New book: Avner Baz’s “When Words Are Called For: A Defense of Ordinary Language Philosophy”

Here’s a long-awaited but only recently published book that most readers of this blog will likely want to read: When Words Are Called For: A Defense of Ordinary Language Philosophy (Harvard Univ. Press), written by Avner Baz (Philosophy, Tufts University).

Here is the press’ description of the book, and below that two endorsements:

A new form of philosophizing known as ordinary language philosophy took root in England after the Second World War, promising a fresh start and a way out of long-standing dead-end philosophical debates. Pioneered by Wittgenstein, Austin, and others, OLP is now widely rumored, within mainstream analytic philosophy, to have been seriously discredited, and consequently its perspective is ignored.

Avner Baz begs to differ. In When Words Are Called For, he shows how the prevailing arguments against OLP collapse under close scrutiny. All of them, he claims, presuppose one version or another of the very conception of word-meaning that OLP calls into question and takes to be responsible for many traditional philosophical difficulties. Worse, analytic philosophy itself has suffered as a result of its failure to take OLP’s perspective seriously. Baz blames a neglect of OLP’s insights for seemingly irresolvable disputes over the methodological relevance of “intuitions” in philosophy and for misunderstandings between contextualists and anti-contextualists (or “invariantists”) in epistemology. Baz goes on to explore the deep affinities between Kant’s work and OLP and suggests ways that OLP could be applied to other philosophically troublesome concepts.

When Words Are Called For defends OLP not as a doctrine but as a form of practice that might provide a viable alternative to work currently carried out within mainstream analytic philosophy. Accordingly, Baz does not merely argue for OLP but, all the more convincingly, practices it in this eye-opening book.

The effort of this book in defense of ordinary language philosophy will have a more positive effect on the field of philosophy than any other theoretical defense of the practice that I am aware of. This book has a chance to bring distinct new interest to some of the most interesting (and I hope permanently inspiring) moments of advance in philosophy over the course of the past six or seven decades.  —Stanley Cavell, Harvard University

Austin, Wittgenstein and the so-called ‘ordinary language’ tradition in philosophy are at risk of being lost. Not because they have fallen prey to clinching philosophical arguments, but because for over twenty-five years they have suffered from caricature, dogmatism, neglect, and all-too-facile dismissal by those who would pronounce their teachings dead for contemporary philosophy. Baz has written a courageous, lucid, trenchant, and provocative book, reopening the issue and developing a new outlook on the tradition’s value and prospects. It is filled with questions about history, argumentation, and philosophical method that need answering. If I had to recommend one text showing how fundamental questions of philosophical method still lie at the heart of the analytic tradition, it would be this one.  —Juliet Floyd, Boston University

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