Gadamerian hermeneuticists and the like.
Namely, all those who do semantics and epistemology with an
eye for humanitarianism. For this is the spot where the hitherto
suppressed equalitarian connotations of the slogan “the mean-
ing is the use” make their entry and take the scene. And the spot
where semantics yields its place to human rights.
5This is what Chomsk y has cal led an “un grammati cal us e”, namely, an is sue
of Performance; not one of Competence. The active vocabulary of the
average person ranges between 2 - 3000 words, when the English language,
with its unending loans from all the other European ones, numbers around
400000! No wonder there will be “family resemblances”, if it all comes to
that. For then th e averag e pers on wil l have t o speak of cases prov ided fo r by
a vocabulary of 400,000, and therefore cases comparably rich with it in
y whatever actual expressive means he possesses, i.e. no more
than 2000 words for all of them. Then, for 200 different cases he will have
to use a single word, based on whatever fleeting trait is common to all,
through sheer ignorance of the total vocabulary of his own language(Austin
says almost same thing. [1976: p. 125]).And then the discovery that “family
resemblances” is a phenomenon essentially due to illiteracy or poor edu-
cation would be the anticlimax of the century. It would, in short, be a
phenomenon other than those belonging to Philosophy .
6Many have argued, and with good reason, that family resemblances result
from the use of one and the same word within two or more different
language games, the vagueness of the resemblance being due to thediversity
of the games. My point above, however, shows that the converse procedure
is equally available. If a familiar word is now being used “in the dark”, as it
were, (e.g. t he word “art ” for single col our “paintings”) and this catches o n
with certain people, then consensus to speak thus from now on, has in effect
introduced a new language game.
7This has also been called the “translational” theory of meaning. I translate
my inward p i ct ur e i nto verbal symbols, you r et r anslate them i n to a picture o
your own. If our pictures coincide (which was later to be called a chimera)
we have communicated.
8Consider all the possible interpretations to which his later views are open:
Are language games an instance of strict conformity to rules, or are they the
epitome of verbal anarchy as Feyerabend and J. Genova read them? [Ge-
nova, 1987: p. 65] Do they combine local linguistic determinism with global
linguistic indeterminism? Is or isn’t a language game of evident self-
confinement a definite sample of a private language? [Downing, 1972: p. 40]
Can vague resemblances really live together with “drawing boundaries
when we want to” [Wittgenstein, 1968: p. 33e]? For if they can, and we can,
why bother with them in the first place?
The widely discussed and highly controversial topic of the
so-called “religious language game” is typical of the tenden-
cies prevailing in this last, but not least, frame of the motto.
Early Wittgenstein would have flatly rejected any thought of
granting the meaningfulness of religious talk, even when cast in
the most cautious and unpretentious of terms. There is no pic-
ture of God to be furnished, as theists themselves were the first
to stress, and to a picture theory of meaning such as that of the
Tractatus,7 that inherent flaw would suffice to brand the lin-
guistic practice in question meaningless, given that God is the
central figu r e of a l l reli g i on.
Yet observe now the tolerance emanating from the frame of
Sense (5), a tolerance that has since given Wittgensteinians
tormenting philosophical headaches, dividing them among
themselves in two belligerent camps. One side swears that reli-
gious talk is as legitimate as any other game on the fundamen-
tals laid down by the Investigations, The Blue and Brown Books
and On Certainty, the other side tearing their garments that
nothing of the sort ever follows coherently therefrom (Sherry,
1972; Downing, 1972). Regrettably, I must choose the former
camp. I have always seen in Wittgenstein’s later period some-
thing of a super market, selling goods to please the tastes of
everyone.8 This, besides, is what semantic descriptivism is all
about. It’s there, so it’s valid, no matter what it may be.
Hence, on the basis of the motto as delivered via Sense (5), if
talk about religion does occur, and if it shares all the outer
features of any other form of verbal communication, i.e.,
consistency in the common use of the lingual terms peculiar to
it (e.g. God), such as application, when application is warranted,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
and withdrawal, when withdrawal is warranted, if, in a word, its
users exhibit a comparable conformity to a finite set of rules,
then these users are communicating with one another within the
frame of the parlance in question and, therefore, what they say
to each other has a meaning. Whereupon it would simply be
arrogant presumption to suppose that their parlance lacks a
meaning because it happens to signify nothing to an outside
observer, on the basis of whatever other rules of meaning he
would deem preferable. This, I trust, sums it all up: What has a
use has a meaning, “and there’s an end on’t”, as Dr. Samuel
Johnson would have put it,9 which is chapter one of the lan-
guage-game bible, and, at the same time, a meaning other than
the one demanded by the said, fastidious observer. For if this
observer charges with meaninglessness something which does
have a meaning, he can only be thinking of his own rules of
meaning. And different rules of meaning designate different
languages. Which is chapter two of the language-game bible.
Thus by unfolding Sense (5) of the motto piecemeal, we
smoothly arrive at the notion of language games. And since the
outside, fastidious observer is rebutted by the remark, that the
speakers of that other language only do in its frame what he
does in his own, namely, display a comparably rule governed,
internally consistent behabiour fully matching and emulating
his own, the instrument of his rebuttal turns out to be the appeal
to a principle of equality. Thus, Sense (5) of the motto leads to
equalitarianism as much as it leads to language games, knitting
the two together in a bond of kinship, as the sole fountain from
which they commonly spring forth. Last chapter of the bible.
We began doing semantics and ended up with human rights.
(End of story.) It is the age old dream of social anthropology,
and its varieties, come true and that, believe it or not, from the
lips of a source that was the least expected. So to Wittgenstein’s
own responsibilities:
Our mistake is to look for an explanation, where we ought to
look at a “proto-phenomenon”. That is, we ought to have said:
this language game is played. The question is not one of ex-
plaining a language game by means of our(!) experience but of
noting a language game. (1968: p. 167e; all italics except last
the author’s).
So note it we will. Notebook entries will henceforth be the
arbiter of Meaning (Though why exactly they are to be pre-
ferred over the negative comments of a sensible critic, flatly
dismissed seconds before on a principle of equality, is by no
means evident). Note then the following also, for those who
still have a mind to do more than note:
Is it wrong for them to consult an oracle(!) and be guided by
it? If we call this wrong aren’t we using our language game as a
base from which to combat theirs? (1977: p. 80e; italics the au-
All this, of course, is concisely enveloped within the all em-
bracing wrapping of the dominant thesis:
Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of
language; it can in the end only describe it. It leaves everything
as it is (1968: p. 49e).
(And just takes notes. Philosophy, if you please). The off-
spring of such magnanimous tolerance, and the puzzling nature
of their dogmas and their practices (until Sokal turned puzzle
into certainty), can be witnessed below, in the words of a
known champion of the trend, unsuspectingly writing but a
handful of years before Sokal’s epoch making exposure and, no
doubt, partly provoking it:
Foundationalism is out and there are no “timeless” answers.
There are no ahistorical standards of rationality and objectivity.
[But this] does not imply that there are no historically determi-
nate reasons which, relative to a distinct cultural and historical
context, cannot be established to be good reasons for doing one
thing rather than another (Nielsen, 1987: p. 5).
This is because:
Criteria for validity and rationality are in the first-order dis-
course of our distinct language games which in turn are em-
bedded in our forms of life. What is given there are a complex
of soci al practices. It is these practices and the first-order dis-
courses which are part of these practices which set our func-
tioning criteria of rationality and validity. There can, Rorty
argues, be no context-independent criteria for rationality and
validity (Nielsen, 1987: p. 9).
Rorty argues and, in other places, Wittgenstein argues. The
author simply quotes. So who should I address this comment to?
To all three, more like it: If I ask a top class sprinter, why he
failed to take part in the Athens Olympics of 2004, where he
was sure to win a medal, and he replies, “because I lost my left
leg from the hip down in a car accident”, in what precise sense
is this a context-dependent justification, valid only in some
contexts but not in others, or only for some historical periods,
but not for others? Would it be any less rational a reply, if given
by an athlete of the 450 BC Olympics? And what is the “con-
text” here? If context-dependence means having to say “yes” in
one context, but not having to say “yes” in another, in what
particular context would we say no to him? A man with one leg
necessarily cannot run, not just the 100 meters dash in the
Olympics, but merely cross the 20 paces to his own bathroom.
What other form of “rationality”, what other form of life, would
this be, in whose “context” his reply would not be received as
the only possible course of action? And as the only possible
Well, come to think of it, for other forms of life, I’m not all
that sure, quite honestly. For they could indeed say anything
they pleased. But for other forms of rationality I entertain little
doubt nor should the two be joined as one, as the tacit practice
of all equalitarians10 has it. No rational entity would deny this
athlete’s reasons as the best of reasons. Explanations of the sort
“I did not take part in the crossbow competition because both
my hands were severed from the shoulder” are necessary rea-
sons for the action ensueing, and their rationale a universal
truth. There is no workable, worse, no coherent alternative to
them. They are necessary. Contextualists may have spent hours
exchanging profound intimations over tea and biscuits on how
“all justification is context dependent” (Nielsen, 1987: p. 5), but
never actually consent to pinpoint this context in answers such
as these: “Can’t you read the bloody sign?” “No; I’m blind”.
And, let there be no mistake, it is those justifications alone that
really count. If, then, there is a context somewhere, anywhere,
where this reply would not be admissible, now is the time to
produce it. They must either put up or step down.
9“Sir, our will is free and there’s an en on’t” he is reported to have ... argued.
10Weinstein refers to them by the name of “Marxist Contextualists” [1988:
pp. 2-4]. My own essay [Antonopoulos, 1997], mounting as austere a criti-
cism against this trend as a philosopher using words could ever hope to
muster (as opposed, that is, to a physicist using deceit), was submitted a year
or more before Sokal’s pseudo-paper first appeared and was written in igno-
rance of it. It made just as much impression to the public, as the words o
any philosopher are ever expected to. Less, actually, since those of an un-
known one o n t op of it.
Why, then, are intellectuals like Nielsen thus attracted by
contexts, games, forms of life, games viewed as soci al practices
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 53
(this especially) and all the rest that is relative to them? In the
concluding pages of his article we are revealed the secret: He is,
in fact, a Marxist (op.cit, 28) (See also 1985). And though per-
haps some would feel that this self-contented declaration of ...
dependence might be lacking in good taste a trifle more, as it
were, than even the rest of his article, it is nevertheless quite
valuable in its frankness. Now we know. All that lay behind the
worship was another worship.
For its sake Nielsen is now prepared to go to extremes and
make concessions, if not indeed sacrifices, which would have
seemed unithinkable to a Marxist a few years back. He teams
with theologians (of all people) in his search for allies to com-
bat the common enemy, “traditional, perennial philosophy or
programmatic analytic philosophy” (Nielsen, 1987: p. 26), that
is, philosophy conducted in Austin’s way, overcoming his inhi-
bitions of the past (Sherry, 1972: p. 22), as any true relativist
should: “If they [philosophers] really think that [that they can
do better than theologians], then they must confront Wittgen-
stein’s and Rorty’s probing about how anything like that could
be possible”, he says (Nielsen, 1987: p. 6). Perhaps Nielsen is
right, after all. Contradicting Wittgenstein or Rorty takes an
awful lot of guts, so laying down their names is the ultimate
argument (Other types are missing in this place as much as
“Sir, this language game is played, and there’s an end on’t!”,
as Dr. Johnson would exclaim in joyous, paternalistic dismissal.
But is there “an end on’t”, were we only reckless enough to
battle wits with authority? For in my recklessness I’ve not yet
run out of questions reflecting the methods of this very prac-
tice that was a dying creed to Nielsen in those days,11 when still
unsuspecting of the storm soon to befall his own. Here is one:
Can God, who is omnipotent, create a stone so heavy, that even
He cannot lift? If he can, he is not omnipotent. And if he cannot,
he is not omnipotent. God and Omnipotence are not moves in
my game. They are moves in the theist’s. And it is he who de-
fines God by a self-contradictory predicate; that is to say, by
none at all.
Here is another.12 God either cannot stop evil, or He will not.
If he cannot, he is not almighty. If he will not, he is not all kind.
Omnipotence and Kindness again conflict for the theist in the
most embarassing of ways. In the former case the theist assigns
to God a self-contradictory predicate. In the latter, a pair of
incompatible predicates, assigned to him simultaneously and
for all time. Is this understanding of God, as produced by the
theist, any understanding of him? Omnipotence, on the one
hand, and Omnipotence cum Divine Kindness, on the other, are
a cornerstone in his system of beliefs. He knows when to say
the words, he has studied with extent and profundity their rami-
fications, he can make himself fully understood by all the other
participants in this form of life, when he pronounces them. In
short, he is in full command of handling all the relevant, appro-
priate conventions. But he may yet have no idea whatsoever,
what he is really talking about in spite of everything.
This language game is played, no question about that. But is
the factual presence of this language game, thus played, suffi-
cient for earning it a place in our “notebooks” of meaning? To a
semantic descriptivist, abandoned in the hands of Sense (5), it
has to be, if only for plain consistency. And to a contextualist,
no less abandoned in its hands because his equalitarian senti-
ments compel him to, it has to even more, if only for the glory
of human rights. Thus, note this game we shall. But it can’t
always be the one side that does all the noting.
What Nielsen has to say about language games viewed as so-
cial practices, Feyerabend repeats about language games viewed as
Unanimity of opinion may be fitting for the church; a method
that encourages variety is also the only method that is compati-
ble with a humanitarian outlook [Feyerabend, 1968; all italic-
cized in the original (just in case one missed the point)].
Yet once turning to scientific matters in this connection, it is
primarily the element of conceptual change that gains promi-
nence, considering that contemporary science is the scenery of
nearly all the revolutionary ideas currently available. (The lan-
guage of theologians and Christians, on the other hand, is noth-
ing of the sort. The latter never introduce incommensurable
uses, even if they do introduce uses without substance). Con-
ceptual change results to incommensurability and the latter to
Paradigms, which are an instance of the language game idea
when extended to science:
The progress of our knowledge may lead to conceptual revi-
sions for which no direct observational reasons are available.
The occurrence of such changes obviously (!) refutes the con-
tention of some philosophers that the invariance of usage indi-
cates invariance of meaning and the superficiality of all scien-
tific change [Ibid: p. 34].
But it is by no means the superficiality of scientific change,
that I am interested in establishing at this point. It is the con-
trary, in fact, namely, how disturbingly profound such change
can sometimes be. For ringing the alarm bell, is what I’m cur-
rently after. Consider therefore the following passage, belong-
ing to a critic of the view presented:
[This] is very different from the kind of expansion one would
get if the universe originated in an explosion into pre-existing,
empty space. This is because the big bang is an explosion of
space and time, not an explosion in space and time. (Van
Flandern, 1994: p. 24; italics in the original).
If you’re looking for conceptual revision to rock you in your
boots, look no further. If the big bang was an explosion of
space, rather than one in space, then space itself exploded into
being no sooner than the Bang. Therefore the “Bang” cannot
have occurred at a place. And if it was an explosion of time,
rather than one in time, then time itself exploded into being no
sooner than the “Bang” also. And therefore the “Bang” cannot
have occurred at a time either. This, therefore, is an explosion
that occurred neither at a place nor at a time. Neverthless, it is
an explosion and it has, nevertheless, occurred. The scientific
term “explosion”, Feyerabend would say here, as well as the
scientific terms “space” and “time” themselves, have undergone
a profound semantic change, when imported in the context of
the universe expansion theory. Other than that, all is well. (This
language game is played.) Regarding, on the other hand, the
universe expansion phenomenon per se, this is how matters
stand, as now presented by a defender of the idea: “In modern
cosmology, the universe does not expand in space. It consists of
expanding space.” (Harrison, 1993: p. 30).
If space expands, that is to say, if it grows, space takes up
more of space, than it previously did. Yet if space has only
grown so far as it has, up to now, for it certainly cannot have
grown more than it has up to now, there is as yet no space to be
taken (by ... space!) into which it can expand and grow, unless
of course, space is taken as larger than it is. These conceptual
11“There is very little left of the programmatic sort in the tradition”. [Op.cit.,
12Quoted in The Presumption of Atheism, by Anth. Flew [1976: p. 81].
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
revisions are anything but superficial, as Feyerabend worries
they’ll be received by some philosophers supporting meaning
invariance. (His worries are without basis. There are no phi-
losophers supporting meaning invariance.) These conceptual
revisions are very much severe indeed. And they rock the very
foundations of our thought. Feyerabend, the reformer, however,
wholeheartedly welcomes them:
Such criticism silently assumes the principle of meaning in-
variance, that is, it assumes that the meanings of at least some
fundamental terms must remain unchanged in the course of
progress of our knowledge. It cannot therefore be accepted as
valid (Feyerabend, 1968: p. 38).
But I have voiced no criticisms. I have only unpacked some
contents and drawn their necessary conclusions for making it
patently evident, what incommensurability really is. It is, in
addition to the previously noted large scale revisions, also a
defense. “Such criticism” says Feyerabend to which I take ex-
ception “sile ntly assumes the principle of meaning invariance”,
and this much I grant I have done. “It cannot therefore be ac-
cepted as valid”, he continues, in case such criticism were
voiced. And why not? Because “the occurrence of such changes”
and that occurrence alone “obviously(!!) refutes” the invariance
of meaning principle. Isn’t this obvious? It’s there, it’s done, so
it’s meaningful. This is semantic descriptivism at the true
height of its powers. The factual presence of these changes
suffices to establish that all physicists who assert, 1) that the
‘Bang’ created space (and therefore cannot have occurred at a
place), 2) that space must take up more of itself, if to grow (and
therefore be there, before it is), they all know perfectly well,
what they are talking about. This language game is played.
Well, it is, no question about it. But does it have a meaning
because of it? Another physicist, of a different persuasion, may
help us understand:
In cosmology lectures by Drs. Edward R. Harrison and Wil-
liam J. Kaufmann, I have heard each say that the galaxies are
not moving apart. They are stationary. The space between them
is expanding. I asked each of them how to do an experiment to
differentiate between the two possibilities; galaxies moving
apart or the space between them expanding. Neither person
could answer and I suspect the question had not previously
entered their minds (Epstein, 1987: p. 970).
Neither could, for neither knew. But both knew how to use
whatever words were there to be used. And there are more par-
ticipants in this form of life: “The galaxies” real motion is in
the literal expansion of the space between them” tell us again
Odenwald and Fienberg (1993: pp. 31-35). But the galaxies as
such have not moved. For if they had, only their distance would
have grown. Not space. So these other two cannot afford to
assert anything, save what they do assert. And of what they do
assert, they do not grasp even the rudiments. Therefore, they
cannot know what it means. But they do have a use of it, a rule
governed use. They can teach their students everything about it;
they can discuss it with them afterwards in all desired detail and
answer questions, even if only some questions; they can do the
same with their colleagues; they can publish papers about it
(look above), having satisfied their referees, proposing new
developments and new applications of it. And yet they do not
have the first idea of what it really means, as nor did the other
two participants, formerly mentioned.
“After all”, Feyerabend contends, “the meaning of every
term we use depends upon the theoretical context in which it
occurs” (Op.cit.: p. 33). It does not depend on whether or not
the people who use it, actually realize what it means. Theirs is a
use, a uniform and rule directed use, without a meaning. Hence,
there has to be more to meaning than use, or else self contra-
dicting use is irrelevant in deciding, whether or not it is mean-
ingful. Somehow Wittgenstein was able to discern this part at
least of an important truth: That there can be a system of com-
munication, manifesting all those requisite properties of a lan-
guage that were repeatedly referred to, without having to mean
anything at all.
In short, having established the possibility of such a language,
in the form of a specific “game”, one has not eo ipso estab-
lished either Sense (3), or (4) or, much less, Sense (5) of the
motto “the meaning is the use”. Nor that that language has a
meaning to its speakers. Theists and cosmologists were shown
to have a use for several key terms in their games, yet not a
meaning for them, to their own frank admission. So I suppose
that the use is not the meaning and there can be the one without
the other. I will now turn to Austin’s philosophy to corroborate
this conclusion.
The Sentence, the Statement, and Sense (3) of
the Motto
In what is perhaps the focal point of his entire philosophy,
his paper “Truth”, Austin lays down the rudiments, and far
more than that, of a thorough going separation between Mean-
ing and Use, (whence the “uselessness” of his position to de-
scriptivists, contextualists, relativists and the like), mediated
through a distinction of paramount importance. “I say ‘this is
mine’ and you say ‘this is mine’” he starts. We have said the
same thing. Yet we have also said opposite things. “We use the
same sentence, to make incompatible statements”, he explains.
“You say ‘this is mine’ and I say ‘this is yours’”, he continues.
We have used different sentences to make the same statement,
he explains (1976: p. 120). Once this distinction is established,
and its foundations warranted, the rest of the route for proving
that meaning is distinct from use is merely a matter of correctly
unwrapping the package. Austin unwraps it to a considerable
extent but does not go all the way. He does stress that it is
statements, and not sentences, which are the carriers of truth
and falsehood, and he does stress that, as a consequence, sen-
tences are merely meaningful (ibid). But he offers no further
demonstration of these points, except for the one that is already
implied in the deep structure of the distinction itself, which
does of course pave the way.
However understandable the implication, we need solid proof.
The proof, therefore, that only statements are the carriers of
truth and falsehood, and sentences only the carriers of meaning,
goes like this: When I claimed that “this is mine” and you
claimed the same, we have said incompatible things. But one
and the same string of words, “this thing is mine”, cannot be
incompatible to itself. It is therefore the things we assert by it,
which are. And since it is those units of speech, that are in-
compatible, which have opposing truth values, opposite truth
values are ascribed only to the things we assert, that is to say,
our statements. Not to the sentence used in making them.
Apart from being a demonstration of where the ascriptions of
truth and falsehood properly belong, the previous argument is
also an indirect proof, of where the meaning is to properly be-
long. The semantic elements involved in this speech episode are
Meaning, Truth, a Sentence and our Statements. Since the sen-
tence is not permitted to receive the truth values, and since the
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 55
statements, which are, are a fortiori also meaningful, there is
nothing left for the sentence to be ascribed to, if it is not to stay
idle in the process, except a meaning. Hence, sentences are
meaningful, though only the statements are actually made. And,
it goes without saying, it is the statements which set the context,
that is to say, our disagreement of ownership. Therefore, there
is a meaning beyond the use as much as there is one beyond the
The direct proof, containing various elements from the for-
mer, “truth-falsehood” strategem, has as follows. By virtue of
the same, underlying sentence, say the sentence, “this gold coin
on the table is mine”, I can perform three distinct speech acts. I
can assert, that this gold coin is mine, I can ask, “is this gold
coin mine?” or I can wish “were this gold coin mine!”. But all
three said uses of the sentence are incompatible to one another
in a variety of ways. I cannot be asserting that the coin is mine,
when I am asking if it is, nor far less, asserting that it is mine
and wishing that it were. Nor, finally, asking if is, when I wish
it were. Since, therefore, it cannot be that one and the same
string of words, “this gold coin ...& c”, is incompatible to its
own self, what is thus incompatible is something other than the
said string of words itself. Hence, if that string of words has a
meaning, and if the incompatibility in question is not to be
found anywhere in it, the incompatibility is to be found in
something other than it and its meaning. That is to say, in its
uses. For if it cannot be incompatible to itself, and if it has a
meaning, the incompatibility noted must lie beyond itself and
its meaning. That is to say, in its uses from which it was now
shown to be distinct.
The foregoing proof, however, has its limitations and does
not eliminate the rival alternative. For it works to the extent that
there are sentences and hence that they have a meaning (which
then, of course, is a tautology). Then it can proceed to demon-
strate that all they have is a meaning. If the premise is disputed,
and sentences are either denied an existence altogether, or an
existence separate from their uses, which amounts to the same
thing, the conclusion will not follow. It is only binding for
those who are already committed to the separate existence of
sentences. So we must do even better. This will involve a full
length utilization of Austin’s distinction, to be introduced at the
closing stages of the argument, and an interjection of Sense (3)
of the slogan.
Since our statements are incompatible, only one of them can
be true, say, mine. I have the titles of propriety of this house
and you don’t. So when you were asserting that it was yours,
you were saying the wrong thing. The right thing, “this is
yours”, was never said. Therefore (trivially) never used. Now
introduce Sense (3) of the slogan, “there is nothing more to
meaning, than use”, implying a total meaning-use identity.
Then, what is not used, cannot have a meaning. And then, since
the right thing to say, “this is yours”, was never used, it cannot
have a meaning either. But then, only the thing said has a
meaning, and that thing was the wrong thing to say. How then,
could you avoid saying the wrong thing, if only that thing has a
meaning, except by saying nothing? Are we to suppose then,
that, upon the basis of Sense (3), when something wrong is said,
it thereby turns out to be the only thing that has a meaning, and
so (retrodictively) the only thing that could be said, the thing
left unsaid, which is the thing that should have been said all
along, having none? Then how could the right thing ever get to
be said? This is a patently absurd conclusion, derived strictly on
the basis of Sense (3).
Can this absurdity be avoided without the rejection of Sense
(3)? Let’s see. The right thing to say, one might reply, “this is
yours”, was there to be said, because it has been used in the
past in countless similar situations. Hence, on the evidence of
its prior use, it does have a meaning, and therefore it was
equally available to one to say it now, if one wanted to. No
absurdity there at all. The difference is, however, how it is
made available. It is, because it has been used in similar situa-
tions, those forming a class, and used suffi cie nt times a lrea dy to
form a model for further guidance of usage. But this speech
situation is this speech situation. A concrete temporal particular.
To relate it sufficiently with all the other similar particulars,
with which it forms a class, you simply have to abstract and rise
above all, to whatever is common to them. And thus to appeal
to an invariant. And if that is not a Sentence, nothing ever is.
Observe Austin’s words:
There must be two sets of conventions: Descriptive conven-
tions correlating the words (=sentences) with the types of situa-
tion, thing, event, &c, to be found in the world. Demonstrative
conventions correlating the words (=statements) with the his-
toric situations, &c., to be found in the world (Austin, 1976: p.
122; his italics).
So any alternative for escaping the said absurdity cannot but
introduce a type of situation, the type “This Is Yours”, if to at
all stand. And the type of situation introduced is not a historic
situation, demonstratively referred to, for that demonstrative
reference, “this is yours”, was actually never made. The differ-
ence between types of situations and historic situations is that,
though both in their own sense unrepeatable, they are unre-
peatable in very different senses. A historic situation is unre-
peatable, because it is that historic situation, to be set apart
from all the similar ones of the type to which it belongs. There
can be five million men growing a beard, each capable of as-
serting, outwardly or inwardly, “I am growing a beard”. These
are separate assertions. Each man makes his own assertion just
as much as he grows his own beard. They are all distinct. But
the sentence, “I am growing a beard”, is unrepeatable, because
there is nothing to repeat. It is but one sentence slicing through
all its millions of uses. It is a stereotype.
Notably, this is the exact same analogue with the function of
a general name, e.g. “cat”. There is but one general name for
accomodating all the cats, abstract enough to accomodate all
cats. This is why it is general, referring to a type of animal and
not to a historic instance of one—an instantiated cat. When I
use the name (again), I am using one name, the same name, not
a new name for every cat. It is exactly the same with “This Is
Yours”, the unrealized possibility. It is itself one, while its ac-
tual recipients are many. And when One can apply to Many—
the element of generality—it attests to the presence of the sen-
tence “This Is Yours”, even if its name is not spoken. In im-
porting past, similar uses matching the case, the arguer is im-
porting invariance, a type of situation, not the historic situa-
tion, to which, in fact, the right thing, “this is yours”, was never
correlated. He is appealing to a stereotype, not to its current
sample. He cannot escape the Sentence. And once the sentence
is admitted, and it has a meaning, all that it has is a meaning.
Sense (3) cannot keep company with the Sentence. Whence
The reason why it is absurd to tell us not to attend to the
meaning of expressions but to concentrate on their use, is per-
fectly simple: it is that the notion of use, as it ordinarily exists
and is used, presupposes the notion of meaning—in its central
and paradigmatic sense—and that it cannot be used to elucidate
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
the latter, and much less to replace or to do duty for it (Findlay,
1976: p. 118; first italics the author’s).
So, to Sense (5)’s dismay, there can be a use without a
meaning, as I have already indicated on several occasions,
Lewis Epstein seconding the motion. I have shown Sense (3) to
be a falsehood, in fact a logical falsehood. Nor could it be any-
thing else, since it is inconsistent with one of the most ele-
mentary facts of semantics, the distinction between Sentence
and Statement. And when Sense (3) is refuted, so are least
Senses (4) and (5), the former because it is not use, which de-
termines the meaning, but the converse, the latter, because there
can be use devoid of meaning-which is a use.
Whatever else relates to these Senses which have just been
refuted, though I certainly have a quarrel with, is not a quarrel I
care to pursue further.13 The essentials of my case have been
unveloped and the impact, if there, can be worked out on its
own. The quarrel that I will pursue, the last remaining in my list
of priorities, is the one dictated by my current focus of atten-
tion, Use, in the form, however, of changing use. For if mean-
ing reduces to use, and use is variant, meaning is variant.
However, if, as argued, meaning does not reduce to use, and
use is variant, then, not only is meaning in variant; but, in addi-
tion, variance will no longer keep up with the meaning. Vari-
ance will be meaningless (though variety will not). In short, if
Meaning is distinct from Use and Use subject to income-
men-surability, incommensurable uses will be meaningless.
Invariance and Variety: Locution and Illocution
Consider the following four possibilities:
1) George borrowed the car yesterday (Not John).
2) George borrowed the car yesterday (He did not steal it).
3) George borrowed the car yesterday (Not the motorbike).
4) George borrowed the car yesterday (Not today).
By suitably shifting the emphasis each time I can produce
four definitely divergent senses, modeled upon one and the
same “paradigmatic material”, as Findlay would call it. Senses
sufficiently divergent to allow Dretske to call them contrastive
(1972: p. 411ff) but still such, as leading him to conclude that,
“a contrastive difference between expressions is not itself a
genuine semantical difference” [422]. My sentiments exactly.
There is, to be precise, no difference to be found in their sen-
tential content. They are one and all variations of a single sen-
tence.14 The (invariant), “George borrowed the car yesterday”.
And they are one and all jointly verifiable by that same state of
affairs: George borrowed ... & c. What I have done by shifting
the emphasis [Austin, 1986, 74], is to produce different, albeit
subordinate meanings, out of it by assigning to each of them a
particular, varying force. An “illocutionary force”, as Austin
called it. But before illocution there has to come locution, his
primitive point of departure:
We first distinguished a group of things we do in saying
something, which together we summed up by saying we per-
form a “locutionary act”, which is roughly equivalent to utter-
ring a sentence with a certain sense and a certain reference,
which again is roughly equivalent to meaning in the traditional
sense (Austin, 1986: p. 109).
To perfom a locutionary act, then, is to “roughly”15 construct
a sentence, already made potentially available by the language.
(What Chomsky would call “the logical space of possible
senses” [Katz, 1979: p. 362]). The locutionary act is the medi-
ating stage between language, the sum total of possible sen-
tences, and “the use of language” (Findlay, 1976: p. 116), when
the possibles are turned to actuals by particular speakers in
particular speech situations. Then, the next stage appears, the
illocutionary act, which relates the previous, and thereby indi-
rectly the sentence as such, with the specific needs and re-
quirements of the case at hand, that is to say, “the context”. For
Austin it is essential for verbal communication to be laid out in
the open in all its possible, unveiled senses, how the meaning is
to be taken, otherwise severe misunderstandings may occur.
I hear that my fourteen year old nephew solved a particularly
difficult problem of differential calculus. I say to him, “Tom,
how could you?!” This may be either an expression of admira-
tion or one of disbelief, i.e. of two very different illocutionary
forces, that may so far commonly attend my utterrance. Unless
they are untangled, my nephew won’t be in a position to know,
whether I’m praising or doubting him. But perhaps, as Russell
said, we should be able to do better than just discuss “what silly
people say to one another”. So here is a case of philosophical
significance. We are at the front line of cars at the traffic light,
and my wife, sitting next to me, tells me: “The light turned
green!”. The locutionary act performed is just that. Namely,
that the traffic light has turned green. But the illocutionary act
performed is, “start the car!”. A tremendous difference, by all
accounts. The illocutionary content has now departed consid-
erably from the sentence, “the light turned green”. Yet just how
far has it departed? If the “totality of the speech situation”, as
Austin used to call it, is taken into account, containing all ad-
ditional nonverbal conventions of relevance, in this case the
convention that a green light “means” to start the car, we imme-
diately realize that, if communication is to at all occur, namely,
if my wife is to also perform a successful perlocutionary act, I
must know what a green light means. Her illocutionary act will
be successful, and will get me to start the car, if her locutionary
act is true. The light did turn green. Hence, despite the transi-
tory leap in meaning, the truth conditions joining the parts of
the incident are the same:
13I care not , b ecause it i s p ointless . “ Language games ” i s a notion peculiar t o
the philosophy of one man, not a fact of semantics. Even in the places where
it seems useful to introduce it, it is still a postulate for explaining certain
facts, not itself one. It is far too elusive and intangible to be one and I am not
compelled to acknowledge its presence, though I might perhaps “note” it.
Diverging uses, resemblances, contexts and incommensurability, on the
other hand, a r e authentic linguistic phenomena, as tangible a s ho t ir on and as
hazardous to be close to. These therefore do exist, which is not to say that
they should. And when both of the latter obtain, one needs to do something
about it. But I can do little with ghosts, such as language games. I could
suggest that, i f ther e at all, t hey cou ld per haps share a f amily resem
with our common language. Or that they are just borderline cases between
having a language and not having one, given they satisfy criteria from both
ends. After all, meaning may be a quantity, rather than a quality, as all se-
manticist s presume, and hence s uch that there can be too little or too much
of, rather than all of it or nothing. That idea would unite all these issues and
throw them in to relief.
14This sentence comprises the whole point I’m trying to make. The rest are
but implied deployments of it.
15Roughly, because, strictly speaking, sentences are not actually uttered by
any one. They are just there. They are made actual by the inaugural, locu-
tionary act, which occurs at a post-sentential but a pre-assertive stage.
For some years we have been realizing more and more
clearly that the occasion of an utterrance matters seriously, and
that the words used are to some extent to be “explained” by the
“context” in which they are designed to be or have actually
been spoken in a linguistic interchange [...]. Admittedly, we can
use “meaning” also with reference to illocutionary force. But I
want to distinguish meaning and force (Austin, 1986: p. 100;
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 57
quotes the author’s).
This is because “the act of saying something in the full nor-
mal sense I call the performance of a locutionary act.” (op.cit.
94). It is the performance of a locutionary act which counts,
according to Graham, as “say ing something in the central and ba-
sic sense of “say”, in the sense that a human being can and a parrot
or a tape recorder cannot, say something” (1977: p. 87). And, in
designing the topography of the entire speech act landscape,
“from the three provinces which constitute the domain of
meaning” W. Cerf nominates locution as the capital (1969: p.
353). The words of Austin, Graham and Cerf combined is all
you need for seeing, what meaning is and what use is. The
words are to some extent to be “explained” by the “context” in
which they occur, but there’s no way that their meaning can be
reduced to it. Use is secondary and subordinate, meaning is pri-
mary and primitive. Foundations are out, said Nielsen, the
ideological version of later Wittgenstein, and there are no time-
less answers, the ones that hurt a servant of History the most.
Of course there are not, if you don’t listen (Or think).
Variations introduced by context or use, in being side prod-
ucts, as it were, of meaning in its central, in its “full, normal
sense”,16 cannot defy their origin in the ways that we have been
accustomed to passively register, or “note”, after all the meth-
odic conditioning that conceptual reformists have put us th-
rough. They have no life of their own:
No other philosopher maintaining that the meaning of a word
is its use has explicitly equated the use of a sentence with the
set of the illocutionary acts that can be performed by it. I offer a
number of considerations which indicate strongly that the claim
that the theory of illocutionary acts, unsupplemented by seman-
tic information, can be used to explain the meaning of all, or
most, words, is false (Holdcroft, 1976: p. 169).
Quite. For what all the previous examples and comments
unequivocally establish, is that illocutionary deviations can
never transcend the semantic scope generically contained in
the original, locutionary content. That is, ultimately, the sen-
tence. Innovations may only be compatible with the nucleus. If
not, they will simply produce nonsense. Side products is all
they are, and only the descriptivist bias and its motivations
(now known), have raised them to the level of fait accomplit,
like the earth quakes in California, that the natives, us(!), must
learn to live with. They are variations, not variances, and far
less are they the mutations that revolutionaries of all persua-
sions have hailed them to be.
“The progress of our knowledge may lead to conceptual re-
visions, whose occurrence refutes the invariance of meaning”,
says Feyerabend. Just like that. But in order to refute it, it must,
first, be incompatible with it. And incompatibility between our
views does not eo ipso entail that it is your side, which will
come out victorious. Occurrence alone has been proved tragic-
cally feeble to the task (As has the author). His descriptivist
“justification” that, after all, the meaning of every word we use
depends on the context in which it occurs, has been shown false.
It is, in point of fact, the other way round. So what remains is
the incompatibility just. The refutation actually goes the other
way. If aberrant usage is to produce samples that transcend the
limits of the primary, locutionary content, and it does, occur-
rence and “context” alone will hardly suffice to excuse it.
We do, unfortunately, encounter changes of the kind, “I have
discovered a forest with out trees!”, triumphantly announced by
the putative discoverers (see Epstein’s two and their “moving
by staying put”), and we encounter them more and more as time
goes by. It is the thing of the times. And once we dare presume
to point out, that there have to be trees, if there ever was a for-
est, reformers like Feyerabend come around to remind us that,
“forest” actually meant “trees” before the discovery was made!
Now that it has, it has obviously changed these meanings. It’s
there, so it has to be right, and who are we to say any different?
For “such criticism silently assumes the principle of meaning
invariance and cannot therefore be accepted as valid”. His reply,
presumably, can.
And so we finally come to conservatism or, what is the same
thing, the power of criteria. Here D. J. Angluin holds Austin’s
“mistake” to be the result of a theory which thinks that all lan-
guage, if discourse is to have any sense—is criteria governed
[...], at the expense of understaning how we can change the
criteria for a thing’s being an S through argument. Without this
understanding, linguistic change seems to be quite inexplicable,
not clearly rational, somehow ocurring outside language” (1974:
p. 60).
Starting from the end, I would think that it is change, if any-
thing, which comes from the outside, not the constancy of lan-
guage, when not externally challenged. Other than that, An-
gluin’s account of Austin’s position is certainly very accurate,
independently of the author’s private perspective, i.e. whether
or not this position is a mistake. And, when compared with my
own preceding remarks from the beginning of this section, it
testifies to the consistency, if to nothing else, of Austin’s posi-
tion, plus to its conditional validity, to say the least: If there are
such things as criteria (if discourse is to have any meaning),
then change will appear inexplicable, that is, without any ra-
tional justification (See Epstein again). So I guess the whole
issue hangs over the question, whether it is criteria, or the
changes, that we really cannot do without. Yet one thing is
certain here. Criteria have a natural resistance to change.
Austin’s conservatism has been duly spotted by several
commentators, sometimes called conceptual, which it is, some-
times linguistic, which it is as well, sometimes critically, some-
times apologetically, though, predictably, never supportively
(See Graham, 1977; Pears, 1969: p. 51, respectively). The same
conservatism has been at times attributed to Wittgenstein also,
but from what little of him I understand, the appellation can
only be marginally defensible in his case, and a marginal de-
fense is tantamount to a practical withdrawal; there is hardly a
philosophy without some element of conservatism. It would be
alien, not just novel, if it had none. By contrast, the evidence
for conceptual instability in it is abundant. The idea of family
resemblances alone, which licenses the extension of a general
name, e.g. “art”, over empty frames (Lynton, 1980: p. 332) and
single colour surfaces (LucieSmith, 1977: p. 86), namely, ob-
jects of visibly antithetic constitution, attests to the fact that it
not only encourages radical conceptual change as such but, to
some people, changes so vast, that they invite chaos and the
downfall of worth. Midgley, viewing these resemblances as “an
idle17 concept, if there ever was one”, is led to conclude that, by
its mediation, “a concept falls to pieces as, indeed, the concept
of Art has already done” (1974: pp. 252-253). It is odd to deny
that this scheme of things is any other than revolutionary. And
when it comes to a comparable behaviour of language games,
16Notice the similarity of this view, as it has been developed from the words
of Austi n , wi th Pl at o’s theo r y of i d eas. Senten ces ar e t h e perennial prototype
and illocutionary deviations their temporal ( material) copies.
17I disagree. Famil y res emblances are n ot id le, as sh e claims. Th ey are let hal
Look at what she says happened to a concept but a few words b elow.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Wittgenstein himself is pretty straightforward of their multi-
plicity in both space and time and, hence, of their incessant flux.
[1968, 11e].18 Shiner compares Wittgenstein to Heraclitus.
[1974, 191ff] Austin was a conservative, for, at depth, he was a
rationalist (or a Platonist). Wittgenstein was not, because he
was not.
But one needs to do better, than just pinpoint and count the
differences between them. One needs to give a reason, why
conservatism should not be dismissed as madness without its
share of a fair hearing. So far as I can see, rigid criteria can be
threatened by two factors; one, the factual occurrence of a
meaning change, which I have already dismissed as sufficient,
or plain coherent; two, borderline cases, namely, cases of con-
flicting criteria, such as, say, a pyrrhean victory, which comes
close to a defeat. There are countless similar cases, where the
integrity and the unity of a concept seem to be immediately
called into question. For it cannot be that criteria, especially
distinguishing criteria, be reliable, and still fail to do their job,
right when they should. But this is only illusory.
For were borderline cases to form the standpoint for launch-
ing an attack against criteria, a common fallacy, then the bor-
derline case could no longer be contrasted to the two other,
typical and antithetic, norms at all, with the immediate cones-
quence of eliminating all three. For if criteria are abolished,
then the class distinction between A and –A, of which this case
is a borderline, will cease to exist or, at any rate, cease being
sharp enough to have a border. A will no longer be A nor –A,
–A, if their criteria are tampered with. And then the border
between them will itself evapourate, taking the borderline case
with it. Borderline cases are to be contrasted to the typical cases,
if to be their border-lines, for they have to be told apart from
both, as apart, indeed, as “true” and “false” are to be told apart
from “neither”. The occasion of a pyrrhean victory will not go
to show, that there are no such things as victory and defeat. In
short, erase the criteria behind an antithesis and the entire bor-
derline-case argument could not even be stated.
It would therefore at this point be pedantic to enquire, what
each man thought of criteria and their overall survival poten-
tial.19 Characteristically, Wittgenstein notoriously denies that
criteria can be effectively distinguished from mere symptoms
(1978: pp. 24-25) and Austin denies that very conclusion, re-
marking that “to say that we only get at the signs or symptoms
of anything is to imply that we never get at it” [1976: p. 107;
his italics], that we have no safer access to the nature of things.
His view on this is that, “when we talk of ‘signs of a storm’ [..]
we do not mean a storm on top of us” [106; his italics]. To fi-
nally stress that “once you know the murderer, you don’t get
any more clues”! [ibid] Those who hurry to use him as a foot-
note to Wittgenstein’s work are simply victims of their own
disinterest in him and so of their ignorance of his real views.
On Realism: Conclusion
Wittgenstein’s dismissal of definitions, leaving the speaker
unarmed in all sorts of linguistic limbo he is then likely to en-
counter, can only mean that each will solve his resulting speech
dilemmas on his own devices. Then the coincidence of his solu-
tion with that of the others can only be just that; a coincidence.
Now definitions, if available, prevent one thing, if they prevent
anything. The private reaching of a conclusion on how to speak
next. Definitions, if there, are public. Family resemblances (by
definition) private. And Wittgenstein is said to have demolished
the idea of a private language altogether. Is this an inconsis-
tency, or a sign of a deeper plan at work? It is, in fact, a little bit
of both. The private language attack has been frequently re-
ceived as the epitome of objectivism, if not indeed of realism,
and, certainly, of “cognitivism” (Lear, 1983: p. 39), a view
which is as debatable and risky, as the enthusiasm itself with
which the “attack” was greeted.
Wittgenstein’s alleged exposure of the “impossibility” of
erecting piecemeal a language of one’s own, consistently nam-
ing one’s private sensations without cross-reference with common
use (but is this not the very thing, which the “resemblances”
above do imply?), though certainly a rejection of linguistic
solipsism, is hardly a celebration of objectivity, much less of
realism. It is, in fact, but a sample of group subjectivism. In
other words, of the social formation of our concepts. Hence,
though hardly consonant with his contempt for definitions, this
notion is certainly subject to the wider plan at work. According
to Kripke (as quoted by Shanker).
First, Wittgensein unleashes a powerful sceptical attack on
the concept of rule-following, and, second, that he does so in
order to encourage us to adopt an anti-realist, “community-
view” of rule following (Shanker, 1986: p. 176).
Precisely. The view is anti-realist because it is communal,
and vice versa. What Wittgenstein’s said assault essentially
forbids, is the possibility of one’s private contact with reality.
“Reality” is a public affair, thus to be accessed only via a
(pre-existing) public language and therefore inaccessible to the
private speaker twice over. Once, because, if a private lan-
guage is dismissed, the already existing public language will
inevitably mediate between the speaker and his sensations, thus
subduing and assimilating them to an already formed linguistic
plan; twice, because it is the public use, which will hence dic-
tate his linguistic decisions. It is therefore anything but a mys-
tery, that Bloor comes to see in Wittgenstein a figure “remorse-
less in stressing the priority of society over the individual(!)”
[1983: p. 1], a most astonishing result for any semantic theory,
if there ever was one, though certainly revealing. And as one
that “treated cognition as something that is social in its very es-
sense”. This is the message of Sense (5) in all its untainted
glory, the title itself of Bloor’s book paying tribute to it. This is
really the place, where epistemology yields in to social hero-
For my part, I completely fail to be impressed by this cele-
brated argument. It is, in fact, one of the surest samples of cir-
cular reasoning that one could point to. Why, indeed, cannot the
private-language owner do follow his self-initiated, private
rules of speech and meticulously observe them from now on
without so much as a single instant of indecision? Without ever
losing track of them? He could, if a private language was pos-
sible, couldn’t he? In fact, were one such possible, he would be
in perfect position to accomplish each single one of the linguis-
tic feats, which Wittgenstein (circularly) denies him, in the
finest of styles. For, if to have a language is eo ipso to know
how to obey its rules, to have a private language is, eo ipso, to
18Incidentally, he says some strange things there about sentences too, [§23],
and in §21 some stranger things yet: “‘that such-and-such is the case’ is no
a sentence in our languag e, so far it is not a move(!) in the language-game”. T h e
est I can make of this, is that he refuses to regard the sentence as something
separate from a “move” in a game. i.e. a use, and if that’s not a vast differ-
ence between him and Aus ti n, and truth, I know not wha t i s.
19This is Bake r’ s concept of “defeas ibility” [1986, 1 98: p. 221], the ability o
criteria to survive their violations and make a perpetual comeback. The
victory of Pyrrhus has survided its own for two thousand years now. And
will continue doin g so indefinitely.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 59
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
know how to obey its rules. Hence, if he cannot privately fol-
low a rule, this is because he cannot have a... private language
in the first place! Which is the very point in question. So much,
then, for this unduly glorified piece of circularity, and its al-
leged refutation of the possibility of one’s bare, uncontami-
nated confrontation with the facts (the world), as delivered via
his own sensations.
Austin, again at odds with Wittgenstein, is quite straightfor-
ward both as concerns inner life itself (Weinzeig, 1977: p. 143;
Austin, 1950) and the correlative testimony it affords regard-
ing one’s direct experience. He firmly holds truth to be corre-
spondence with the facts, “the rather boring yet satisfactory
relation between words and world” [1976: p. 133], that coher-
ence theories fall short of correspondence ones [130], and that
“the world must exhibit similarities and dissimilarities”, for
otherwise, “there would be nothing to say” [121], the world
setting the prototypes of our verbal categories. Finally, that “to
say that something is a fact is, at least in part, to say it is some-
thing in the world” [158; first italics Austin’s]. This, so far as
the natural, uncontrived view of matters goes, and when other
priorities do not take over:
Knowledge, as much as its next of kin, truth, is a relation
between a statement and the world. Not a relation between
ourselves. I do not require the presence of other men, in order
to make sure that the stone, if unsupported, falls to the ground,
unless the stone is assumed to behave differently, when they are
present. If thats what common consensus boils down to, it is
best ignored. Cross-reference with their own findings is, at best,
a form of intersubjective verification, a securing of its public
acceptance. Not a generation by fiat of what the acceptance is
an acceptance of. For if that part were absent, no public accep-
tance or fiat of any kind could put it there.
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