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Who was John Wisdom?

Arthur John Terrence Dibben Wisdom (1904-1993) was educated at Cambridge University and became a professor there in 1952. His early work was on Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and logical atomism, but under Ludwig Wittgenstein's

You may think it's obvious that other people have minds just as you do, but for philosophers this notion is not so easily proven (iStock).

You may think it's obvious that other people have minds just as you do, but for philosophers this notion is not so easily proven (iStock).

(1889-1951) influence he began a project of examining different approaches toward philosophical problems. Wisdom's publications in that area include Other Minds (1952), Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (1953), and Paradox and Discovery (1964).

Wisdom discursively reflected on why philosophers say and write "very strange things," and refuted skepticism about the existence of other minds. Wisdom brought the discussion of the "other minds problem" into twentieth century analytic contexts by ruling out the possibility of direct knowledge of other minds and at the same time showing why the claim that our knowledge is restricted to momentary sensations does not hold up. Overall, he argued that philosophers have always relied on the use of language and that there are historical precedents in philosophy for deciding when language gets the main subjects of philosophy right, as well as wrong.

Wisdom thought that the main subjects of philosophy were categories of being in reality and kinds of statements in language. He held that relevant distinctions within these subjects were implicit in language. He is also the author of Philosophical Papers (1962).

Who was J.L. Austin?

John Langshaw (J.L.) Austin (1911-1960) was educated in the classics at Oxford and served in military intelligence during World War II. He was appointed White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford University in 1952, and he also visited at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley. Austin did not think that all philosophical problems were the results of confusions about language, but he referred to ordinary speech for important distinctions. In Sense and Sensibilia (edited from his lecture notes in 1962), Austin attacked the sense-data theory on the grounds that we do not perceive sense data, but real objects.

Austin is best remembered for his performative theory of certain types of language. For example, saying "I promise," or "I do" in a wedding ceremony, constitutes the actions of promising and marrying someone. While everybody knows such things in common sense, previous theories of language had not attended to this performative function. He further elaborated his theory of speech with the following distinctions among what he called "forces" in speech: locutionary forces are associated with meaning, illocutionary with intention, and perlocutionary with the consequences of saying certain things.

Who was H.P. Grice?

H. Paul Grice (1913-1988) is most famous for his doctrine of conversational implica-ture that he introduced in 1968. This doctrine was developed as a logical thesis about the "if-then" conditional, but its applications to understanding linguistic usage go beyond its original technical purpose. Grice demonstrated that the meanings of words used in sentences, and the sentences themselves, are highly dependent on the context of utterance, as well as certain rules of cooperation in speech. These rules include: be informative, do not be more informative than required, do not state what you know is false, do not state what you have no evidence for, be relevant, do not be obscure, do not be ambiguous, do not use more words than you must, and observe order.

When speakers break one or more of these rules, the result is that what speakers say is not always equivalent to the literal meaning of their words. For example, if a speaker is asked how a play was and responds that the furniture used in the set was very nice, this irrelevance will imply a negative judgment of the play.

Grice developed his speech theory with considerable complexity, and it is of interest to logicians and analysts of language. Grice was thus was able to demonstrate the existence of a lot of linguistic structure—with possibilities for neatly implied alternative meanings in contexts of conversation. This was a huge setback to the confidence of ordinary language analysts that meandering investigations of overlapping linguistic practices could yield stable meanings for certain words. Grice showed that meaning depends on context. But on the other hand, Grice's work emphasizes the complexity of ordinary language as life practices, similar to self contained games, like baseball, but unlike baseball, capable of adding meaning to the most important events in our existence. Grice's writings have been collected and published as Philosophical Grounds of Rationality (1986), Studies in the Ways of Words (1989), and Aspects of Reason (2001).

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