Here is a paper I began in the summer of 2000, intending to write a little discussion note for Åbo Akademi's philosophy research seminar, and finished in April 2001, when it had turned into this leviathan — owing to my getting progressively more interested in its subject matter as I wrote. Nevertheless, I'm still not completely satisfied with it, so any comments (laudatory or condemnatory) would be welcome.

Addition: A version of the paper was published, titled "Ernest Gellner's Criticisms of Wittgenstein and Ordinary Language Philosophy," in Gavin Kitching & Nigel Pleasants (eds.), Marx and Wittgenstein: Knowledge, Morality and Politics (London: Routledge, 2002).

The Strange Death of Ordinary Language Philosophy

T. P. USCHANOV, Department of Philosophy, University of Helsinki

The Concept of Mind is one of those books that is often cited by people who haven’t read it but
read about it, and think they know what is in it. They have read that it epitomizes two woefully
regressive schools of thought that flourished unaccountably in mid-century but are now utterly
discredited: Ordinary Language Philosophy and Behaviourism. Yes, and imbibing alcohol will
lead you inexorably to the madhouse and masturbation will make you go blind. Don’t believe it.
— Daniel C. Dennett (2000: xiv)

But ordinary language is all right.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein (1958: 28)


Which book criticizing certain developments in post-war analytic philosophy won favours from both Karl Popper and the Soviet Union, moved I. A. Richards to write a poem, inspired British situation comedy, caused an angry month-long correspondence in the Times, was the subject of concerned editorials in both that paper and the Economist, and still strikes sparks today? The Structure of Scientific Revolutions? Naming and Necessity? Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature? None of these. It was in fact Words and Things by the Czech anthropologist Ernest Gellner (1925–1995), a book that caused a heated worldwide controversy on its first publication in 1959, but is practically forgotten nowadays. Words and Things is a vehement attack on the style of philosophizing known as "linguistic philosophy," "Oxford analysis" or, most often, "ordinary language philosophy" — I will henceforth call it OLP for short. OLP was identified mainly with British analytic philosophers of the last mid-century and more specifically those at the University of Oxford. Its chief practitioners were regarded to be such philosophers as Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), Gilbert Ryle (1900–1976), J. L. Austin (1911–1960), P. F. Strawson (1919–), Paul Grice (1913–1988) and John Wisdom (1904–1993). From the late 1940s to the early 1960s OLP was an integral part of the mainstream of analytic philosophy; as Stephen Mulhall (1994: 444) has pointed out, when a leading introductory textbook of the era spoke simply of "contemporary philosophy," it was OLP that was being referred to.1 Currently, however, OLP is not generally viewed as a legitimate intellectual option for philosophers, analytic or otherwise. In fact it’s safe to say that, with the possible exception of Bergson’s and Driesch’s vitalism, OLP is the most deeply unfashionable of all the main currents of twentieth-century Western philosophy. It has fallen victim to what Stan Godlovitch has called philosophy’s equivalent of "re-touching family photos, old Kremlin-style" (2000: 6). The present paper is argued from a historiographical position voiced candidly by Martin Kusch — "re-writing of history has a bad press as far as political events are concerned; there is no reason why we should tolerate it in our philosophical history" (1996: 95).2 It is my view that the way in which OLP has been written out of history in recent decades is largely the result of Gellner’s widespread influence, and what I aim at is a reassessment of the background, nature and scope of his impact.

I have three reasons for attempting such a task. First, there have been very few studies of what made once lively intellectual milieus and climates disappear.3 The history of ideas and the sociology of knowledge have hitherto concentrated almost exclusively on the success and propagation of ideas, not their failure and erasure. This has led to forgetting of the fact that victors write the histories in intellectual history as well as political history, and therefore source criticism is often conspicuously lacking when historians of ideas treat schools of thought that failed to maintain their legitimation. With a few exceptions (e. g. Francks 1985; Candlish 1989; McCarty 1995), the historiography of philosophy has not paid any significant attention to the role of hostile caricatures in discrediting philosophers and their ideas (except perhaps in the atypical case of Aristophanes’s lampooning of Socrates). I hope to demonstrate that showing an opponent’s accusations to be caricatures can constitute as extensive and agile a form of philosophical criticism as looking for straightforward factual errors or logical fallacies in them.

Second, I think that Words and Things is a very bad book and that its influence has been almost totally deleterious. I agree completely with Antony Flew’s assessment that it is not only a "juvenile work" displaying "fundamental frivolousness and irresponsibility" (1984: 77), but also "the immediate or ultimate source of innumerable slick and ignorant put-downs in the subsequent literature" (1986: 95). In my opinion Gellner’s criticisms of OLP are for the most part unjustified, and even when this isn’t the case, the point would have been better off being made without his smarmy sensationalism. Stephen Mulhall has interestingly suggested that "the need to reject or transcend [OLP] far outweighed the capacity to provide good grounds for so doing, and so resulted in a form of collective projection coupled with collective amnesia" (1994: 445). Even if chances of reviving OLP on a grand scale are slim, by curing part of that amnesia I hope to take some tentative steps to clean the name of a period in which, in P. F. Strawson’s words, "the gains and advances in philosophical understanding made … were probably as great as any that have been made in a comparably short time in the history of the subject" (1998: 12).

Third, familiarity with the influence of Words and Things is important if one wants to understand many aspects of the reception history of Wittgenstein, the one philosopher attacked by Gellner who is still generally considered one of the true greats of Western philosophy. Even if, per impossibile, all the writings of all other practitioners of OLP should turn out to be worthless, it would still be interesting to demonstrate how the reception of Wittgenstein reflects the influence of Gellner’s attack. In hindsight, the influence of an instantly recognizable (if often tacit) style of Wittgensteinian misinterpretation, exploited by thinkers as diverse as Herbert Marcuse, Karl Popper, Jürgen Habermas and Gilles Deleuze, can be seen largely to trace back to Gellner’s polemic. It is also a key source of a rhetorical style of arguing against Wittgenstein that almost every Wittgensteinian thinker regularly finds himself confronted with.

The content of Gellner’s book

One of the first things that strike the reader of Words and Things is Gellner’s extreme rudeness. Hardly a paragraph goes by without some invective being used. Like Alan Sokal did recently in the aftermath of his hoax article, Gellner used essentially populist rhetorical strategies. He ingeniously exploited the general public’s fascination with embarrassment and ridicule when attacking a philosophy perceived as disastrous. His book exudes through its every pore the sense that OLP is not only useless, but evil and dangerous. Words like "evasion," "insinuation," "camouflage" and "dishonesty," especially the former two, occur on practically every page. Characteristic chapter headings include "The Cult of the Fox," "The Bait and the Trap," "The Turn of the Screw," "The Prayer-Wheel," "Philosophy by Filibuster," "Saladin’s Fork," "The Indian Rope Trick" and "The Narodniks of North Oxford". Another feature of the book is the making of numerous negative existential statements: no practitioners of OLP own up to their mistakes, they never refuse to use such-and-such an invalid argument, and so on. (As we shall see, this makes many of Gellner’s claims extremely easy to falsify by means of counterexamples.)

According to Gellner, the "four pillars" on which OLP stands are:

1. The paradigm case argument: language proves, for example, that tables must exist, since we use the word "table" often and with apparent success. In its paradigm actual usages a concept must be correctly applied, for what else could it mean? (Gellner 1959: 30–37).

2. The generalized version of the naturalistic fallacy: linguistic norms and recommendations can legitimately be inferred from currently accepted usage (Gellner 1959: 37–40).

3. The contrast theory of meaning: any meaningful term must have both a possible example and a possible counterexample. There must be something a term does not cover. Contrastless concepts are meaningless, because nothing could conceivably count as their refutation (Gellner 1959: 40–44).

4. Polymorphism: a logically homogeneous "ideal language" is impossible, since every language includes concepts subject to family resemblance and other aspects of the irreducible diversity of language. What were thought to be homonyms are actually different meanings of the same concept. Any general models of languages are impossible (Gellner 1959: 44–50).

Gellner’s most famous objection to OLP, which he claims must follow from the pillars, is that OLP is deeply conservative. It defers to the linguistic habits of the boorish common man; it tends to preserve the social status quo and belittle the significance of social problems; and it can only exist in a closed system such as the social world of the University of Oxford, "being of its essence an ivory tower pursuit" (Gellner 1959: 235). According to Gellner, OLP "is conservative in the values which it in fact insinuates … not specifically conservative … but conservative in a general, unspecific way. It … concentrates on showing that the reasons underlying criticisms of accepted habits are in general mistaken" (1959: 224–225). Furthermore, Gellner argues that "in terms of its own account of its nature and purposes" OLP is "unintelligible to anyone of a practical orientation" (1959: 246), and the practitioners of its methods are accordingly portrayed by him as "smug, unintelligent, upper class, superciliously apolitical, unhistorical and anti-scientific" (Cohen 1960: 180).

The reception of Gellner’s arguments

The widespread influence of Words and Things is primarily a function of the way in which a large non-academic public was made aware of it shortly after it was published. The book became a succès de scandale when Ryle wrote to its publishers, Victor Gollancz Ltd, in his capacity as editor of Mind:

You recently sent me a review copy of Words and Things by Ernest Gellner. I am returning it to you (separately) since I shall not have a review of the book in Mind. Abusiveness may make a book saleable, but it disqualifies it from being treated as a contribution to an academic subject.

(Quoted in Russell 1997: 607)

Bertrand Russell, who had written a laudatory introduction to the book, protested this in a letter in the Times, Ryle replied, and the exchange started a controversy finally involving nineteen different correspondents, both the merits of the book and the rightness of Ryle’s decision being contested with equal vigour (Mehta 1983: 1–14; Rée 1993: 15–16; Russell 1997: 605–609).4 The controversy culminated a few weeks later in a solicitous Times leading article (Anonymous 1959c) critical of both sides, although slightly favourable to Gellner. About a month later, the Economist devoted a similarly worried and seemingly impartial editorial to "The Hatreds of Philosophers" the affair had brought to light (Anonymous 1960). For a while, Gellner’s assault seemingly became "the most discussed work of English philosophy since A. J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic" (Cohen 1960: 178); even in Oxford itself, it "was chic … to claim that one had enormously enjoyed this piece of intellectual slapstick" (Anonymous 1973b: 8).

Although Mind did not review Words and Things, many other periodicals did. Most reviewers were of the opinion Mind’s would undoubtedly have been. The most negative estimate was probably Michael Dummett’s view, expressed in the English Dominicans’ journal Blackfriars, that the book didn’t even have "the smell of honest or seriously intentioned work" (1960: 436). Closely behind was Arnold Isenberg’s review in the Journal of Philosophy, which considered the book "tiresome and best left unread," and Gellner himself "one of those philosophers … who seem to think that to lay a rhetorical stress on a distinction between playing with words and dealing with fundamental issues is to deal with fundamental issues" (1961: 110–111). In the Scientific American, Morton White submitted a long list of logical fallacies in Gellner’s arguments, speaking of "the bellicose manners of an angry young philosopher," which were only liable to prevent the fair reception Gellner claimed had been denied his views (1960: 210). In the Philosophical Review Willis Doney, one of the young American philosophers to whom Norman Malcolm had introduced Wittgenstein in 1949, wrote on similar lines, concentrating on Gellner’s treatment of the paradigm case argument (Doney 1962). The unsigned Times Literary Supplement notice5 called Words and Things "an intensely exasperating book to read," again referring to the paradigm case argument (Anonymous 1959b: 682). In Synthese, the scholastic logician Gabriël Nuchelmans accused Gellner of "filling up holes in a preconceived scheme," and of offering an only allegedly sociological analysis that "often reminds one more of a malignant tea-party than of a painstaking scientific study" (1961: 94, 97). The Cambridge Review assigned Words and Things to Geoffrey Warnock, who found it "not at all a sensible book" of "boisterous pamphleteering" that was "an opportunity mis-used," since it did not address the real weaknesses of OLP, concentrating instead on merely debunking the simplified slogans of the movement (1959: 129–131).6

Even philosophers who themselves thought that the hegemony of OLP needed challenging were critical of Gellner’s abusiveness and unsubstantiated allegations. In the New Statesman, Alasdair MacIntyre stated that although Words and Things was "a splendid piece of philosophical polemic which nobody interested in the subject ought to ignore," it is "too terse and schematic to be convincing"; it was also a pity that Gellner did not extend his sociological analysis to the ulterior motives of Russell and his other allies (1959: 597–598). Anthony Quinton, writing in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, shared this last regret, while devoting most of his long review to providing textual counterexamples to Gellner’s specific accusations (Quinton 1961). Marshall Cohen’s review in Commentary suspected Gellner of professional envy towards the holders of prestigious Oxford jobs, suggesting that there was "enough truth in what he might have said for him to have made the effort to say it" (1960: 178). Stephan Körner in the Philosophical Quarterly also welcomed a critical attitude to OLP, but he too found Gellner’s methods faulty and unwarrantedly sweeping: "While disagreeing with much that is fundamental to Wittgenstein’s philosophical position, I have always regarded him as a philosopher of genius. Gellner has not shaken this view or given me any reasons for changing it" (1961: 379). The critical notice of the phenomenologist J. N. Findlay, published in the short-lived Indian Journal of Philosophy, described Gellner as a talented caricaturist, who regrettably "confronts new prejudices with a general appeal to older ones" and "has only contrived to snipe irritatingly at an orderly procession with various types of antique musketry, shooting down the useful and innocent as much as the wicked" (1961: 130, 138). And even A. J. Ayer — a recent victim of an open stonewalling action by Austin and Ryle, who wanted to keep him out of an Oxford chair — was censorious. In his notice in the Spectator, he praised both his nemeses for having achieved genuinely important results, referring to OLP as "an avenue of philosophical progress" which "may have become a blind alley … [b]ut this is not an excuse for imputing frivolity to those who pursue it" (Ayer 1959: 716).

Just about the only philosophical reviewers who were at least as sympathetic as critical were H. B. Acton (1959); the Popperian John Watkins (1960); the Oxford logician William Kneale (1960); and P. L. Heath (1962), the Scottish critic of OLP. Even they invariably complained about the book’s abusive style and made other concessions to Ryle’s viewpoint. The few completely laudatory comments were all by non-philosophers. I. A. Richards wrote to Gellner expressing his "very substantial agreement," enclosing "The Strayed Poet," a poem about Wittgenstein which, he said in another letter, was prompted by his reading Words and Things (Richards 1990: 159–162). Bernard Crick, the political scientist and future biographer of Orwell, made the most of Ryle’s refusal in claiming that there had been an entire "frightened flutter of retreat" away from responding to Gellner’s findings (1960: 103). In the Nation, Hans Meyerhoff and Alvin N. Main also agreed with Gellner’s views totally and praised his "shock therapy," which makes him "as merciless as he is brilliant" (1960: 184, 183). This might have been the minority view among the reviewers, but it quickly became the norm: Words and Things was a success, and established Gellner’s name internationally. Thanks to him, OLP even "received the contemporary equivalent of an official listing as A Funny Thing" (Anonymous 1973b: 8) when Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett wrote the sketch "Words … and Things" for the 1961 comedy revue Beyond the Fringe. In it, an Oxford philosopher claims that he can "quite easily" establish the relevance of OLP to everyday life, but is quickly rendered a laughingstock (Bennett et al. 1963: 51–52). In 1961 and 1962 translations of Words and Things came out in Italy, Spain and the Soviet Union; in 1968 it appeared as a Penguin paperback; and 1979 saw the publication of a second edition with a new introduction.

By then Gellner’s views were established almost as facts of nature, both inside and outside academic philosophy. Many philosophical schools that oppose each other implacably — Popperians, positivists, Marxists, poststructuralists, and so on — agree on one thing: OLP was wrong and its disappearance was a good thing indeed. OLP has become the ultimate "good enemy" in the history of twentieth-century philosophy. Over the years, philosophers have charged it with worshipping "the mid-morning incuriosity and philistinism of the mean sensual man" (Heath 1962: 177); emitting "masochistic twilight of resignation" (Cory 1969: 1115); having been "the Bertie Wooster season in philosophy" (Grene 1995: 55); representing "dinosaur-ism of the deepest dye" (Magee 1997: 53). Critics have spoken of OLP as "a deviation from the true path of philosophy" (Tomlin 1977: 232) and "an aberration" (Mundle 1970: 7) that recommends "giving up the calling of philosophy" (Meyerhoff and Main 1960: 183). Even an admirer recently characterized it as "quaintly passé" and "a soi-disant ‘movement’ that even in its heyday attracted a venom" (Lyas 1996b: 347–348). For a while, the anti-OLP tirade almost seemed to become a separate literary form with its own genre rules (e. g. Cory 1969; Rosen 1969: 1–27; Tomlin 1977; Anderson 1992: 65–70). Geoffrey Warnock notes wryly that "being an ordinary language philosopher seems always to have been something of which one was accused, rather that something which one claimed" (1998: 148). Gellner himself continued his attacks on Wittgenstein and OLP for many decades after his first onslaught. Five years after Words and Things, he published a précis of the book as a chapter in J. H. Plumb’s widely disseminated collection Crisis in the Humanities (Gellner 1964), and in many academic papers and popular essays throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties he repeated his accusations against OLP. As the years passed, Gellner’s estimate of it and Wittgenstein’s work got lower and lower. In the eighties the falsity of Wittgenstein’s ideas was, to him, "probably the single most important fact about the intellectual life of mankind" (1984: 263); by the nineties it had grown to "the single most important fact about the human condition" (1996: 670), and Wittgenstein now "condemns and ignores everything that is important in the history of human intellectual life" (1998: 162), recommending "a collective infantile regression for all mankind" (1992: 123).

A few commentators of Words and Things had already noted how Gellner seemed "like a disappointed man whose fixed idea has suffered a blow" (White 1960: 206); "a harassed man" (Mehta 1983: 39) who came across as "slightly paranoiac" (Quinton 1961: 344). But it is only in his recently published posthumous book, Language and Solitude, that Gellner’s dislike of Wittgenstein and OLP goes beyond mere sensationalism and takes on the contours of a complete Weltanschauung. It includes a seventy-page section on Wittgenstein intended as a definitive statement on the matter of his influence. In the sixties, Gellner claimed that Durkheim had already thought of everything worth preserving in Wittgenstein (1964: 63–66); a decade later, the thinker Gellner proposed to replace OLP with was Collingwood (Anonymous 1973a: 338). In Language and Solitude, it is Malinowski who serves as the good guy in Gellner’s Manichean scheme in which the bad guy is invariably Wittgenstein. But do these accusations, or Gellner’s original ones in Words and Things, have any point? Shortly before his death, Gellner wrote: "A man does not necessarily have the last word on the interpretation of his own thought: his views may imply or presuppose ideas he repudiates, and he may be blind to it. Others must judge whether this has happened to me" (1996: 672). I believe that it happened to him, and in the following discussion I shall try to demonstrate this.

The paradigm case argument

Gellner claims in Words and Things that the paradigm case argument is "absolutely essential to Linguistic Philosophy: it pervades it and it is presupposed without qualification" (1959: 30–31). He selects a tendentious example: Antony Flew’s claim that if someone denies the reality of free will, the paradigm case argument supposedly refutes the claim by invoking the fact that "of one’s free will" is meaningful in ordinary language (Gellner 1959: 31; 1998: 161). Gellner gives the impression that all paradigm case arguments are of this kind. Now Flew undeniably uses the paradigm case argument and thinks that it solves the problem of determinism. But this hardly proves that it is "absolutely essential" to OLP. For example, we have lengthy records of both Wittgenstein’s and Ryle’s lectures on the freedom of the will, and neither of them invokes the paradigm case argument (Wittgenstein 1989; Ryle 1993: 111–145). I, in turn, disagree with all of what Flew says and with most of what Ryle and Wittgenstein say.7 Gellner’s claim about the pervasiveness of the paradigm case argument is thus refuted; that he "devotes only seven unbuttoned pages in an extremely repetitious book to the argument he thinks so crucial" (Cohen 1960: 179) does not help his case either.

Another objection he does present against paradigm cases, which has become a stock response to them, is the case of witches: once upon a time a certain type of an unattractive old woman would have been a paradigm case of a witch, but nobody believes in witchcraft any more. The problem with this kind of objection is that the paradigm case argument is paradigmatically (sic) used in conjunction with invoking conversational implicature. To deny that witches exist is to commit oneself to a debate on whether witches exist; and to claim that witches exist is to make the same commitment; it is "to make one liable to questions about qualifications and reasons that call for at least some sort of answer" (Leiber 1999: 208; cf. Hanfling 2000: 85–89).8 And if a philosopher denies something extremely obvious, such as the existence of middle-sized dry goods, the argument can be used indirectly by pointing out that the philosopher uses many concepts other than "middle-sized dry goods" in a way that tacitly presupposes the dry goods’ existence (Hertzberg 1976: 42–46; Grice 1989: 172; Kitching 1994: 241–244; Hanfling 2000: 77–78). This isn’t analogous to the witch example, since nobody uses language presupposing the existence of witches.

If the paradigm case argument is used "to derive existential truths from the fact that a given expression is, or must be, ostensively defined and learnt" (Hacker 1996: 239), it is indefensible. But this is not its only use. Its main purpose is to remind us of the fact that if we want to, say, deny the reality of free will, the audience we address is liable to raise the issue of ordinary usage, and that we should be prepared for this eventuality, since it is a brute fact that words are taken to have both standard and non-standard uses (Weitz 1953: 231–232). The argument is best used to point out "classic" logical fallacies such as the no-true-Scotsman fallacy: for example, if the members of a group of people entitle the group as an institution to act in the name of its members, a member cannot disclaim the group’s undesirable actions, because it is considered paradigmatic of him to be a member. Or if someone wants to give a clear definition of what would perhaps better be considered a family resemblance concept, he can be reminded of the fact that proposed clear definitions of family resemblance concepts often exclude paradigmatic instances or include paradigmatic anti-instances.9

"Mere words" and the alleged naturalistic fallacy

Gellner’s injunction against inferring linguistic norms from usage is based on the suggestion that if ordinary language is to be the subject matter of philosophy, philosophers should have a training in sociolinguistics and not pretend that their enquiries into language are purely conceptual; otherwise there will be no knowledge, but only a hollow pseudo-sociology (cf. Clammer 1976: 786–788). Outside of Words and Things, the locus classicus of this approach is the rejoinder by Benson Mates (1958) to Stanley Cavell’s defence of the conceptual nature of OLP. In the sixties the approach was developed and used by Chomskyan and other linguists, in whose interests it would have been to refute OLP’s claim not to treat empirical matters (Herdan 1960; Fodor and Katz 1963; New 1966).10 But the point of Cavell’s position, as has been noted many times, is that everyone who speaks a language already has the linguistic instinct to suggest counterexamples to claims about that language (Henson 1965; Richman 1966; Friedman 1969; Bates and Cohen 1972; Lyas 1996a: 189; Kindi 1998; Hanfling 2000: 56–60). Austin, Ryle and Wittgenstein "dialectically exposed their thoughts to an intensely critical and not always friendly philosophical audience, an audience quite capable of reminding them of things they might have overlooked. Those who participated in that dialectical process were perfectly able to engage in confirmation and disconfirmation of claims about the use of words" (Lyas 1996a: 189). And so it should be clear that it is the speakers’ own conflicting linguistic instincts that the exchange of counterexamples primarily tries to chart and reconcile (Grice 1989: 173–176).

And ironically, it is a by-product of the myth that OLP always defers to a majority view that its critics want it to find out the majority view empirically. For example, Austin’s correction of Ryle’s claim that "voluntary" is used only of actions that are morally suspect has been exhumed again and again to claim that proponents of OLP are not familiar with the standard usage of their language even among themselves.11 "In providing his counterexample," however, "Austin is not surveying or justifying anything. When he gives his counterexample, he is assuming that Ryle will take his point. In speaking for himself, Austin takes himself to be speaking for Ryle at the same time, because his counterexample and the appeal he makes to it take for granted a common discourse that he and Ryle share" (Phillips 1999: 89). When confronted with Austin’s claim, Ryle surely didn’t reply "Well, that’s how I use that word," but "Yes, you’re right" (Hacker 1996: 235). Counterexamples like Austin’s, far from being fatal to the pretensions of OLP, are in fact central in it. Their use is a particularly good example of the benefits of OLP’s piecemeal approach, which Austin once called "field work in philosophy" (1956: 131).12

At its most successful OLP almost always proceeds on a casuistic basis. Contrariwise, its opponents are often builders of grand theoretical systems afraid of their whole edifice collapsing if any possibility of a limit to its validity is taken into consideration. One can of course refuse to call a spade a spade, but then one can reasonably expect having to call it something else, and having to justify the change (Richman 1966: 24–25; Slater 1986: 211; Grice 1989: 172; Hanfling 2000: 2). Every time it is claimed that "ordinary language is simply not good enough for philosophy," it should be asked: about which expression of ordinary language is it claimed that it is inferior to what expression of technical language, and why? (Khatchadourian 1981: 238). The classic example is the contrast between Russell’s 1905 "On Denoting" and Strawson’s 1950 "On Referring":

whereas Russell glances rather perfunctorily at what he took here to be the muddled primitive practices of ordinary language and hurries on to the construction of his own Theory of Descriptions, Strawson finds our own everyday practices of referring to things both interesting and important, and indeed such that, if accurately described, they reveal as unnecessary the revisionary formalization which Russell attempted.

(Warnock 1998: 152)

As regards Wittgenstein’s conception of meaning as use, Gellner claims: "A selective use of the ploy may still be possible. But then, of course, the burden of the discussion would have to shift to the principle of selection. Within this movement, no such discussions occurred, and there is no logical room for them" (1979: 26).13 This is false. Wittgenstein never said "meaning is use". He said: "For a large class of cases — though not for all — in which we employ the word ‘meaning’ it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language" (1953: §43). And one of the most popular interpretative problems in Wittgenstein research has for a long time been the question of the scope of the "large class of cases" (cf. Garver 1994: 197–204). But perhaps if this had been pointed out to Gellner, the multiplicity of interpretative strategies would merely have given him another excuse for damning Wittgenstein by complaining about his "wilfully and pretentiously chaotic" style of writing (Gellner 1974: 709).

Another, related problem for OLP is the existence of philosophical notions14 that cannot be expressed in English, but are intelligible in certain other languages, including Chinese and Welsh (Mundle 1970: 120–133). Rousseau had a point in asking: "Comment est-ce qu’une étude de l’usage anglais puisse nous donner plus que des renseignements sur la langue anglaise et, peut-être, le peuple anglais?" And there are also indigenous peoples whose world-views pose similar problems — such as the Nuer, who lack the notion of "belief" (Needham 1972); the Chewong, who do not distinguish between thoughts and feelings (Howell 1981); or the Dinka (and, according to Pauli Pylkkö, the Finns), who seemingly do not have any kind of self or ego available to introspection (Lienhardt 1961; Pylkkö 1998: 265–280; Pylkkö 1999). Apparently Ryle, at least, rejected the suggestion that something might make sense in one language but not in another (Mundle 1970: 126); if so, he was wrong. Detailed Austinian charting of differences between the conceptual schemes of various cultures, and debate on their implications for epistemological and ontological theories, is not only permissible, but quite desirable. Linguistic philosophers who specifically emphasize this at length include R. M. Hare (1960: 119) and J. O. Urmson (Wahl et al. 1962: 39); it would also be astonishing if Wittgenstein, whose mother tongue was not English and who did only a small portion of his philosophical writing in English, had ignored the point or disagreed with it.

The variation between the forms of different languages forms the basis for the familiar accusation that OLP discusses "mere words" instead of the world behind them. Wittgenstein’s answer to this accusation is worth quoting extensively:

When I talk about language (words, sentences, etc.) I must speak the language of every day. Is this language somehow too coarse and material for what we want to say? Then how is another one to be constructed? — And how strange that we should be able to do anything at all with the one we have!

In giving explanations I already have to use language full-blown (not some sort of preparatory, provisional one); this by itself shows that I can adduce only exterior facts about language.

Yes, but then how can these explanations satisfy us? — Well, your very questions were framed in this language; they had to be expressed in this language, if there was anything to ask!

And your scruples are misunderstandings.

Your questions refer to words; so I have to talk about words.

(1953: §120)

No matter how much Russell, Gellner, Hintikka, Kripke and other "ideal language philosophers" protest, the only way to communicate abstract thoughts from one mind to another is to use a natural language, or else to use some artificial language parasitic on a natural language because originally formulated in it. No Russellian theory of types, no Hintikka-type model theory, no Kripkean possible world semantics can change that fact, because it is a fact about the human constitution, not a fact about the conveyance capacities of propositional signs. Contra, say, Hintikka, the fundamental interpretation of a language cannot be varied; what can be varied is instead the fundamental interpretation of reality. A metalanguage cannot be used to get outside language any more than showing how one walks can be called "meta-walking" as opposed to walking (Friedman 1969: 414). And just as the absence of meta-walking does nothing to prevent us from criticizing certain ways of walking, the absence of metalanguages does nothing to prevent us from criticizing certain ways of talking. Reading Gellner, it would be impossible to guess that Wittgenstein once wrote: "Yes, philosophical problems emerge when we hand the reins to language instead of life"15 — or that one of his closest students, M. O’C. Drury, published a book titled The Danger of Words.

The same ignorance of awareness of dangers is common in criticisms of Austin. In what is perhaps the most famous single passage in Austin’s work, and perhaps even his and Ryle’s work combined, he writes:

[O]ur common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the connexions they have found marking, in the lifetimes of many generations: these surely are likely to be more numerous, more sound, since they have stood up to the long test of the survival of the fittest, and more subtle, at least in ordinary and reasonably practical matters, than any that you or I are likely to think up in our arm-chairs of an afternoon — the most favoured alternative method.

(1956: 130)

Generations of critics have seized on this as a supposedly conclusive proof that ordinary language philosophers worship the faults of ordinary language in the most uncritical possible way. It’s regrettable that they didn’t read on, since a couple of pages later Austin writes:

Certainly ordinary language has no claim to be the last word, if there is such a thing. It embodies, indeed, something better than the metaphysics of the Stone Age, namely, as was said, the inherited experience and acumen of many generations of men. But then, that acumen has been concentrated primarily upon the practical business of life [and so] this is likely enough not to be the best way of arranging things if our interests are more extensive or intellectual than the ordinary. … And it must be added too, that superstition and error and fantasy of all kinds do become incorporated in ordinary language and even sometimes stand up to the survival test (only, when they do, why should we not detect it?). Certainly, then, ordinary language is not the last word: in principle it can everywhere be supplemented and improved upon and superseded. Only remember, it is the first word.

(1956: 133)

The same theme surfaces several times elsewhere in Austin’s work:

Ordinary language breaks down in extraordinary cases. (In such cases, the cause of the breakdown is semantical.) Now no doubt an ideal language would not break down, whatever happened. In doing physics, for example, where our language is tightened up in order precisely to describe complicated and unusual cases concisely, we prepare linguistically for the worst. In ordinary language we do not: words fail us. … There may be plenty that might happen and does happen which would need new and better language to describe it in. … There may be extraordinary facts, even about our everyday experience, which plain men and plain language overlook.

(1940: 36–37)

If we have made sure it’s a goldfinch, and a real goldfinch, and then in the future it does something outrageous (explodes, quotes Mrs. Woolf, or what not), we don’t say we were wrong to say that it was a goldfinch, we don’t know what to say. Words literally fail us: "What would you have said?" "What are we to say now?" "What would you say?" … It seems a serious mistake to suppose that language (or most language, language about real things) is "predictive" in such a way that the future can always prove it wrong. What the future can always do, is to make us revise our ideas about goldfinches or real goldfinches or anything else.

(1946: 56–57)

And in a discussion of counterfactuals in 1937, Isaiah Berlin recorded the same reaction in Austin:

[T]he principal example that we chose was the hero of Kafka’s story Metamorphosis, a commercial traveller called Gregor Samsa, who wakes one morning to find that he has been transformed into a monstrous cockroach, although he retains clear memories of his life as an ordinary human being. Are we to speak of him as a man with the body of a cockroach, or a cockroach with the memories and consciousness of a man? "Neither," Austin declared. "In such cases, we should not know what to say. This is when we say ‘words fail us’ and mean this literally. We should need new words. The old ones just would not fit. They aren’t meant to cover this kind of case."

(Berlin 1973: 11)

When the existence of these passages is pointed out, critics of OLP tend to claim that these words, though heart-warming, were "evidently" or "surely" mere token gestures that Austin never meant to be taken seriously. But where is the proof for this claim? Again, what is sorely lacking is a case-by-case treatment. About which expression of ordinary language is it claimed wrongly by Austin that it is superior to what expression of technical language? There are no attempted answers to this question in the literature; there is only a vast mass of unsubstantiated allegations that Austin "evidently" or "surely" believed that ordinary language is never wrong or faulty.

There can simply be no empirical question of validating the examination of words, because words are already the most indispensable tool of a philosopher (Austin 1956: 129–130). Gellner writes: "A part — ‘language’ — cannot challenge or sit in judgement on the whole — world — of which it is a part" (1959: 83). But no philosopher, no matter how implacably opposed to the study of words, can communicate his ideas without them; after all, to Gellner’s discomfort, the very words "words and things" are words, not things (Hinton 1973: 382). To censure a philosopher for being interested in "mere words" — as opposed, presumably, to the real world — is comparable to scolding a taxi driver for being interested in "mere cars" or a microbiologist for spending all of his days among "mere germs" (cf. Sullivan 1967: 62). R. M. Hare reduces the complaint about "mere words" ad absurdum:

This accusation reveals a curious misconception about what a word is. There is, I suppose, a sense of the word "word" in which, if I were to cut out of the page of a book a piece of paper carefully chosen as to position, what I should have would be a word. This could be studied without studying any more of reality than the piece of inky paper. Perhaps, even, there are certain aspects of linguistic studies which do not involve any consideration of meanings. If so, they have little to do with philosophy — even "linguistic philosophy". But philosophers are concerned with words as having meanings or uses; and these at any rate cannot be studied without seeing how words are used, in concrete situations, to say various things; and, of course, this involves … a careful study of the situations, in order to find out what is being said.

(1960: 118–119)

And, as Grice has damagingly pointed out, somehow nobody ever suggested to a linguist, philologist or lexicographer that their endeavours were "merely linguistic" or "mere lexicography" (1989: 178). It has never been satisfactorily explained why frequent complaints about a "cult of language" in conjuction with philosophers should not be equally applicable to these other occupations dealing with language. To sum up: OLP is not merely about ordinary language, but about whatever ordinary language is about (Weitz 1953: 230–231; cf. Austin 1956: 130).16 Even if its creators wanted it to be, any "linguistic" philosophy can never be merely linguistic:

Nothing is more fundamentally mistaken than to think of Wittgenstein as a "linguistic philosopher" or a "philosopher of language" (in the narrow sense in which he is presented, for example, in Ernest Gellner’s Words and Things and in many other popularisations). The most basic reason for this is that Wittgenstein’s theory of meaning is "contextual" in the most ramified sense, taking in who a speaker (or writer) is, when and where they are speaking, to whom they are speaking, the purposes for which they are speaking.

(Kitching 1998: 74)

Indeed, the users of the language-game model in analytic philosophy has even been criticized for ignoring "possible interpretations of their actions based on the historic evolution of the game, national characteristics, aesthetics, psychiatry and so on" (Macksey 1972: 12).

I have tried to give past philosophers the benefit of doubt, but I still cannot help believing that most philosophers throughout the history of philosophy simply have not understood the fact that "all philosophy, in so far as philosophy is a conceptual inquiry, must be concerned with correct verbal usage. This is because we have and can have no access to concepts save through the study of the usage and, hence, the use of those words through which these concepts are expressed" (Flew 1986: 79; cf. Hanfling 2000: 129–149). Inasmuch as the "linguistic turn" in twentieth-century philosophy remedies this situation, philosophy has, via it, made genuine progress. And I don’t think that admitting this necessarily exhibits dismissive haughtiness towards tradition any more than admitting that it took 2,500 years of physics to come up with relativity theory, or that it took 2,500 years of mathematics to come up with Gödel’s theorem.

The portrayal of Wittgenstein as a conservative relativist

Throughout his career, Gellner depicted Wittgenstein as a relativist who claimed that all conceptual schemes are equally valid, and who therefore represents "one of the most bizarre and extreme forms of irrationalism of our time" (Gellner 1992: 121). To do this, he used a strict adherence to the fideist conception of Wittgenstein’s notions of "form of life" and "language-games," according to which these notions can be invoked in justifying any political, social or religious view. For Gellner, language-games are windowless monads that fight each other without even really knowing what they fight. He once claimed, when interviewed as an anthropologist, that the Wittgensteinian notion of a form of life "doesn’t make sense in a world in which communities are not stable and are not clearly isolated from each other" (Davis 1991: 65). Shortly before his death, he summed up his position on forms of life:

[T]he most important events of human history — the emergence of abstract doctrinal religion, the possibility of Reformations which invoke abstract truth against social practice, the possibility of an Enlightenment which does the same in secular terms, the emergence of a trans-cultural science confirmed by a uniquely powerful technology — all these facts show that thought is not limited by the form of life in which it occurs, but can transcend it.

(Gellner 1996: 671)

But Gellner never even tries to show exactly where Wittgenstein disagreed. He never stops to consider the possibility that the Wittgensteinian notion of "form of life" might include elements opposed to each other that interact and compete in the most complex ways. In an exceptionally conciliatory mood, he once wrote: "All that needs to be added to Wittgenstein’s view to the effect that concepts are legitimated by their role in the living system of which they are part, is … that this world contains more than one culture, and that the various cultures found in it differ quite a lot" (Gellner 1968d: 457). He never manages to show where Wittgenstein tries to deny or even play down this fact. Neither is there a sign in Words and Things of a realization that a Wittgensteinian language-game can be criticized, rejected or condemned in any other Wittgensteinian language-game, even one played within the same form of life. There is, however, a brief passage in the posthumous Language and Solitude, in which Gellner suddenly presents this feature of "language-games" and "forms of life" as his own exciting discovery that is supposed to create a nasty "snag" for Wittgenstein’s claim that all cultures are self-validating. Gellner goes on once more to castigate Wittgenstein (and Peter Winch) for ignoring the fact that the world contains "an enormous number of unstable and, above all, overlapping cultural zones" (1998: 171–172).

This is actually a perfect negation of the entire positions of both Wittgenstein and Winch. One of Winch’s greatest achievements was actually to argue persuasively that it is the fundamentally non-self-validating character of Wittgensteinian language-games that demonstrates the sense of what Wittgenstein really said about validation: that language-games certainly need arbiters, but whatever arbitrates between them, it isn’t philosophy. Gellner doesn’t seem to have the slightest idea that his interpretation of Wittgenstein as a transcendentalist relativist is merely one extreme of a spectrum of views on the correct interpretation of "form of life" and "language-game," at the other end of which is an organic view of "this complicated form of life" (Wittgenstein 1953: 174) as something common to all humans. The views of Wittgenstein scholars constitute a whole gamut of readings from this strictly naturalizing, "grammatical" view (e. g. Hunter 1968; Emmett 1990; Garver 1994: 237–268; Clack 1999: 87–89) via a wide and extremely heterogeneous middle ground (e. g. Hertzberg 1978; Gier 1980; Simpson 1998; Wallgren 1999) to the end that offers transcendental or other non-anthropological views (e. g. Williams 1974; Baker 1984; von Savigny 1991). Gellner always considers only the latter end of the spectrum, and even it in a rather caricatured form. Neither does he consider the more intriguing readings, which regard "form of life" as a mistranslation (Thompkins 1990) or attempt to relate it to similar notions used in other disciplines.17 If we accept the at least partial correctness of the organic, "grammatical" interpretation, it makes Gellner’s critique of the Investigations miss the point completely:

Gellner seriously misreads the significance of the "rule-following" argument in the Philosophical Investigations in this respect. The point of the argument is precisely to highlight the ineliminability of nature as against convention. The application of a conventional rule to a particular case in one way rather than another is always a normative judgement. The judgement does not in turn reflect any further convention, and it corresponds to no fact, natural or Platonic. Its objectivity rests on the epistemology of natural spontaneity and convergence — the epistemology appropriate to normative rather than factual judgements.

(Skorupski 1996: 491)

According to the gamut of interpretations that admit an organic element into the discussion of "form of life," it is this "natural spontaneity and convergence" — what John McDowell (1994) calls "second nature" or Bildung — that Wittgenstein appeals to in seeking to ground his philosophical vision in human practices. Philosophy supplies "remarks on the natural history of human beings" (Wittgenstein 1953: §415); on a set of features that is found in every culture and every human form of life, and is not "limited by the form of life in which it occurs," as Gellner would have us believe. It is what Wittgenstein calls "the common behaviour of mankind," the ways of behaving shared by all of the world’s myriad civilizations, which according to him are "the system of reference by means of which we interpret an unknown language" (1953: §206). Certainly it is contingently true of many language-games that they are not universally played, but as Newton Garver states, "none of Wittgenstein’s key language-games or examples depends on or even involves any significant cultural variation, and … the thrust of his Philosophical Investigations has to do with what is characteristic of humans in general" (1994: 249).

What is most astonishing is Gellner’s portrayal of Winch as a leading representative of the transcendental interpretation. It is namely Wittgenstein’s remark "Language — I want to say — is a refinement, ‘in the beginning was the deed’"18 (Wittgenstein 1980: 31; cf. Wittgenstein 1969: §402) that Winch alludes to in the title of one of his best-known papers, arguing strongly for the grammatical interpretation of "form of life" and pointing out correctly that "there is no application for the true–false polarity at the level of the deed" (1981: 53). And immediately after the notorious passage in The Idea of a Social Science in which Winch calls both science and religion "nonlogical," he emphasizes that this way of putting matters is misleading if taken by itself, because it ignores "the overlapping character of different modes of social life" (1990: 100–101).19 There is very little doubt that Winch would agree even with one of the most aggressive defenders of the naturalistic interpretation, Gavin Kitching: human language is "both a practice and a practice among, and within, other practices"; and that consequently "meaning in language is not just a matter of language" (1994: 114). As Marshall Sahlins has pointed out, in a flatly hyperrealist theoretical practice such as Gellner’s,

in order for cultural schemata to function in practice, in order for people to successfully use their understandings of the world, the world will have to consistently and objectively correspond to the ideas by which they know it. If not, their minds turn into Lockean blank sheets of paper, and the biological capacity for realism takes over. Indeed, a utopian Lockean world of empirical truth would be the pan-human fate, since, sooner or later, usually sooner, reality proves a disappointment to all peoples’ categories. … The reason this theoretical practice is unworkable is that every situation to which a people refer a given category is empirically unique, distinct from every other to which the same notion may be applied. One never steps into the same river twice — which never stopped anyone from calling it by the same name. To paraphrase John Barth, reality is a nice place to visit (philosophically), but no one ever lived there. Unless experiences were selectively perceived, classified and valued by socially communicable criteria, there would be neither society nor intelligibility, let alone sanity.

(1995: 204–205)

It is exactly this "biological capacity for realism" that Wittgenstein refers to when using the notion of a "form of life". The notion is almost biological one. Wittgenstein does often speak of the organic roots of justification, but this hardly means that he peddled "a cult of Gemeinschaft, in the very curious disguise of a theory of language and philosophy" (Gellner 1988: 286). Actually he always speaks of the organic as something natural, as something opposed to the ethnological, not — as Gellner would have us believe — as equalling the ethnological:

The image of language which Wittgenstein presents to us conforms much better to life than anything found in the writings of his predecessors. They saw in language a sublime mystery tied intimately to thought, the presence of which in men distinguished them from animals; Wittgenstein maintained that, on the contrary, the use of language wasn’t basically anything but a complicated form of behaviour that should be examined like other forms of behaviour, successful or not, adapted or not. "Commanding, questioning, recounting, chatting," he wrote in one passage (1953: §25), "are as much a part of our natural history as walking, eating, drinking, playing"; he relates us to our situation in the world as beings that have needs and goals at once general and specific.

(Walsh 1983: 377)20

Gellner repeatedly claims that Wittgenstein and Winch are relativists for whom, for example, the world-view of Sir James Frazer is just as good as the world-view of the savages whose rituals he studied. This just isn’t true. According to Wittgenstein and Winch, the world-view of Frazer is much inferior to the world-view of the savages, since Frazer continuously mistakes the savages’ symbolic statements for empirical ones (Sharrock and Anderson 1985: 399); similarly, the world-view of early twentieth-century Europeans in general was for Wittgenstein much inferior to the world view of, say, early nineteenth-century Europeans. But Gellner has a quick getaway from these awkward counterexamples — his flat refusal to believe that anyone "really has any doubts about the cognitive inferiority of the pre-scientific outlook" (1968a: 401; my emphasis). Damned and double-damned: if Wittgenstein and Winch are interpreted as relativist, they are deluded, and if they are interpreted as non-relativist, they are lying.

Besides the fideist conception, Gellner’s view of Wittgenstein is equally haunted by the picture, popular in the fifties and sixties, of two Wittgensteins, an "early" one who subscribed to a Fregean, solipsistically and mystically tinged version of Russell’s logical atomism, and a "late" one who repudiated every bit of the early one in favour of a relativistic "use theory of meaning". During the past three decades or so this picture has been challenged more and more by one in which there is only one Wittgenstein, who is critical of Frege’s and Russell’s logicist programme from the start, and whose later "turn" away from the Tractatus is as much or more a matter of method or style than of substantive outlook. Cora Diamond and James Conant have argued persuasively that Wittgenstein’s conception of meaning was anti-atomistic from the start, and that the end of the Tractatus instructs Wittgenstein’s audience to read the book as a parodic reductio ad absurdum of solipsism and logical atomism, not as a panegyric to them.21 Diamond, Conant and other similarly oriented Wittgenstein scholars have, in the minds of an increasing number of philosophers, buried the whole two-Wittgenstein picture, or at least effectively cornered it. Gellner, however, consistently eats up every word of it — even in his last book, where he invites us to look at the Tractatus as a "squeal of pessimistic woe" (1998: 59) and a "poem to solitude" (1998: 46) written by a "markedly autistic individual" who had problems with homosexuality and masturbation (1998: 63), and who eventually recoiled from his troubles into an opposite view that consists of relativistic communitarianism. Gellner’s claim that "there can hardly be any doubt but that something dramatic did happen" (1998: 94) between Wittgenstein’s two periods of philosophical creativity, because the later Wittgenstein supposedly negated the early one completely and utterly, suggests mere ignorance of most of what has been written on Wittgenstein’s mental development during the past twenty or thirty years — including much of the output of Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin, against whom Gellner directs his claim. If Diamond and Conant’s interpretation of the Tractatus as an ironic self-refutation is even partially correct, the cloud of black bile that is Language and Solitude begins to dissolve at once; and not only the book, but the functionalist explanatory model of ulterior motives that Gellner built his whole career on. No philosopher or social scientist who believes that Gellner’s story is the truth about Wittgenstein has yet commented in any way on their views.

Gellner blusters: "I do not apologise for travestying the richness of [Wittgenstein’s] thought, for there is no travesty" (1974: 709). But there is. He never quotes or refers to Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (which both Wittgenstein and his literary executors intended as a companion volume to the Investigations);22 he doesn’t attempt to explain Wittgenstein’s gloomy reference in the Investigations to "the darkness of this time," or his angry claim to Norman Malcolm that philosophy has no value "if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life," or his voluntary description of his own lectures as "propaganda for one style of thinking as opposed to another" (Wittgenstein 1966: 28); he ignores the mass of biographical data contradicting his selective use of it, being one of the many "thinkers who take an interest in Wittgenstein’s political orientation [who] are in the first instance concerned with the question of the political significance of his philosophical views and appeal to biographical data only in the hope of corroborating their preferred answer to it" (Crary 2000: 142). Neither does Gellner attempt to address the vast amount of Wittgenstein materials that had appeared since the first edition of Words and Things; when he refers to Wittgenstein’s work, it is practically always the Tractatus or the Investigations.23

This brings us finally to Gellner’s most popular accusation, that of preventing linguistic change. He claims in Words and Things: "Philosophy does not spring, as Wittgenstein thought, from our being blinded by grammar, but from the need to re-order our concepts" (1959: 55). At least from the Blue Book onwards, and repeatedly in such works as Zettel, Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, etc., Wittgenstein uses "being blinded by grammar" and "needing to re-order one’s concepts" practically interchangeably; today it is practically a triviality to say that Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophy is based on the need to re-order concepts.24 Gellner claims that ordinary language enshrines "the impossibility of justification, and the fallaciousness of criticism from general premises" (1959: 225). But actually OLP can neither prevent nor promote justification. It is, in fact, completely neutral, because the vocabularies of executing a justification and contesting it are both equally important parts of language:

The language games of criticism, questioning, doubting and probing use the concepts or words of the English language to examine, criticize and argue for changing prevailing values, institutions and patterns. … It is simply wrong for Gellner to argue that ordinary language analysis stresses "the impossibility of justification," because the language of justification is a part of ordinary language.

(Wertheimer 1976: 411)

The same point is made in slightly different terms by Hanna Pitkin:

The same ordinary language that allows the expression of various common-sense beliefs also allows their negation, their questioning, their doubting. What is binding is not ordinary beliefs, but the ordinary language in which they are expressed; and it is not binding because the common man is normative for the theorist, but because the ordinary language is also the theorist’s own.

(1972: 19)

To claim that giving reminders of the self-justifying nature of all practices was, for Wittgenstein, "the only valid or possible method in philosophy" (Gellner 1998: 167), is simply bizarre. For Wittgenstein, practically nothing justifies itself. Gellner’s central notion of vital linguistic change being prevented by "a pre-established language-game" (e. g. 1959: 44) has no basis in reality, since language-games are typically not pre-established; they arise from instinctive behaviour that neither invokes nor suppresses communal agreement, since such agreement comes into the picture only after the language-game has arisen (Malcolm 1982; Rhees 1997; Phillips 1997). To suggest otherwise simply amounts to a mild form of the conspiracy theory of history. "Language did not emerge from some kind of ratiocination" (Wittgenstein 1969: §475), so it cannot in good faith be called a self-validating form of ratiocination: nobody decided to take it in use (Pitkin 1972: 132). "The language-game is so to say something unpredictable. I mean: it is not based on grounds. It is not reasonable (or unreasonable). It is there — like our life" (Wittgenstein 1969: §559). Wittgenstein simply does not declare anything inviolable; he merely points out that there is no guarantee that criticism of language-games is found compelling by one’s audience, and that the fact that it often isn’t found compelling has certain too often ignored implications for philosophical criticism of cultures.25 Perhaps the most incisive critique ever of Gellner-type, relativizing "inviolability interpretations" of Wittgenstein’s work comes from a recent paper by Alice Crary:

Wittgenstein hopes to expose as confused the idea that meanings might somehow be "fixed" (whether independently of use or otherwise). There is, he wants us to grasp, no such thing as a metaphysical vantage point which, if we managed to occupy it, would disclose to us that meanings were "fixed" in one way or another and would therefore enable us to bypass the (sometimes enormously difficult) task of trying to see whether or not a new employment of a given expression preserves important connections with other employments. His aim is to get us to relinquish the idea of such a vantage point and, at the same time, to relinquish the idea that what we imagine is to be seen from such a vantage point has some bearing on our ability to submit practices to criticism. … He should not be read, as proponents of inviolability interpretations read him, as claiming that there are particular features of our lives or of the lives of others which cannot be submitted to criticism. Rather, he should be read as making room for cases in which, although we take ourselves to be critically assessing some feature of our lives or of the lives of others, we have no notion what (if anything) will count as the fulfillment of words we are uttering.

(2000: 138–139)

In fact the whole problematic of whether a form of life can criticize another is quixotic, for the simple reason Lars Hertzberg pointed out many years ago — that the extent to which our arguments seem compelling to ourselves has nothing to do with the extent to which they can compel persons who currently don’t accept them. It is often alleged that Wittgenstein’s notions of language-games and forms of life make it impossible to justify our criticizing racists, Stalinists, Nazis and so on, because these groups can invoke their status as valid forms of life and the status of their hateful language as a valid language-game (e. g. Schlagel 1974; Goodman 1982: 141–142; Nieli 1987: 241–242). But this is a pseudo-problem:

The question we set ourselves was: how can we choose between our own philosophy and that of the Nazis? But it ought to be seen that this is a pseudo-question — we have already chosen, or so to say — and in fact it is the presence of our conviction and not its lack that makes us pose this question! We begin by believing and then go on to seek foundations for our belief. But this is philosophical self-deception; we forget that no foundations could appear to us more convincing than the very thing the foundations of which they are supposed to be. (To perceive this: try to imagine an argument that would convince you of the acceptability of Nazism! — We can only seek foundations for our belief when it is possible to believe the opposite.)

(1971: 509)26

Finally, there remains the awkward question of intellectuals who profess to understand and appreciate Wittgenstein while fighting everything Gellner claims he represents. If Wittgenstein equals rampant self-legitimating relativism, it’s extremely hard to explain why such outspoken foes of self-legitimating relativism as Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Bouveresse, Esa Itkonen, Hilary Putnam and Barry Smith present themselves as admirers of Wittgenstein and constantly co-opt him as an ally in their struggle against postmodernist defeatism. It’s also hard to explain why many Marxists and other political radicals such as Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, K. T. Fann, David Rubinstein and Gavin Kitching have a similarly positive attitude to Wittgenstein.27 As far as Gellner is concerned, these antirelativist, anti-quietist Wittgensteinians might never have written. Of course it is a possibility that they are deluded or mendacious on a grand scale; but an immeasurably more economical explanation is that Gellner profoundly misunderstands Wittgenstein’s stance on relativism. Yet another example of Gellner’s no-true-Scotsman arguments is his explaining away of social scientists who admire Wittgenstein. In Words and Things and in many of his essays from the sixties Gellner condemned OLP for being a pseudo-sociology unsuitable for "real" empirical social scientists, who were supposed to be above all that; in the early seventies, as many trained and competent social scientists like Hanna Pitkin and Rodney Needham28 started to use OLP to fructify their researches, Gellner rushed to condemn them for somehow ceasing to be "real". Already in 1968, Gellner had attacked the use of sociological research by philosophers in an article in the Times Literary Supplement, and again it was followed by a heated correspondence, this time involving such familiar names as Alasdair MacIntyre, Peter Winch, W. G. Runciman and D. Z. Phillips.29

The supposed social conservatism

The novelty of Gellner’s book, and undoubtedly a big reason for its popularity, was the attempt in the ninth chapter to explain the conservatism of OLP not only philosophically, but sociologically, with reference to the self-preserving social conditions of Oxford in the fifties. But even taken as a biographical assertion, Gellner’s claim that the prevalent social attitude among OLP’s practitioners was a complacent, self-serving blimpishness is simply not true. Admittedly their social background was extremely narrow (Rée 1993: 16), but their actual social and political opinions were extremely diverse; they were hardly the irresponsible "playboy/pedant coalition" Gellner (1979: 23) terms them. In the intellectual atmosphere of OLP there were philosophers known for being political leftists (Stuart Hampshire), centrists (Strawson) and rightists (Flew); avid anticlericalists (Flew, Ryle) and practicing Christians (Dummett, G. E. M. Anscombe); moral relativists (Hare, P. H. Nowell-Smith) and moral realists (Anscombe, Renford Bambrough). "The most obvious common characteristic of Oxford philosophers, is, indeed, their propensity for arguing with one another," as R. M. Hare (1960: 120) put it at the height of the controversy. But for Gellner, the disagreements were all a subterfuge intended to conceal the fact of the lack of them; as the Economist noted, in Words and Things the hapless Oxford philosophers are "not allowed that right to differ which even members of Plato’s Academy possessed" (Anonymous 1959a: 618). It is easy to agree with Marshall Cohen’s verdict concerning Gellner’s notion that conceptual conservatism necessarily implies political conservatism: "I believe this argument to rest on nothing more elevated than a pun" (1960: 180).

And what’s more important, not all of the chief practitioners of OLP liked each other very much as persons. To concentrate on just the three main representatives, Wittgenstein’s suspect attitude to most of his followers in Oxford and Cambridge is well documented and deep. It’s hard to argue with H. O. Mounce’s assertion that "a figure more alien to Oxford in the 1950s than Wittgenstein would be difficult even to imagine" (2000: 112) or with von Wright’s estimate that "not even those who professed to follow him were really engaged in the same spiritual endeavour as he" (Flowers 1999: 4.207). Wittgenstein had been friendly with Ryle since 1929, and in the thirties they used to go on walking holidays together (Monk 1990: 275), but Wittgenstein broke with Ryle in 1947 after Ryle had published a favourable review of Popper’s Open Society and Its Enemies — a book never noted, of course, for its deep understanding of Wittgenstein (Hacker 1996: 313).30 Austin spoke of Wittgenstein as "Witters" and made it clear that he preferred Moore (Hacker 1996: 172); he used to "read a page or two of Wittgenstein aloud … to show how incomprehensible and obscure the Austrian philosopher was, and how easily he could be parodied and dismissed" (Mehta 1983: 62). Even the relationship of Ryle to Wittgenstein is not as straightforward as one could think. There is evidence that despite his admiration for Wittgenstein’s philosophy, Ryle regarded Wittgenstein as a poseur and his mannerisms as affected (Deutscher 1982: 254; cf. Ryle 1970: 11–12). Ryle also seems to have disliked and avoided Austin, paying no attention to much of his philosophy until his death (Ryle 1970: 14–15; Magee 1997: 382–383; White 1999: 211).

As has been pointed out, Gellner’s method of referring and quoting — ironically enough — seems to be nothing other than Wittgenstein’s celebrated notion of family resemblances run wild, so that it makes his accusations towards OLP completely unfalsifiable:31

Most often he will cite a particular writer, show that he holds a given doctrine and then conclude that every one of that philosopher’s supposed allies also holds the doctrine. … If linguistic philosopher a and linguistic philosopher b share doctrine X which c does not hold, and if b and c share doctrine Y which is not accepted by a, it is grotesque to attack the whole family of linguistic philosophers for holding, say, X. … Moreover, he seems to say that those who do not explicitly subscribe to X or to Y are "unconsciously" evasive or dishonest. One can imagine how maddening this must be to those philosophers who are found guilty by association.

(White 1960: 205–206; cf. Nuchelmans 1961: 92)

The basic technique used by Gellner several hundreds of times was to scour the writings of ordinary language philosophers for passages that could, taken out of context, be interpreted so that they denied trivialities — and then claim that since ordinary language philosophers denied trivialities, they were madmen or charlatans. As Wittgensteinian interpretation boomed in the sixties and seventies, Gellner set a thief to catch a thief, taking every interpretation of every Wittgenstein exegete seriously as long as the interpretations happened to support his own position. Even Saul Kripke’s book on Wittgenstein as a meaning skeptic, which famously denies that it seeks to expound Wittgenstein’s own views (Kripke 1982: 5), was for Gellner exactly the same as Wittgenstein himself (Gellner 1984). Gellner termed Austin "unsurpassed at making people believe that their bluff had been called when in fact they weren’t bluffing" (1969: 776); but I’d think it safe to say that Austin comes quite far behind Gellner himself. After all, the significant innovation of using a philosopher’s innocent mien when confronted with unfounded accusations to prove how callous he really is originates with Words and Things.

Gellner claims that there is "no evidence that Wittgenstein was ever consciously interested in social and political questions" (1998: 74), except as condemning them from a conservative point of view; "the horizon of his intellectual life included so little other than his own wrestlings with the views of the Tractatus" (1959: 101). Somewhat strangely it’s become a central part of the Wittgenstein myth that politics simply didn’t interest him. But one of the most consistent aspects of the many personal memoirs of him is actually his impeccable knowledge of current events. He "kept himself informed about current events" (Flowers 1999: 2.219–220); "had, at all times, a shrewd idea of what was going on about him in the wider world" (Flowers 1999: 2.244); and "seemed to know what was going on in the world" (Flowers 1999: 4.136). His recently published correspondence with his sisters and his close friend Ludwig Hänsel testify of the interest he took in Austrian politics even when living in Britain for extended periods.32 According to G. H. von Wright, he regularly read the New Statesman, which already in his lifetime was among the leading political weeklies in Britain. In 1945, he even took the venturesome step of telling his students which way they should vote in the British general election: the supposedly "arch-conservative" Wittgenstein professed his dislike of Churchill and said that he’d be voting Labour (Monk 1990: 480).

Part of a 1931 remark selected by Wittgenstein for Zettel reads: "The philosopher is not a citizen of any community of ideas. That is what makes him into a philosopher" (1967: §455). This is the core of Wittgenstein’s attitude towards the mixing of philosophy and politics. It is also illustrated by an anecdote Rush Rhees records about the time he told Wittgenstein of his intention to join the Revolutionary Communist Party; Wittgenstein said that in his view philosophers cannot treat the ideas of any one ideology differently from others, and that a philosopher should rather be content to support his favoured party’s objectives from without (Flowers 1999: 3.280–281). Wittgenstein was neither the extreme leftist many of his political statements imply, nor the extreme conservative his outlook on life implies. Rather, he represented an archetype of modernist intellectual that is quite common, but regrettably lacks a generally agreed name.33 I mean someone who is socially quite radical and whose political convictions on the everyday level are typically some way to the left of a "Western liberal intellectual" in a Rortyan sense, but whose Menschenbild is nevertheless that of a Romantic conservative, often with an anarchist streak.34 Varying instances of this outlook can be found in such diverse thinkers as José Ortega y Gasset, Rush Rhees, Leszek Kolakowski, G. H. von Wright, Heinrich Böll, Guy Debord, John Lennon — and, I should perhaps add, myself.

There have been frequent accusations that OLP not only is conservative and impotent, it openly celebrates its conservatism and impotence. The reference is usually to Wittgenstein’s notorious remark: "Philosophy … leaves everything as it is" (1953: §124). It’s undeniable that Wittgenstein makes this remark. But the history of its interpretation isn’t very encouraging. The remark has been misread as either (1) "Philosophers leave everything as it is," or (2) "Philosophy must leave everything as it is". Both readings are equally misguided. Reading (1) has Wittgenstein claiming, bizarrely, that philosophers as a group are exceptionally unable to engage in attempts to change their society, while reading (2) has him thinking that they aren’t, but it would nevertheless be better if they were. But as Stanley Cavell (1962: 79) pointed out almost forty years ago, Wittgenstein’s point is merely that he has asked for counterexamples to his view that when philosophers do change things, there’s nothing about their being philosophers that specially enables them to do this — and that such counterexamples have not been forthcoming.35 Nothing prevents philosophers from voicing their political opinions openly, standing for elective office with an explicit agenda, or fighting social evils like racial discrimination, poverty and war. But there isn’t anything about their being philosophers that specifically enables them to do this either.36 The existence of political philosophy does not make a political statement a philosophical one any more than the existence of philosophy of chemistry makes a chemical statement a philosophical one. D. Z. Phillips, probably the single most dour defender of Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophy as leaving everything as it is, has put this point forcefully:

I am trying to legislate against and prohibit something philosophers have always done. I must know, for example, that political philosophers have criticized forms of government in the light of political ideals they espouse. I must know that moral philosophers have criticized certain kinds of moral motivation in the light of moral ideals they espouse. I must know that some philosophers of religion condemn belief in God, advocate certain attitudes they think should be taken toward other religions, and so on. All this goes on; how can I deny it? The answer is that I do not. What I deny is the claim by the philosophers concerned that the value judgments they make (for that is what they are) are themselves underwritten by philosophy. The subject cannot get them to where they think they are going.

(1999: 160)

In another context, Phillips makes an extremely important related point: nobody can become an authority on anything merely by deciding to become one (1986: 93–97). If philosophy "leaves everything as it is," it also leaves every individual and movement seeking to improve society as it is (Wertheimer 1976: 410–411). "One does not become Canute by failing to assist the incoming tide," as Anthony Quinton (1961: 341) noted in his review of Words and Things. If philosophy cannot do something, it is useless to pretend that it can do it; it is "no more sensible to complain that philosophy is no longer capable of solving practical problems than it is to complain that the study of the stars no longer enables one to predict the course of world events" (Grice 1989: 180; cf. Slater 1986: 207). The Economist editorial on the Gellner affair diagnosed Gellner’s accusations about the abdication of wisdom, and his claim that OLP regards the pursuit of world-views as the cardinal sin of philosophers (Gellner 1959: 99), as a simple ignoratio elenchi:

So why are modern philosophers hated — if they are? For the lay outsider, the clue might be found in this: that hardly any of them, despite their other diversity, would claim that, as philosophers, they can tell us what to do. When other direction posts are falling down, philosophers are assumed to be the people who ought to be giving us directions about life. But if they cannot, they cannot: and there are philosophical arguments for the belief that they cannot. If these arguments are valid, then the suggestion that they ought to give directions all the same is an invitation to disingenuousness.

(Anonymous 1960: 16)

Another, related caricature to be shot down is the notion that Wittgenstein wanted to "end philosophy," and that professional philosophers who consider themselves his followers are therefore disingenuous in not leaving philosophy for something else. If philosophy as a separate academic subject ceased to exist, philosophical questions would naturally continue their existence in such disciplines as law, mathematics, sociology, psychology and history. Hanna Pitkin has suggested that what Wittgenstein and OLP call "philosophical problems" should be called "conceptual problems," which would "stress that they are not confined to philosophy proper nor to professional philosophers. They occur almost as readily in political theory, in social-scientific theory, or indeed in any form of abstract, general, conceptual thought" (1972: 6). Indeed they do, and changing their name would not remove their philosophical nature. As long as people think abstract thoughts, philosophy in Wittgenstein’s therapeutic sense remains necessary. And even the cessation of abstract thoughts would perhaps do little to end philosophical activity, since grammatical entanglements are not "the sole source of the problems of philosophy":

Other such sources are, according to Wittgenstein, the lure of the scientific model of explanation, illegitimately transposed to philosophy; the craving for generality in domains where specificity is all that is legitimate; the mesmerizing power and philosophically deforming influence of new discoveries, theories and inventions in science and mathematics, such as the predicate calculus, set theory, calculating machines, Freudian psychoanalysis and behaviourism; and the pursuit of justification beyond the point where justification makes sense.

(Hacker 1996: 233)

Pitkin suggests percipiently that following Wittgenstein’s own way of speaking as regards the notion of philosophy "is likely to prejudice our eventual examination of the topic, because so much of what he says sounds like an unwarranted criticism of ‘philosophy’" (1972: 6). G. H. von Wright seems to be correct when he says that to Wittgenstein, philosophy was not a "historical constant," no matter what impression some of his writings might give a casual reader:

I do not think that Wittgenstein would have claimed that his conception of philosophy was valid for all the historical phenomena which we heap under the label ‘philosophy’. … His way of seeing philosophy was not an attempt to tell us what philosophy, once and for all, is, but expressed what for him, in the setting of his times, it had to be.

(Flowers 1999: 4.213)

This is confirmed by a diary entry from 1946, in which Wittgenstein wonders:

Are we dealing with mistakes and difficulties that are as old as language? Are they, so to speak, illnesses that are tied to a language’s use, or are they of a more special nature, peculiar to our civilization?

Or again: is the preoccupation with language, which permeates our whole philosophy, an age old move of all philosophizing //of all philosophy//, an age old struggle? Or, again, is this it: does philosophizing always waver between metaphysics and critique of language?37

So it is not true, according to Wittgenstein, that there cannot be "substantive" philosophical questions; it’s just that it’s extremely unclear what these are and what makes them so substantive. If it’s self-evident that there are substantive philosophical questions, then these questions should simply be drawn to the attention of philosophers who think otherwise. But the fact that when requested to do this, backers of the claim that substantive questions exist have usually lost their temper instead, suggests that their existence is possibly, and their self-evidence certainly, chimerical. Randall Havas, comparing the typical practitioner of OLP to Nietzsche in this respect, notes that "neither … philosopher’s charge of emptiness rests on an appeal to the everyday — either to everyday ‘life’ or to everyday ‘usage’ — as a standard of meaningfulness; the charge is rooted, rather, in a sense that the meaning of what we say depends on our willingness to take responsibility for meaning what we say" (1996: 135). The charge rests on the supposition that "someone who has the right to incur an obligation to let himself be understood will not try to transfer that responsibility to anyone or anything else" (Havas 1996: 143). Dummett sums up this whole attitude nicely in his review of Words and Things:

What is indeed common to almost all the philosophers Gellner attacks … is the view that philosophical problems mostly arise from misunderstandings of certain concepts, and are to be resolved by giving a correct account of those concepts. Gellner complains that this excludes the possibility of a philosopher’s enunciating any substantive truths. I think that most Oxford philosophers would not be dogmatic on this point (thereby eliciting Gellner’s accusations of evasiveness). They would not reject the possibility that philosophy could arrive at substantive truths: they would merely say that they do not see how this is to be done, and add that, while much past philosophy makes clear sense, understood as elucidation of concepts, they have not found a single convincing example of a philosophical demonstration of a substantive truth.

(1960: 434–435)

Accusations that the practitioners of OLP did not outline their own metaphilosophical vision are also unfounded. Many of them agonized over the question for decades, as is shown by this quotation from one of Ryle’s last papers:

[L]ong before the Tractatus had been widely heard of, some anxiety was already being felt, both inside and outside the universities, lest philosophy, being no longer even indirectly ancillary to theology, might be ceasing to be ancillary even to the Good Life. So, if it was ever again to be more than an oddly effective preparation for the Civil Service Examination, should it not explicitly undertake to elevate Everyman to — well to something? Apart from inducing a bit of self-esteem in its lay-gospellers, this missionary undertaking did little harm. Perhaps it even did a little good by acclimatizing us academic philosophers to the idea that we need not, after all, strain ourselves to be or seem to be either psychologists or scientists of the unconvincing sort Russell sponsored, since we had in the background this higher vocation as our alibi. Some of us welcomed this (anyhow obligatory) exemption without very earnestly pleading this embarrassing excuse for it. But what then were the authentic functions of the philosopher, if they were neither those of a sort of scientist, even a sort of scientific psychologist, nor yet those of a sort of salvationist? This auto-inquest has been our nagging worry since about the middle 1930s.

(1976: 387)

As Antony Flew (1986: 95) has pointed out, Gellner’s book never once addresses the methodological passages in Austin’s "A Plea for Excuses," the single most explicit manifesto of OLP; a brilliant attempt to answer Ryle’s "nagging worry,"38 which briefly after Austin’s death could already be called "the most reprinted essay of the last decade" (Tennessen 1965: 231), and which at the time Gellner wrote constituted fully one seventh of his published output.39

It simply seems that OLP disappeared from the philosophical scene before even a weak consensus was reached within it on the nature of philosophy. But there is another criticism regarding the alleged lack of a metaphilosophy that cuts even deeper. It is namely impossible to divine accurately from Words and Things just what kind of philosophy its author would like contemporary philosophers to do. Some have assumed that Gellner is primarily a logical positivist (White 1960), a Cartesian philosopher of mind (Findlay 1961: 132) or a proponent of a kind of Lockean scientism (Quinton 1961: 340), while others have taken him to be a friend of speculative metaphysics and Words and Things a polemic in favour of it (e. g. Tomlin 1977).40 Perhaps it is most accurate to say that he is something like Popper, his long-time colleague at the LSE: someone who detests both positivism and speculative metaphysics with equal fervour while peddling a kind of idiosyncratic, dogmatic rationalism. In any case, as many reviewers noted, Gellner’s whole book doesn’t give a single concrete and discussable example of an urgently needed linguistic or social change which OLP has supposedly tried to block. He "believes that philosophy is something weighty and serious but would appear to have no idea of a problem to be solved or of any method whereby it is to be solved" (Isenberg 1961: 111).

The sociological explanation of OLP’s success

Gellner wants to reduce the possibility of OLP strongly to the sociological environment of Oxford in the fifties. He claims that "any individual holding some of [the] ideas [of OLP] finds himself in a situation where a large part of his intellectual environment (or rather the whole of the intellectual environment that he takes seriously) consists of people who, collectively, add up to something like the interlocking scheme depicted" in his book (1959: 162). In an interview with Ved Mehta, Gellner stated that the following was "the essence of Words and Things" and his "whole sociological analysis. Full stop":

Philosophers in the past were proud of changing the world and providing a guide for political life. About the turn of the century, Oxford was a nursery for running an empire; now it is a nursery for leaving the world exactly as it is. The linguistic philosophers have their job cut out for them — to rationalize the loss of English power. This is the sociological background which is absolutely crucial to the understanding of linguistic philosophers.

(Mehta 1983: 37–38)

Here, for once, Gellner presents an empirical hypothesis that can be falsified. And in fact my own existence suffices to falsify it. I am a linguistic philosopher who is certainly not out to "rationalize the loss of English power". I am not Oxonian, British or even Anglo-Saxon; I was not born until over a decade after Gellner made his attack on OLP; and I have been educated in a tradition that — despite appearances — builds however loosely upon the post-positivist, naturalist paradigm of Carnap, Quine and Davidson, using teaching methods that bear no resemblance to the Oxford tutorial system. I have not had OLP shoved down my throat by authoritarian teachers who regarded it as holy writ; rather, with the exception of Wittgenstein, I have been compelled actively to seek it out all by myself. Furthermore, my philosophical interests are by no means confined to OLP. My appreciation of OLP has in no sense diminished my interest in the history of philosophy or my admiration of Spinoza, Lichtenberg, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Husserl, Benjamin, Camus, and a large number of other non-analytic philosophers. I do not claim that OLP is all there is to good philosophy; I simply claim that to the extent — not full, but hardly negligible either — that philosophical problems are conceptual or linguistic ones, OLP is the best way to treat them. Gellner’s claim in the second edition of Words and Things that "once seen not as the vision beautiful, but merely as one vision amongst others, it loses not merely compulsiveness, but also any plausibility" (1979: 36–37; cf. Magee 1997: 91) was simply wrong.

Perhaps the most notorious passage in Words and Things is the figure on page 160, which proposes to present OLP’s basic tenets in the form of a complex diagram which displays a self-contained network of mutually reinforcing doctrines, suggesting that the reader use the diagram to invent parlour games based on this network of tenets according to his taste. But as B. H. Slater has pointed out, we need only to put a negation sign in front of Gellner’s personal value judgements about the human significance of the diagram’s content, and a "philosophy fit for professional gentlemen will then have all the justification it could want" (1986: 215). It would be pointless to deny that Oxford philosophy of the fifties "could not recognize itself apart from its social style" (Rée 1993: 16).41 But the point is that we can recognize it apart from that style. And this shows that to the extent to which OLP was conformist and explicable in terms of sociology, it was so extrinsically, not intrinsically. Contra Gellner, there are no Collingwoodian "absolute presuppositions" which someone must subscribe to in order to use OLP fruitfully in his own philosophical work. In his review of Words and Things, William Kneale pointed out that Gellner’s supposedly exhaustive sociological division between the "low church" of provincial universities and the "high church" of Oxford (Gellner 1959: 252–253) wasn’t enough, since it neglected the existence of "non-conformists and even infidels" (Kneale 1960: 197–198). It is certainly true that already in the fifties, many of the most brilliant contributions to OLP came from philosophers quite removed, both geographically and by way of mentality, from the Oxford atmosphere: O. K. Bouwsma, Stanley Cavell, Norman Malcolm, Rush Rhees and so on. These writers were healthily critical of the excesses of OLP, but fortunately not critical enough merely to dismiss it out of hand. This, incidentally, is also why complaints about the shallowness of Ryle or Austin as compared to Wittgenstein are less damaging than one might think. Nothing prevents us from using them as subcontractors for our own brand of post-Wittgensteinian philosophy — taking from them the only the insights we appreciate without adopting the rest of their outlook. I would simply advise contemporary philosophers to think twice, with the principle of charity, about the bits to be discarded, before actually throwing them away. With anthologies like The New Nietzsche, The New Spinoza and The New Wittgenstein already in print, perhaps what would really be needed is The New Ryle, The New Austin, etc., which would programmatically attempt to rescue the most maligned aspects of their philosophies for a new generation. Similarly, it should be possible to show that when the perplexities of past philosophers are shown to be matters of language, they are not shown to be "merely" matters of language in any pejorative sense at all. And in fact some such attempts have already been made.42

Making Gellner taste his own medicine

It is interesting that no less a sociologist of knowledge than Martin Kusch has recently indicated his sympathy with Gellner’s thesis that OLP was bad sociology in disguise, its insights calling "for sociological enquiry, if indeed they do not imply that sociology should replace philosophy" (Gellner 1959: 230). According to Kusch (1999: 675), the famous suggestion in Winch’s The Idea of a Social Science that social theory was largely "misbegotten epistemology" (1990: 43) should be turned around: epistemologists should be prepared to learn that much of what they have recently claimed as exciting new innovations has been known in social theory for a long time. This notion relates to Kusch’s suggestion that analytic philosophy has had very different relations to psychology and sociology. Philosophers have been conscious of the status of psychology as a competitor, while the similar status of sociology has been ignored and philosophy has been impoverished by ignoring a source of healthy competition as copious as psychology (Kusch 1999: 671–679; cf. Kusch 1996: 85). But it is significant that Kusch does not count Wittgenstein among those ignorant of the sociology of knowledge; indeed, he criticizes the critics of Winch’s theory, such as Gellner, for ignoring the fact that Wittgenstein "did what any good sociologist would do" in "deny[ing] that society can be reduced to something allegedly more fundamental," which "is of course the professional commitment of the sociologist" (1999: 675–676).

Now this is a particularly interesting, and seemingly true, view of the sociologist’s role. If it is true, then Gellner, for all his pride in not being a mere philosopher, wasn’t a sociologist after all. His functionalist social theory is based on the supposition — "anthropology’s incurable functionalism" (Sahlins 1999: 22) — that society can always be reduced to something allegedly more fundamental: the ideological, economic or religious needs of its members. When addressing non-sociologists, Gellner often presents his conception of sociology as the paradigm, while it is actually a conception shared today by extremely few social scientists. (It is even possible that Gellner presented his view as the only correct one because he trusted the ignorance of philosophers regarding the heterogeneity of current social theory.) It is Gellner’s sociology rather than his philosophy that makes him stand apart. As Talal Asad has shown with a close reading of Gellner’s anthropological texts, Gellner claims to do justice to his informants’ own conceptions of their conceptual schemes and explanatory models, but in fact he invariably forces them into his own atheistic enlightenment world-view until a typical informant is "no longer … a Muslim Berber tribesman, but something coming to resemble Professor Gellner" (Asad 1986: 162). For Gellner, the superior conceptual power of Western languages is always something a cultural translator should shamelessly exploit, never something he should bracket (Asad 1986: 156–163; cf. Slater 1986: 210). But when the "ethnographic respect that has long been a condition of the possibility of a scholarly anthropology" is branded unnecessary in this way, only "an anti-anthropology" can result (Sahlins 1995: 9). Asad shrewdly notes that "the attribution of implicit meanings to an alien practice regardless of whether they are acknowledged by its agents," which characterizes both Gellner’s anthropology and his philosophy, is in fact "a characteristic form of theological exercise, with an ancient history" (1986: 161).

It is here that Gellner’s "enlightenment fundamentalism," as he himself described his stance towards legitimation of belief, comes into play. Like Sir James Frazer before him, Gellner is the kind of anthropologist who "wants to understand an alien outlook but cannot acknowledge that there can be any outlook other than [his] own" (Sharrock and Anderson 1985: 399). He notes that "in the world as we know it, cultures are extremely unequal in cognitive power. Some possess concepts and methods which enable them to attain some degree of understanding of their environment and some possess such an understanding only to a minimal degree" (Gellner 1968a: 401). But this leads him to making the unrelated and much more controversial claim that the "cognitive and technical superiority of one form of life is so manifest, and so loaded with implications for the satisfaction of human wants or needs … that it simply cannot be questioned" (Gellner 1968a: 405; cf. Gellner 1998: 189). As John Skorupski (1996) has shown in detail, this makes the rabidly anti-fideist Gellner into a fideist himself. Gellner is a fideist because he, like Frazer, cannot imagine any legitimate life other than that of the scientistic enlightenment freethinker — his own life, in fact. Even worse, his fideism is actually a form of historicism, since it believes, no less than Plato or Hegel did, in inexorable laws of societal progress that "simply cannot be questioned" (Winch 1970: 258–259; Brandon 1982: 240).43 Gellner seems to think that since he cannot question his own way of living in good faith, nobody should be allowed to attempt to question it, because according to him, the "effectiveness of scientific industrial civilization and its diffusion are the central facts of our time" (1968a: 405). In fact, it simply seems that he "would establish guns and butter as the arbiters of philosophical questions" (Brandon 1982: 240).

But, as even (especially?) hardened Popperians admit today, "shared norms of inquiry, taken together with any amount of data, determine no single optimal theory of the world" (Skorupski 1996: 487), and so the invocation of self-evidence is preaching to the converted. As Skorupski puts it, there is "an intellectual dandyism or spiritual machismo" in Gellner’s "rejection of hermeneutic comfort blankets" (1996: 492). The rejection backfires badly, because scientists always act in a culture, and it is culture that determines the version to use of even the optimal theory of the world. Even if science determines denotation, use still determines connotation — by definition. Gellner has to admit that no matter how successful the natural sciences have been in solving their own problems and gathering the masses’ goodwill for secularistic enlightenment values, "neither our values nor our life-style nor our understanding of our social environment can be fully linked, or linked at all, to the best and most respected type of understanding of our natural environment" (1998: 191). So bound are Gellner’s intellectual aims to an imposed ideal of epistemological absolutism that he amazingly tries to turn the fragmentation of postmodern culture into an advantage: because science is just one more style of approaching reality, those who use it as their sole style do not need to explain anything, since explanation is a scientific notion, and science is just one more style. The beloved notion of culture-transcending truth is, in the end, another pragmatically validated myth with a mundane functionalist explanation (Gellner 1998: 191). What in the sixties had been a "temporary compromise" of "interim validity" (Gellner 1969: 775), i. e. the ordinary view of the world, turns out by the nineties to be so resilient that it is "a problem" that we just "have to live with," because "[n]o one really knows … whether it may in time be remedied" (Gellner 1998: 191). There’s the bit where you say it and the bit where you take it back, as Austin was wont to say.

Another critic of Gellner’s unexpected fideism notes that his price would be too high even if he were correct:

So, in order to find a satisfactory identity we apparently must sacrifice ordinary intellectual standards. The reason we need to do this is simply because it is a corollary of the theory of forms of life that Gellner employs in his method. Furthermore, the standards for the successful analysis of these views are never spelled out or explained: how do we know it is right?

(Wettersten 1996: 519)

If Gellner is so sure of the impending victory of his undeniably superior form of life, it’s also puzzling why he spends so much time emphasizing the vast number of competing cultures as supposedly something that creates trouble for Wittgenstein; or, indeed, why he pities what he sees as the early Wittgenstein’s inability to escape the "compulsive" alienating force of Habsburg culture while mocking the late Wittgenstein for imagining that a culture can be a compulsive force (Lukes 1998: xvi–xvii). But, as the late Wittgenstein wrote in a gloomy diary entry reflecting on his altercation with Popper, not everyone who derides his chains is free.44

Some metaphilosophical lessons

At the end of his book on the German psychologism debate, Martin Kusch formulates six metaphilosophical hypotheses concerning philosophical controversies:

1. Philosophical controversies are more fuzzy than controversies in the natural sciences. Often the members of the camps that disagreed can be identified only with hindsight. Philosophers’ wars are wars of all against all, and even people on the same side can often be found accusing each other of providing insufficient arguments against the common opponent;

2. Philosophical controversies are often cases of boundary work. They are often triggered when parts or the whole of the philosophical community feel endangered by the success and appeal of one or several antidisciplines. Philosophers then start to search for hidden tendencies in each other’s work that supposedly provide an insufficient defence against usurpation;

3. The focal point of philosophical controversies is typically a very small number of texts. To become such a focal point, a text must be bold in its accusations, preferably short, and highly rhetorical. The sharper the tone, and the more straightforwardly the text provides its readers with a catchphrase to which it can subsequently be reduced, the better;

4. In philosophical controversies, charges of relativism, irrationalism, total scepticism and the like occupy a much more central role than in other sciences. Philosophical controversies are followed by a wider audience of scholars in other fields and by the public at large, and philosophers have no qualms about strengthening their position in the eyes of these larger audiences by linking their opponents’ views to unreason and moral defect;

5. Philosophical controversies are abandoned rather than resolved. They do not end because one side wins indisputably, but because one or both sides lose interest, or because general cultural trends, political events or death weaken or extinguish one side in the controversy;

6. The "canon" of classic texts in philosophy is determined by the victorious parties in controversies, and is thus shaped by contingent historical factors. If history had taken a slightly different turn, the canon would perhaps look very different.

(Adapted from Kusch 1995: 276–278)

It is evident that these hypotheses fit the case of Words and Things just as well as the very different chain of events Kusch studied. Hypotheses 3–5 are almost trivially true. Hypothesis 6 is mostly true: The Concept of Mind and Philosophical Investigations are still required reading in the philosophy of mind, but they are being caricatured more and more as representatives of a pre-scientific "antirealism" that has merely historical interest.45 Wittgenstein’s considerable influence on our culture is increasingly manifested outside analytic philosophy, in fields like literature, visual art, aesthetics, semiotics, theology, and continental philosophy. And most of today’s undergraduates who are given, say, Descartes’s argument from illusion, Russell’s "On Denoting" or Quine’s "Two Dogmas" to read as part of their studies certainly have little or no idea of the OLP-style critiques (Austin’s Sense and Sensibilia, Strawson’s "On Referring" and Grice and Strawson’s "In Defence of a Dogma") they briefly had to deal with half a century ago.46 There are no book-length histories of philosophy that deal adequately with OLP and its contemporaneous influence.47 Hypotheses 1–2 are more vaguely applicable here, since representatives of OLP typically did not feel threatened by their opponents; the charges of usurpation and collaboration were almost entirely on the other side, but there they were not inconsiderable.

After studying the rhetorical strategies of Gellner’s sociological texts from the viewpoint I have used in looking at his philosophy, and raising the question of why his take-no-prisoners attitude remains attractive to so many people, Talal Asad writes:

Is it perhaps because they are intimidated by a style? We know, of course, that anthropologists, like other academics, learn not merely to use a scholarly language, but to fear it, to admire it, to be captivated by it. Yet this does not quite answer the question because it does not tell us why such a scholarly style should capture so many intelligent people. I now put forward this tentative solution. What we have here is a style easy to teach, to learn, and to reproduce (in examination answers, assessment essays, and dissertations). It is a style that facilitates the textualization of other cultures, that encourages the construction of diagrammatic answers to complex cultural questions, and that is well suited to arranging foreign cultural concepts in clearly marked heaps of "sense" or "nonsense". Apart from being easy to teach and to imitate, this style promises visible results that can readily be graded. Such a style must surely be at a premium in an established university discipline that aspires to standards of scientific objectivity. Is the popularity of this style, then, not a reflection of the kind of pedagogic institution we inhabit?

(1986: 164)

Kusch’s hypotheses 2–4 are in fact curiously intertwined in the case of Words and Things. It was Gellner’s urgent style that convinced his lay audience that unless something was done, the entire Western philosophical heritage would fall moral victim to a hollow antidiscipline buttressed by cynical timeservers. He gave the impression of being a man of the people who selflessly furthers the common good by doing the dirty work. It had to be done no matter how much it pained him to have to write such a rude book enraging reviewers and attacking philosophers he didn’t hold responsible personally.48 And, most importantly, his style provided — both to laymen and to philosophers hostile to OLP — a source of enormous moral indignation at very little cost. Gellner played brilliantly on the mounting fears of non-academics that British philosophy wasn’t doing its assigned part in the building of a cheerfully technocratic society with affluence for all — while simultaneously kindling hopes that said affluent society could revive the philosopher’s ancient, Socratic role as its bad conscience. (In post-war Britain much of this social role was of course filled by Russell, and this is undoubtedly one cause of his enthusiasm for Gellner.)49

What’s worse, unlike Russell or the existentialists (and their British counterparts, the Angry Young Men),50 OLP wasn’t interested in publicity. Even if quite many of its British representatives supported the CND, women’s liberation, or other social struggles (such as the campaigns for law reform on homosexuality and capital punishment), they didn’t like to flaunt their progressive views.51 These views weren’t considered a part of what Gellner calls "the professional role of the paid thinker" (1979: 15). If one wants to make a sociological comparison of OLP to something, a good way would be to juxtapose the OLP mindset with the Zeitgeist prevalent in Britain during the Labour government of 1945–51, the era of the "New Look" (Deutscher 1982: 255; Flew 1986: 78; Rée 1993: 9; cf. Cory 1969: 1116–1117).52 With the exception of Wittgenstein,53 practitioners of OLP fit in very well with the quiet, cheerful confidence of the era, symbolized by the 1951 Festival of Britain. What they didn’t see themselves as fitting was conversely a pan-European model of a philosopher of crisis (Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre), which was indeed often an object of their ridicule (Critchley 1997: 357–358). Equally sedulously they refused to be philosophers of crisis in the reconstructionist sense of Husserl or the Vienna Circle; they simply "had no inclination to draw a line between the saved and the damned," as Geoffrey Warnock (1979: xiv) wrote of Ryle.

In this context should be noted that 1959 was not only the year of Words and Things; it also saw the delivery of C. P. Snow’s "The Two Cultures," which famously attacked "literary intellectuals" for their disdain of technology, creating a controversy that was "inextricably entangled with elusive but highly-charged matters of institutional status and social class" in the same way the Gellner affair was (Collini 1993: xvi).54 Gellner’s claim that "professional philosophers … are alienated from natural and social science (and hence from the exciting areas of intellectual advance), and are not deeply or originally involved in substantive moral, political and social issues" (1959: 153) could have been written by Snow. When interviewed in 1960, Gellner drew a comparison between Snow and himself, and regretted that Snow’s lecture did not appear before he finished his book (Mehta 1983: 36–38; cf. Coulson 1961: 122). It seems reasonable to suppose that, in a very important sense, the fate of OLP’s legitimation was sealed by the fact that it wasn’t equipped to deal with the post-war technocratic turn in British (and, more generally, Western) society; a turn reflected in political rhetoric by the leap from Harold Macmillan’s 1957 "most of our people have never had it so good" to Harold Wilson’s 1964 "white heat of the technological revolution" (cf. Rée 1995: 25). But the result of Snow’s and Wilson’s influence on academic philosophy in Britain, such as the foundation of new universities, was not the Popperian "enlightenment fundamentalism" Gellner would have liked to replace OLP with, but a new wave of technicalization in analytic philosophy, and a return to the metaphilosophical ideals of the positivism that was equally abhorrent to Gellner and OLP. Politically, too, the decline of OLP hardly meant a renaissance of the Popperian liberalism Gellner would have liked to replace it with, but the rise of "right-wing Ivy League American philosophy" (Sylvan 1985: 203). It was a development foreshadowed uncannily by a commentator on the Gellner affair, who suggested that denied the agreement on fundamentals that characterized the immediate post-war years,

men may very well fail to acquire a truly philosophical knowledge in the traditional sense and become mere annotators, unable to rise above a series of quibbling footnotes to the moral and political muddles of their time. Housed no longer in integrated academic communities, but in "a sort of bazaar, or pantechnicon, in which wares of all kinds are heaped together for sale in stalls independent of each other" (the prophecy is Newman’s), they cannot perhaps be blamed when they fail to possess and therefore to transmit that "enlargement of mind," that integrity, which is the hallmark of a liberal education; but under such circumstances can we expect either philosophy or literary criticism to be taught or regarded otherwise than as merely a technique?

(Coulson 1961: 127; cf. Anonymous 1973b: 10–11)


Personally I think that the most important valid criticism of OLP is that its view of ethics and moral philosophy concentrated too much on analyzing certain words removed from the human context in which all moral reflection and decision-making takes place.55 The coolly metaethical work of Hare, Nowell-Smith and Charles Stevenson did not fulfill all versions of the human need for moral advice; to many it was understandably "disconcerting to find grand themes of ethics apparently degenerating into criteria for the grading of apples, or even for assessing sewage effluent" (Dearden 1982: 61).56 And it is true that "unless the trained philosopher — and he most of all — occasionally issues out of his narrow territory and reflects upon the nature of meaning and existence, he will leave the field open to the charlatan and the crank" (Tomlin 1960: 7–8). But even here, the fact that some representatives of OLP had confused notions of the nature of moral and existential questions doesn’t mean that we cannot use the techniques of OLP to clarify conceptual confusions in ethics: as much is apparent from the writings of such philosophers as John Wisdom, Ilham Dilman, Renford Bambrough and Rush Rhees.

Another reason why OLP didn’t catch on among the lay public was the eccentric personalities of its chief proponents. Austin’s almost botanically minute classifications of the conceptual shades of linguistic usage provided an useful "counterpoise" to Wittgenstein’s high seriousness (Cavell 1965: 217–219), but lacked his human voice; they are immensely enjoyable and even charitable when the reader is in the right mood, but are immersed in a "Falstaffian fat" that reflects "a kind of excess, a kind of gleeful malice, that makes our chuckle turn awry" (Leiber 1997: 24). Max Deutscher has spoken, not without justification, of Austin’s "witty cavalier nihilism" and "desire to exist as a dry crackle" (1982: 254).57 It can also be argued that the short shrift Ryle gives to category mistakes like Cartesianism misses their "insidious attractions" and "roots in our individual and cultural self-understanding" (Mulhall 1994: 448).58 Wittgenstein would hardly have agreed with what Ryle reportedly said of his chair in metaphysics — that it was like a chair in tropical diseases in that its holder fought his object of study instead of promoting it.59 Evidently Wittgenstein considered Oxford philosophers insensitive towards the work of the metaphysicians they criticized, even when the criticism was justified (e. g. Bouwsma 1986: 67–68). The Oxford practitioners of OLP often suffered from "Occamizing zeal," as Ryle once characterized his own early philosophy (Ryle 1971b: vii). As Iris Murdoch has memorably said: "The ‘world’ of The Concept of Mind is the world in which people play cricket, cook cakes, make simple decisions, remember their childhood and go to the circus; not the world in which they commit sins, fall in love, say prayers or join the Communist Party" (1953: 35). It was a running joke at Oxford that Ryle found it so easy to question the notion of an inner life because he himself was bereft of it (Warnock 1979: xiii). But even if Ryle — and, to an extent, Austin — possessed a rather flat picture of the universe,60 it is false to suppose that the only reason OLP thrived was the existence of philosophers who did not come to philosophy through deep existential perplexities or "love of wisdom" (e. g. Cory 1969; Magee 1997). I certainly did, and from the biographies of many other representatives of OLP it is clear that they too did — although many others probably didn’t.61

Another feature troubling about OLP is its ignorance of continental philosophy, particularly the Husserlian phenomenological tradition (Weinzweig 1977). Recent attempts to trace the cultural roots of the notion of "continental philosophy" (Critchley 1997: 348, 350; Glendinning 1999: 8–11, 16–19) have drawn attention to the role of OLP in creating a familiar stereotypical representation of the analytic–continental divide. Accounts of attempted bridge-building between OLP and the continental tradition, such as the famous conference on analytic philosophy at Royaumont, France, in 1958, show the deep nature of the rift and the ridiculously donnish opprobrium many Oxford philosophers were liable to apply to contemporary continental thought.62 István Mészáros complained in the mid-sixties that the predominance of OLP in British philosophy had led to a situation in which "Aristotle as a systematizer is neglected, that great philosophers like Diderot are completely ignored, that Hegel only appears as a kind of evil spirit, that there is little inclination to deal with or even to recognize problems raised by Marx, and that existentialism is hardly taken notice of" (1966: 313). The complaint is largely justified, especially regarding phenomenology: serious bridge-building between it and analytic philosophy began only in the seventies. Even if Austin’s "linguistic phenomenology" had little to do with the continental variety, the Husserl of the Crisis phase was very close to Ryle’s metaphilosophical vision in important respects, and Ryle would have benefited from the developments in phenomenology after he lost his youthful interest in Husserl (Ryle 1970: 9; 1971a: x; 1993: 106–107; Small 1981).63 The same goes for Wittgenstein, who after all considered himself a kind of phenomenologist, and whose work has interested phenomenologists for decades; his only recorded remark on Husserl shows that he too was only familiar with the early Husserl of Logische Untersuchungen, not the later one.64

But these shortcomings can mostly be fixed, and they should be fixed before OLP hopefully makes a return to the philosophical scene. There were many "attempts at quick fixes that in retrospect seem shallow" (Burge 1992: 13), and the spectre of "a disguised sectional interest bidding for universal validity" (Dearden 1982: 62) was never far from OLP even at its best. But ultimately the question is: what philosophical style do these features differentiate OLP from? I know perfectly well what OLP sold out to, but I don’t understand what it sold out from. Where is the authentic philosophical tradition, totally free of imperfection and providing only deep and everlasting wisdom? I dare say that if it exists, part of it is found in OLP itself, for the simple reason that many people have found in it solutions not only to conceptual confusions, but to existential perplexities. It has been said in defence of OLP that "philosophical perplexities, which manifest themselves in language, go very deep into human nature. We dissolve a deeply-rooted perplexity, and by so doing illuminate the world. This is a very great thing to have done" (McEachran 1964: 77; cf. Doney 1962: 257). It is, and Gellner’s blustering and blundering won’t take away that greatness.65

- 30 -


1 In the following I concentrate mainly on Wittgenstein, Ryle and Austin, the three philosophers who have entered most visibly into a metonymic relationship with OLP. — Some Wittgensteinians, e. g. Gordon Baker, have protested that lumping Wittgenstein together with the other leading practitioners of OLP is erroneous owing to the much more deeply therapeutic nature of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. I do not intend to minimize the differences between Wittgenstein and them, but my aim is to look at OLP from the viewpoint of the sociology of knowledge; and sociologically Wittgenstein belongs to OLP, whether one likes it or not. As Philip Dwyer has said, "since it is unlikely that there would be anything called ordinary language philosophy were it not for Wittgenstein’s later writings, it’s a bit late to exclude him from the tradition" (1999: 312). Besides, the OLP era should at least be interesting as the only time so far in the history of analytic philosophy when the majority of active philosophers were more in favour of Wittgenstein — however hazily they perceived him — than they were against him. This is one of the main reasons why I argue that the marriage of Oxford philosophy to Wittgenstein was not the unmitigated disaster as which it has often been portrayed during the past few decades. A marriage of convenience it may have been, but as such it was often a happy one.

2 A striking sign of the silent disappearance of OLP is the fact that up to 1984, the masthead of the journal Philosophical Investigations stated: "The journal seeks to express, extend or criticise ways of philosophising influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. L. Austin and Gilbert Ryle." In the first issue of 1985 this statement disappeared without discussion and has not reappeared since. This was probably due merely to the lack of submissions about Austin and Ryle.

3 In the history of philosophy the one major study worth mentioning is the one by Martin Kusch (1995) about the German psychologism debate. Interesting examples of similar research in the history of other human sciences include a series of papers by Neil McLaughlin (1998a; 1998b; 1999) on the fall of Erich Fromm’s Neo-Freudianism, and the dissertation of Pertti Töttö (1991) on the eclipsing of Werner Sombart by Max Weber in the rise of capitalism debate.

4 The correspondents — apart from Russell, Ryle and Gellner himself — were eight in favour of Russell (including the political scientist Arnold S. Kaufman and the economist Joan Robinson); seven in favour of Ryle (including John Wisdom, Brian McGuinness and Alan Donagan); and one critical of both.

5 Actually written by J. F. Thomson, a Cambridge-based logician and Berkeley scholar.

6 Warnock also noted that Gellner made fifteen abusive references to himself, but that he "did not feel victimized on that account, since his many references to many other people are just as abusive" (1959: 129).

7 For what it’s worth, my own position on human freedom is basically Spinozistic.

8 Arguably the best development of this view of truth in theoretical terms is Huw Price’s so-called explanatory theory of truth (Price 1988: 117–218).

9 A recent example of this is provided by the problems with Michael Dummett’s and P. M. S. Hacker’s proposed definitions of "analytic philosophy," which end up excluding Russell and Quine respectively.

10 It is unclear whether this claim can be attributed to Austin. Had he not died young, the stream of OLP influenced by him would perhaps have defected from philosophy into linguistics or the then nascent discipline of semiotics. It is reported that Austin "mastered, and used, a version of the international Phonetic Alphabet and was a member of the Philological Society, then the chief forum for British linguists and philologists" (Leiber 1999: 196). He also reportedly endorsed "the occurrence analysis of locutions in dictionaries," as well as the use of tape recorders in conversation analysis, as a key method in philosophy (Tennessen 1965: 234), and after his death the likes of Paul Grice, John Searle and Zeno Vendler developed the notion of speech acts in an empirical direction. A similar project was the "empirical semantics" developed from Austin’s ideas in Norway by Arne Næss, and later used in Britain by Geoffrey Leech (e. g. Tennessen 1961; Rossvær 1989; cf. Leech 1969; Lyas 1996a: 186–188). In any case, even if he had not gone the way of Searle or of semiotics, the accusation that Austin was ignorant of linguistics is completely ludicrous; much of his "linguistic philosophy" was in fact (contra Auroux and Kouloughli 1991) philosophy of science of the science of linguistics.

11 Which is an extremely odd comment in view of the frequent accusations by Gellner, Russell and others that practitioners of OLP are merely too lazy or incompetent to examine the empirical world instead of just language. The Ryle–Austin exchange convincingly shows the charting of conceptual shades in ordinary language to be so hard that even Ryle, an acknowledged leader in the field, can go wrong in it (Hanfling 2000: 4).

12 This is particularly clear in C. W. K. Mundle’s book A Critique of Linguistic Philosophy, in which counterexamples are used constantly to criticize OLP’s claims. Mundle can hardly characterize OLP as "an aberration" (1970: 7), when he is using its methods all the time, and using them well (Abelson 1976). And, indeed, in the second edition of his book, while retaining the old title, he admits contritely that in "tackling almost any philosophical problem, some linguistic analysis is indispensable" and that "some philosophical problems are mainly or wholly soluble by such methods" (1979: 256). Mundle’s book, nevertheless, remains everything Gellner’s book should have been: a non-mocking, well-documented critique of specific positions taken by named philosophers, presented in the language-game of analytic philosophy rather than polemic. Personally I find several of Mundle’s specific criticisms unanswerable.

13 In his brief discussion of Strawson’s paper, Gellner (1959: 178–179) comes perhaps closest to executing a critique of a single easily identifiable argument in a single easily identifiable text. But, as Dummett (1960: 434) easily shows, Gellner completely misunderstands both the nature and the philosophical point of Strawson’s objection to Russell’s theory.

14 Where most analytic philosophers today would use "idea" or "concept," I use "notion," believing in the argument presented by Guy Robinson (1998: 280) that this strategy is liable to bracket the considerable historical baggage accompanying the former two notions.

15 TS 213, §105 ("Ja, wenn wir der Sprache die Zügel überlassen und nicht dem Leben, dann entstehen die philosophischen Probleme").

16 And if a philosopher’s being professionally interested in ordinary language automatically makes him a member of a "cult of common sense" (cf. Gellner 1959: 32) that "deified actual language" (Gellner 1959: 55), shouldn’t we brand philosophers like Russell and Gellner, who so strongly and emotively emphasize that the object of philosophy is rather "the nature of reality" or "the universe," high priests of a pantheist cult? (Should Mind perhaps have been retitled Reality?)

17 One example is the suggestion that Sprachspiel should be viewed as language-play rather than "language-game," relating Wittgenstein to the famous theory of Johan Huizinga (1872–1945) on the playful element in culture (Thompkins 1990: 192–194; Savickey 1999: 155–156). Another is the relating of "form of life" to the French cultural geographer Paul Vidal de la Blache (1845–1918) and his notion of "genre de vie" (Curry 1989: 281–283). — In my opinion the best single reading of Wittgenstein as an antirelativist is provided by Hilary Putnam in his Gifford Lecture "Wittgenstein on Reference and Relativism" (1992: 158–179). Regrettably I do not have the space to expound Putnam’s subtle and complex arguments fully in this paper.

18 As has been noted, the hardly conservative Marx also quotes this line from Goethe’s Faust with approval in Capital (Kitching 1988: 235).

19 In the first edition of The Idea of a Social Science, Winch admittedly used many formulations that have led to his philosophy being read as relativist, but he retracted most of these formulations explicitly in the preface to the second edition (Winch 1990: ix–xviii).

20 My translation. — Hell hath no fury like a romantically oriented reader of the Tractatus who has thought of the early Wittgenstein as an enchanting mystagogue, but gone on to read the later one and realized subconsciously that the project of the thaumaturgic Tractatus is fundamentally the same as that of the quotidian Investigations. (For two particularly sad examples see Nieli 1987 and Magee 1997.)

21 On this interpretation of the Tractatus see, e. g., Diamond 1991; Crary and Read 2000; Conant 2001. — Norman Malcolm’s memory that Wittgenstein "once told me that he really thought that in the Tractatus he had provided a perfected account of a view that is the only alternative to the viewpoint of his later work" is milked by Gellner (1979: 26; 1992: 119; 1998: 71–78) all he can, to demonstrate that "the ladder is still there, only it happens to be heavily camouflaged" (1959: 66). But contra Gellner (and Malcolm), it is in fact favourable to Diamond and Conant. Wittgenstein actually spoke of an "account" as in a ‘statement or exposition of reasons, causes or motives’ (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary), namely a diagnosis of the causes that led the Fregean–Russellian logical tradition into a barren atomism. It is odd to claim that a book one criticizes for containing "grave mistakes," as Wittgenstein (1953: viii) criticized the Tractatus, can be "a perfected account" of its content in the sense of ‘a perfected presentation’. The one plausible explanation is that the "grave mistakes" consisted in Wittgenstein’s failure to make it explicit that he was satirically presenting a wilfully nonsensical text, a reading which I defend elsewhere (Uschanov 2000).

22 And which was hardly received as conservative by philosophers of mathematics, most of whom complained that Wittgenstein wanted to change almost everything imaginable about the self-image of their discipline (cf. Diamond 1991: 34).

23 Consider, for instance, a passage from Wittgenstein’s 1939 lectures on the foundations of mathematics in which he explicitly parodies the notion of conceptual analysis as a panacea: "Think of disputes about transubstantiation. It is not true that if someone had said to Luther and Zwingli that the meaning of the word ‘wine’ is the method of its verification, they would have said, ‘Oh, now I see’ and stopped arguing. On the contrary they might have killed you — and perhaps rightly" (1976: 110).

24 Ryle too accepted the description of his work as "arranging the geography of … concepts" (Magee 1971: 133).

25 The reading of Wittgenstein as claiming that cultures are hermetically sealed and inviolable has led to fascinating mental somersaults like this one: "At what point do we decide when a mere collection of linguistic conventions becomes a ‘form of life’? The question is important, for once the promotion occurs that mode of discourse joins the ranks of the uncriticizable" (Clammer 1976: 781). This has it exactly backwards. What is uncriticizable is uncriticizable contingently, and the mere fact that Wittgenstein calls something a form of life or a language-game neither implies nor precludes its criticizability, the presence or lack of which only shows in the success or failure of attempts to criticize. Wittgenstein only draws attention to the likely failure of some attempted criticisms, and the possible relation of this to variation in world-pictures — but "whether we will try to go on or not is always ultimately up to us" (Hertzberg 1976: 60). It would be magical thinking to suppose that calling something a form of life would make it uncriticizable!

26 My translation. — Foreshadowing Putnam’s treatment of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty in "Wittgenstein on Reference and Relativism," Hertzberg also notes that "someone might suggest that the notion of a majority decision should be replaced by a notion of negotiation. A person who insists on applying an expression in conflict with a majority of speakers could still defend his claim to mean the same thing by his words as they do by showing himself prepared to negotiate the issue in good faith. He should be willing to assume the burden of showing how the majority could come to have been mistaken in the case at hand. … But there are cases in which we should not be prepared even to negotiate" (1990: 30).

27 Granted, there are no Popperian Wittgensteinians, but this is due solely to Popper’s ignorance of Wittgenstein’s thought. All the references to Wittgenstein in his work seemingly either (1) invoke the Vienna Circle’s reading of the Tractatus (even many decades after Wittgenstein’s repudiation of it became common knowledge); or (2) repeat the mantra, probably stamped in his head by his unfortunate 1946 confrontation with Wittgenstein, that "Wittgenstein denied the existence of philosophical problems" (cf. Wittgenstein 1967: §456). It is unclear whether Popper ever even read the Investigations, let alone Wittgenstein’s other post-Tractatus works (see the debate among him, Strawson and Warnock in Magee 1971: 165–186). However, a number of Popperians — notably Joseph Agassi — have, while paying lip service to Popper’s low estimate of Wittgenstein, unwittingly displayed a considerable Wittgensteinian streak. Gellner too exhibits his Popperian sympathies in reading the Tractatus through the Vienna Circle’s spectacles whenever it happens to suit his purposes. Taking the cake must be a truly astonishing passage in which the book is rephrased as an attempt to discuss the human condition in Neurathian protocol sentences (Gellner 1998: 108–109).

28 Pitkin 1972; Needham 1972; Needham 1975. In my opinion, Pitkin’s book is one of the very best examples of OLP’s genuine applicability to problems or sets of problems arising completely outside analytic philosophy — in this case problems in radical political philosophy. (For more examples of the use of OLP to support radical politics, see Gallie 1956; Symanski 1976; Wertheimer 1976: 414–420 and Connolly 1993. And for a recent attempt to use OLP as a key weapon in a neo-Marxist or neo-Foucaultian cultural critique of a depth and breadth usually encountered only in the continental tradition, see Robinson 1998.)

29 Gellner 1968b; 1968c; 1968d; 1968e; MacIntyre and Winch 1968; Runciman 1968; Phillips 1968. In view of Gellner’s scholarly conduct, it is noteworthy how he devotes two separate letters to a hair-splittingly scholastic argument that the use of ethnographically unfaithful terminology in an unpublished draft of a philosophical paper condemns the published version of that paper, while his own works repeatedly use terminology he knows to be unfaithful to the extent that his posthumous editor has to warn his readers about it (cf. Gellner 1998: xi). Gellner also brilliantly and uniquely combined a tu quoque argument with a guilt-by-association argument by claiming that since an unnamed Wittgensteinian philosopher once misquoted him, it is fair for him to misquote anyone he associates with Wittgensteinian views.

30 Compare Wittgenstein’s remarks, about six weeks before his death, on a review of two OLP-style books: "The other day I saw in the New Statesman a review of a book which seems to be a collection of articles by various Logical Positivists, Wisdom, Ryle, Waismann, etc. It particularly praised Waismann for a remark which comes straight from me. Whenever I see an obvious theft I very much dislike it; although I really ought by now to be entirely used to it. I wish some reviewer would debunk these humbugs" (letter to Rush Rhees, 14 March 1951). And: "The other day I saw a laudatory review of two philosophical books in the New Statesman. One was by a man, Toulmin, who came to my classes while you were in Cambridge, I think; the other seemed to contain articles by Wisdom, Waismann, Ryle & other charlatans. The review particularly praised one remark of Waismann’s which came straight out of my lectures. I’d like to see a review some day which debunks these people" (letter to Norman Malcolm, 19 March 1951).

31 Indeed, the Popperian John Watkins complained in his review of Words and Things that Gellner "puts himself in the position of a complacent psycho-analyst who regards his patient’s protestations against his interpretations as further confirmation of them" (1960: 107). This is also odd in the view of Gellner’s later interest in criticizing psychoanalysis (e. g. Gellner 1985) — as is Gellner’s insistence on calling Wittgenstein a total fideist in the face of his well-documented suspicion of Freudian explanatory schemes.

32 In Language and Solitude, Gellner maintains that Wittgenstein endorsed the politically escapist movement into reviving local folklore that was popular in the interbellum decades in the successor states of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Gellner constantly evokes "the Carpathian village green," with its ignorant folk dancers, as an accurate metaphor for Wittgenstein’s cultural ideals. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a diary entry from 1932, Wittgenstein explicitly deplores "the adoption of ancient names for denominations" and "the revival of folk dances and costumes" as "a kind of stupidification" (eine Art der Vertrottelung) that betrays the degeneration of Austrian culture (1997: 68).

33 In his classic study of Ernst Jünger, Hans-Peter Schwarz (1962) suggests the term "conservative anarchist". While highly misleading when considered in isolation, this nevertheless has something of the right flavour.

34 It is noteworthy that many of Wittgenstein’s close friends were Marxists, e. g. Piero Sraffa, George Thomson, Nicholas Bachtin and Maurice Dobb. Thomson remarks that Wittgenstein "was opposed to [Marxism] in theory, but supported it to a large extent in practice" (Flowers 1999: 2.220). To his friend Rowland Hutt Wittgenstein similarly said: "I am a communist, at heart" (Monk 1990: 343). — In November 1940 Wittgenstein made his only public political statement when he supported a communist Students’ Convention held in Cambridge. This was proemial to the People’s Convention movement which called in the pre-Barbarossa months of 1941 for a peace offer to be presented to Germany and for close Anglo-Soviet relations (Flowers 1999: 3.142–143). Then again, in the late thirties Wittgenstein dismissed Chamberlain’s policy of German appeasement more than once (Flowers 1999: 2.241–242; 3.33–34; 3.48; 3.228); his remarks on European politics in the immediate post-war era are equally gloomy (Monk 1990: 516; Flowers 1999: 2.209; 3.144).

35 Theodore Redpath notes tantalizingly: "One day I asked him why he never stated any political views or discussed politics in any of his lectures. His reply was interesting. He said he could not do so but that one day he would give a lecture or talk explaining why he could not. He never gave such a lecture or talk while I was still attending his classes" (Flowers 1999: 3.47). Had Wittgenstein given the lecture, he would in all likelihood have elaborated on the "community of ideas" remark I discuss above. (Or he might have had in mind a reworking of his Lecture on Ethics.)

36 A philosopher can, of course, lend his prestige as an intellectual — if any — to causes he considers worthy of support. But the prestige is the same with many other kinds of intellectuals who are not philosophers; and nobody would suggest that painters, musicians, physicists or mathematicians can lend their support to progressive social causes any more effectively because of their vocational training.

37 MS 132, 11 September 1946. I am grateful to Denis Paul, an adaptation of whose translation I quote, for bringing this passage to my attention. — Similarly, when M. O’C. Drury suggested to Wittgenstein that he should title his forthcoming book simply Philosophy, Wittgenstein replied: "Don’t be such an ass — how could I use a word like that which has meant so much in the history of human thought? As if my work was anything more than just a small fragment of philosophy" (Flowers 1999: 3.242).

38 Ryle even characterized the "overriding Worry" of his career as metaphilosophical questions (Ryle 1971a: ix–x; 1971b: vii), and repeatedly described The Concept of Mind as primarily a metaphilosophical book rather than a book on the philosophy of mind (Ryle 1970: 12; 1993: 105–106). For a recent attempt to read The Concept of Mind as a primarily metaphilosophical work, and a brilliant refutation of the myth that it represents reductionist "logical behaviourism," see Park 1994.

39 The title of the version of "A Plea for Excuses" Austin delivered in 1959 at Göteborg, "Something About One Way of Possibly Doing One Part of Philosophy," also testifies of the depth of his interest in metaphilosophy.

40 An interesting Doppelgänger of Words and Things was published a year before it by G. R. G. Mure (1893–1979), the last of the British absolute idealists. His Retreat from Truth (Mure 1958) convicted all analytic philosophy, with special reference to OLP, of an empiricist disdain for questions of value and metaphysics. However, it received almost no attention.

41 For sympathetic outsiders’ accounts of the social theatre of fifties Oxford, see Mehta 1983: 14–105 and White 1999: 178–220.

42 The best known of these is probably Hacking 1975, unnecessarily vitiated by a one-sided commitment to Foucault’s archeology of knowledge and his insistence that owing to the changing fortunes of the "knowing subject," language’s mattering and the awareness of its mattering are two fundamentally different things.

43 Gavin Kitching has intriguingly suggested (personal communication, 11 January 2001) that Gellner is best seen as a kind of Marxist without Marxism — "as someone who hated Marxism politically while swallowing it more or less whole as a philosophy of history". I hope to develop this reading of Gellner’s intellectual profile in a future paper.

44 MS 133, 27 October 1946.

45 The most tangible example of this is a recent introductory textbook on the philosophy of mind, which disposes of Ryle’s and Wittgenstein’s contributions in a single paragraph. This claims that since their "antirealism" is generally accepted as having been refuted decisively, the reader doesn’t have to pay any attention to it (Botterill and Carruthers 1999: 208). It is my view that if there is a cogent challenge to the realist paradigm in the philosophy of mind, it is found in OLP, in such pieces as Ryle’s demolition of the Chomskyan view of innate ideas (Ryle 1974) or various attempts to demonstrate the incoherence of verbal descriptions of eliminative naturalism (Coulter 1993; Serafini 1993; Hunter 1995; Hanfling 2000: 244–261).

46 It is true that Austin’s notion of speech acts still survives in the work of Searle, Vendler and their followers (cf. footnote 10 above), but since the sixties it has been getting further and further removed from the metaphilosophical values that motivated the best of OLP, and correspondingly closer to contemporary scientistic values. I fully share the reservations one commentator on Searle recently expressed about his established status as "the sole intellectual legatee of and authorized spokesman for J. L. Austin" (Rajagopalan 2000: 351).

47 The closest thing to such a book is currently P. M. S. Hacker’s Wittgenstein’s Place in Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy. Hacker’s book is intended as a programmatic vindication of OLP, but ironically he replicates all of what tended to be worst about it — an adherence to the obsolete two-Wittgenstein picture; a haughty and unforgiving attitude towards most non-analytic philosophy; and an ignorance of the extent to which Wittgenstein has been significant precisely as a bridge-builder between analytic philosophy and other parts of culture (cf. Fogelin 1998; McManus 1998; Sluga 1998; Stern 1999). An altogether superb historical discussion concentrating on the OLP era in Oxford and Cambridge can be found in Furberg 1998 (which badly needs translating into English); this can be supplemented with the theoretical defence of OLP in Hanfling 2000.

48 A somewhat demure footnote to the first accusation of systematic evasiveness near the beginning of Words and Things states: "I should like, however, to express my respect for those philosophers who nevertheless display admirable forthrightness in debate, such as Professors Ryle and Urmson, or Messrs. R. Hare and A. MacIntyre" (Gellner 1959: 21; cf. Gellner 1971: 889; 1974: 709; 1979: 36).

49 On the tensions between Russell’s social position and the role in which he saw himself, see Crawshay-Williams 1970: 78–81 and Grice 1989: 378.

50 On the existentialists’ publicity strategies, see Arppe 1996; on the media confection of the Angry Young Men, led by Colin Wilson and John Osborne, see Rée 1993: 3–5. At least two contemporaneous reviews of Words and Things (Cohen 1960; White 1960) called Gellner an "Angry Young Philosopher," one of them suggesting that the book’s main purpose might be to turn philosophy "into a social struggle between the Establishment and the Angry Young Man" (Cohen 1960: 180). Over a decade later, dissatisfaction with OLP was one of the main reasons for the formation of the Radical Philosophy Group and the journal Radical Philosophy, which frequently discussed the conservatism of OLP in its early issues (e. g. Rée 1973; Sayers 1974; Rée 1974; Harrison 1974; Fann 1974; Burke 1975; di Norcia 1975; Benton 1976).

51 Ryle said during a lecture course in 1964: "This reminds me of a recent visit to New Zealand. Having arrived at the airport I was approached by a reporter who asked me what contemporary philosophers think of the atom bomb. Much to his disappointment I replied that the atom bomb raises less philosophical problems than the bow and arrow did centuries ago" (1993: 119–120). Wittgenstein too was not very worried about the bomb, and notoriously even toyed with the idea of welcoming it (1980: 48–49).

52 On this era of British social history more generally, see e. g. Hopkins 1963 and Morgan 1984.

53 "In this country there is no more obvious reaction for people like me than misanthropy," Wittgenstein wrote in the spring of 1947, calling Britain a "country in which politics alternates between an evil purpose and no purpose" (Monk 1990: 516).

54 For a good account of the controversy started by Snow’s lecture, and of the social context which greatly facilitated both his and Gellner’s impact, see Collini 1993.

55 The inadequacy of language — any language — in the treatment of genuine moral questions was clearly a key theme in Wittgenstein’s view of ethics (Wittgenstein 1965; cf. Rhees 1965). When asked about intellectual justification of moral norms in conversation, Wittgenstein said: "This is a terrible business — just terrible! You can at best stammer when you talk of it" (Toulmin 1950: 209). And his remark to G. H. von Wright, who had wondered at the slight Wittgensteinian influence on Stevenson’s classic Ethics and Language, was that all Stevenson had learned from attending his lectures was to say "— and language" (von Wright 1978: 204–205).

56 The allusions are to Urmson 1950 and Wisdom 1937, respectively.

57 There are many anecdotes about the fearsome aloofness of Austin (e. g. Mehta 1983: 60; Cavell 1994: 59–60). On his verbal pyrotechnics — or what Gellner (1969: 776) calls "the terrible playful girls-school wit … a coy don’s old-womanish humour" — more generally, see Ricks 1992.

58 "All the magic has vanished" was Wittgenstein’s telling comment on The Concept of Mind (Hacker 1996: 169).

59 Although Ryle also had the view that he was, in a sense, a less medical philosopher than Wittgenstein: "j’emploie un langage, disons, moins clinique que celui de Wittgenstein, et je suis moins porté que lui à pratiquer la chirurgie" (Wahl et al. 1962: 29).

60 A merit of the often flat examples used in OLP was, of course, that studying a non-momentous phenomenon helps one to avoid the distortions that come from preconceptions (Martinich 1998: 144–145). For this reason, unexciting examples (such as Austin’s spilling of ink and shooting of donkeys) were often desirable and even necessary; as Thomas Wallgren says, it is "philosophical blackmail" to insist "that the answers we reach be of a certain kind, that they must, for instance, have an air of enormous depth or be enormously complex or extraordinary" (2000: 5.2). Anyone "who pretended to think that there was a correlation between the gravity of the example and the importance of the correction that it helped to administer would be pretending to be stupid" (Hinton 1973: 384). And it is odd to condemn a philosophy on the grounds that one finds it boring — as if a single individual’s personal aesthetic tastes should be allowed to dictate what philosophy is, and as if a task’s being boring equalled its being dispensable (Wertheimer 1976: 409). There is something in Dennett’s description of Ryle’s philosophy as "wonderfully, importantly shallow" (2000: xviii) — perhaps he was "superficial out of profundity," as Nietzsche described the Greeks in his preface to the second edition of The Gay Science.

61 For one harrowingly beautiful example of such a biography, see Bambrough 1986. Most critics of OLP seem to suppose that nobody has ever undertaken a defence of academic analytic philosophy that attends to the existential arguments purporting to prove its worthlessness. Until the fact that such defences (e. g. Griffith 1982; Thomas 1989; Dilman 1992; Adamowski 1993) exist in an unanswered state is even acknowledged, the responsibility for the gap between academic philosophy and Lebensphilosophie can hardly be said to rest solely on the shoulders of the former (cf. Khatchadourian 1981: 233).

62 The proceedings of this conference, which featured Ayer and Quine as well as Ryle, Strawson and Austin, offer many tangible examples of this rift. When Merleau-Ponty asked Ryle "Notre programme n’est il pas le même?," Ryle replied: "J’espère que non" (Wahl et al. 1962: 7). And the Husserl scholar H. L. van Breda was fundamentally correct to say in exasperation: "C’est la vérité pure et simple, je crois, de dire qu’il y a beaucoup de continentaux qui n’ont aucun intérêt réel pour votre philosophie. Et j’ose dire que c’est la même chose chez vous envers les continentaux" (Wahl et al. 1962: 344).

63 In the twenties Ryle studied Croce and Husserl extensively and diligently, and even visited the latter (cf. the notes on phenomenological books owned by him, as well as a reassessment of the extent of his interest in phenomenology, in Kramer and Wilcock 1999: 131–136). As is known, Ryle published a not altogether censorious review of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit in 1929, and in view of the Frankfurt School’s later negative attitude to OLP it is fascinating to note that he also functioned as advisor to Theodor Adorno’s abortive doctoral dissertation on Husserl in 1934–1937 (Kramer and Wilcock 1999). Ryle was always keen to oppose the reduction of abstract thought to various "isms," and devoted a superb early paper, "Taking Sides in Philosophy," to criticism of sectarian philosophy (Ryle 1937; cf. Ryle 1970: 6; 1971a: ix). Even in the year of his death he continued to denounce the "sectarian and electoral designations" of a "by-election voice" (Ryle 1976: 385). But unfortunately for Husserl, the word "phenomenology" did not end in "–ism".

64 Coupled with a lack of interest in continental thought was a lack of deep interest in the history of philosophy. Ryle was, of course, a not inconsiderable Plato scholar, while Austin both wrote on Aristotle and initiated the Aristotle series of Oxford University Press. But Ryle’s lack of interest in Descartes and Husserl, prime objects of his criticism, is all the more puzzling when compared to his interest in Plato (Curley 1986). He suggested himself that the lack of interest in history among his generation of Oxford philosophers was largely a recoil reaction against the undue attention to history paid by the absolute idealists (Magee 1971: 140–141). Perhaps it was also a reaction against the need to train as classicists before going on to philosophical studies.

65 Thanks are due to Jouni Avelin, James Conant, Tapani Kilpeläinen, Anthony Palmer and Michael Smithurst for various large and small exchanges on whether OLP is still worth writing on; Antti Arnkil, Olli Kulmala and Elia Lennes for many wonderful discussions of Wittgenstein, OLP and Marshall Sahlins; Lars Hertzberg and the participants of his research seminar (especially Göran Torrkulla and Olli Lagerspetz) for comments on an early version of this paper; Gavin Kitching, Martin Kusch, Justin Leiber, Neil McLaughlin, Jonathan Rée, Duncan Richter and J. L. Speranza for comments on a slightly later version; Bo-Ram Lee, Günter Trendler, Kirby Urner and Thomas Wallgren for acting, in various ways, as sparring partners for my view that philosophy truly leaves everything as it is; Sami Järvinen for conversations about Ryle and supplying a few of my sources; Chess Krawczyk for supplying more sources; and Deborah McVea for some invaluable bibliographic information.


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