The discussion of language is really exceptional and should be studied most carefully by anyone with even the slightest interest in philosophy and critical thought. The section is obviously a product of its moment since the centerpieces of his critique are analytic philosophy and "ordinary language" linguistics, specially touching on Wittgenstein, G.E. Moore, Anthony Flew and J.L. Austin.
I find his emphasis on the openness of meaning especially important. This is emphatically not the relativity of meaning from various viewpoints none of which has priority, but rather that meaning is contradictory and contested, that if it is situated, its situation is not given in advance from the perspective of speaker because that is also contested and contradictory. It is a historical actuality insofar as it has a background and baggage and a lineage; it comes from some place and time, some usage and meaning that was and which might no longer be or which is struggling to continue to be or which the present wishes to suppress it having been, as much as the present might want what it might become to also be suppressed and denied.
There is no doubt of the reactionary quality of this specific hatred of metaphysics because it wants to put an end to meanings that might mean more or less than they seem to. In this section is in fact one of the most damning critiques of the pragmatist notion of truth central to Nicole Pepperell's work.
deflationary theory of truth According to the deflationary theory of truth, to assert that a statement is true is just to assert the statement itself. For example, to say that ‘snow is white’ is true, or that it is true that snow is white, is equivalent to saying simply that snow is white, and this, according to the deflationary theory, is all that can be said significantly about the truth of ‘snow is white’.http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-deflationary/
Exactly this notion that truth resides only within the context of the statement is utterly reconciled with what is. The entirety of Marcuse's critique of analytic philosophy and its consequent linguistics applies to this notion of truth, that is utterly barren of contradiction, of the unintended, of surplus, of anything that might not be utterly banal and trivial.
I'll need to site examples from the text later.
It is now 'later'. All references to the Beacon Press 2nd edition, 1991.
171-82 refer specifically to the kind of linguistic analysis common to J.L. Austen and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Like any philosophy worthy of the name, linguistic analysis speaks for itself and defines its own attitude to reality. It identifies as its chief concern the debunking of transcendent concepts; it proclaims as its frame of
reference the common usage of words, the variety of prevailing behavior. With these characteristics, it circumscribes its position in the philosophic tradition-namely, at the opposite pole from those modes of thought which elaborated their concepts in tension with, and even in contradiction to, the prevailing universe of discourse and behavior.
In terms of the established universe, such contradicting modes of thought are negative thinking. "The power of the negative" is the principle which governs the development of concepts, and contradiction becomes the distinguishing quality of Reason (Hegel). This quality of thought was not confined to a certain type of rationalism; it was also a decisive element in the empiricist tradition. Empiricism is not necessarily positive; its attitude to the established reality depends on the particular dimension of experience which functions as the source of knowledge and as the basic frame of reference. For example, it seems that sensualism and materialism are per se negative toward a society in which vital instinctual and material needs are unfulfilled. In contrast, the empiricism of linguistic analysis moves within a frame- work which does not allow such contradiction-the self- imposed restriction to the prevalent behavioral universe takes for an intrinsically positive attitude. In spite of the rigidly neutral approach of the philosopher, the pre-bound analysis succumbs to the power of positive thinking.
Austin's contemptuous treatment of the alternatives to the common usage of words, and his defamation of what we "think up in our armchairs of an afternoon"; Wittgenstein's assurance that philosophy “leaves everything as it is" - such statements exhibit, to my mind, academic sado-masochism, self-humiliation, and self-denunciation of the intellectual whose labor does not issue in scientific, technical or like achievements. These affirmations of modesty and dependence seem to recapture Hume's mood of righteous contentment with the limitations of reason which, once recognized and accepted, protect man from useless mental adventures but leave him perfect1y capable of orienting himself in the given environment. However, when Hume debunked substances, he fought a powerful ideology, while his successors today provide an intellectual justification for that which society has long since accomplished-namely, the defamation of alternative modes of thought which contradict the established universe of discourse.
Paying respect to the prevailing variety of meanings and usages, to the power and common sense of ordinary speech, while blocking (as extraneous material) analysis of what this speech says
about the society that speaks it, linguistic philosophy suppresses once more what is continually suppressed in this universe of discourse and behavior. The authority of philosophy gives its blessing to the forces which make this universe. Linguistic analysis abstracts from what ordinary language reveals in speaking as it does-the mutilation of man and nature.
Moreover, all too often it is not even the ordinary language which guides the analysis, but rather blown-up atoms of language, silly scraps of speech that sound like baby talk such as "This looks to me now like a man eating poppies," "He saw a robin", "I gad a hat." Wittgenstein devotes much acumen and spare to the analysis of "My broom is in the corner." I quote, as a representative example, an analysis from J. L. Austin's "Other Minds":
“Two rather different ways of being hesitant may be distinguished. (a) Let us take the case where we are tasting a certain taste. We may say I simply don't know what it is: I've never tasted anything remotely like it before ... No, it's no use: the more I think about it the more confused I get: it's perfectly distinct and perfectly distinctive, quite unique in my experience! This illustrates the case where I can find nothing in my past experience with which to compare the current case: I'm certain it's not appreciably like anything I ever tasted before, not sufficiently like anything I know to merit the same description. This case, though distinguish- able enough, shades off into the more common type of case where I'm not quite certain, or only fairly certain, or practically certain, that it's the taste of, say, laurel. In all such cases, I am endeavouring to recognize the current item by searching in my vast experience for something like it, some likeness in virtue of which it deserves, more or less positively, to be described by the same descriptive word, and I am meeting with varying degrees of success. (b) The other case is different, though it very
naturally combines itself with the first. Here, what I try to do is to savour the current experience, to peer at it, to sense it vividly. I'm not sure it is the taste of pineapple: isn't there perhaps just something about it, a tang, a bite, a lack of bite, a cloying sensation, which isn't quite light for pineapple? Isn't there perhaps just a peculiar hint of green, which would rule out mauve and would hardly do for heliotrope? Or perhaps it is faintly odd: I must look more intently, scan it over and over: maybe just possibly there is a suggestion of an unnatural shimmer, so that it doesn't look quite like ordinary water. There is a lack of sharpness in what we actually sense, which is to be cured not, or not merely, by thinking, but by acuter discernment, by sensory discrimination (though it is of course true that thinking of other, and more pronounced, cases in our Fast experience can and does assist our powers of discrimination).”
What can be objectionable in this analysis? In its exactness and clarity, it is probably unsurpassable - it is correct. But that is all it is, and I argue that not only is it not enough, but it is destructive of philosophic
thought, and of critical thought as such. From the philosophic point of view, two questions arise: (1) can the explication of concepts (or words) ever orient itself to, and terminate, in the actual universe of ordinary discourse? (2) are exactness and clarity ends in themselves, or are they committed to other ends?
I answer the first question in the affirmative as far as its first part is concerned. The most banal examples of speech may, precisely because of their banal character, elucidate the empirical world in its reality, and serve to explain our thinking and talking about it - as do Sartre's analyses of a group of people waiting for a bus, or Karl Kraus' analysis of daily newspapers, Such analyses elucidate because they transcend the immediate concreteness of the situation and its expression, They transcend it toward the factors which make the situation and the behavior of the people who speak (or are silent) in that situation. (In the examples just cited, these transcendent factors are traced to the social division of labor.) Thus the analysis does not terminate in the universe of ordinary discourse, it goes beyond it and opens a qualitatively different universe, the terms of which may even contradict the ordinary one.
To take another illustration: sentences such as "my broom is in the corner" might also occur in Hegel's Logic, but there they would be revealed as inappropriate or even false examples, They would only be rejects, to be surpassed by a discourse which, in its concepts, style, and syntax, is of a different order - a discourse for which it is by no means "clear that every sentence in our language 'is in order as it is,'" Rather the exact opposite is the case-namely, that every sentence is as little in order as the world is which this language communicates.
The almost masochistic reduction of speech to the humble and common is made into a program: "if the words language, experience, world, have a use, it must be as humble a one as that of the words table, lamp, door.”
We must "stick to the subjects of our every-day thinking, and not go astray and imagine that we have to describe extreme subtleties ...” - as if this were the only alternative, and as if the extreme subleties" were not the suitable term for Wittgenstein's language games rather than for Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, Thinking (or at least its expression) is not only pressed into the straitjacket of common usage, but also enjoined not to ask and seek solutions beyond those that are already there. "The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known."
The self-styled poverty of philosophy, committed with all its concepts to the given state of affairs, distrusts the possibilities of a new experience. Subjection to the rule of the established facts is total-only linguistic facts, to be sure, but the society speaks in its language, and we are told to obey, The prohibitions are severe and authoritarian: "Philosophy may in no war interfere with the actual use of language." “And we may not advance any kind of theory. There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place."
One might ask what remains of philosophy? What remains of thinking, intelligence, without anything hypothetical, without any explanation? However, what is at stake is not the definition or the dignity of philosophy. It is rather the chance of preserving and protecting the fight, the need to think and speak in terms other than those of common usage-terms which are meaningful, rational, and valid precisely because they are other terms. What is involved is the spread of a new ideology which undertakes to describe what is
happening (and meant) by eliminating the concepts capable of understanding what is happening (and meant).
Ordinary language in its "humble use" may indeed be of vital concern to critical philosophic thought, but in the medium of this thought words lose their plain humility and reveal that "hidden" something which is of no interest to Wittgenstein. Consider the analysis of the "here" and "now" in Hegel's Phenomenology, or (sit venia verbo!) Lenin's suggestion on how to analyze adequately "this glass of water" on the table. Such an analysis uncovers the history in every-day speech as a hidden dimension of meaning - the rule of society over its language. And this discovery shatters the natural and reified form in which the given universe of discourse first appeals. The words reveal themselves as genuine terms not only in a grammatical and formal-logical but also material sense; namely, as the limits which define the meaning and its development-the terms which society imposes on discourse, and on behavior. This historical dimension of meaning can no longer be elucidated by examples such as my broom is in the corner" or "there is cheese on the table." To be sure, such statements can reveal many ambiguities, puzzles, oddities, but they are an in the same re language games and academic boredom.
Orienting itself on the reified universe of everyday discourse, and exposing and clarifying this discourse in terms of this reified universe, the analysis abstracts from the negative, from that which is alien and antagonistic and cannot be understood in terms of the established usage. By classifying and distinguishing meanings, and keeping them apart, it purges thought and speech of contradictions, illusions, and transgressions. But the transgressions are not those of "pure reason." They are not metaphysical transgressions beyond the limits of possible knowledge, they rather open a realm of knowledge beyond common sense and formal logic.
In barring access to this realm, positivist philosophy sets up a self-sufficient world of its own, closed and well protected against the ingression of disturbing external factors. In this respect, it makes little difference whether the validating context is that of mathematics, of logical propositions, or of custom and usage. In one way or another, an possibly meaningful predicates are prejudged. The prejudging judgment might be as broad as the spoken English language, or the dictionary, or same other code or convention. Once accepted, it constitutes an empirical a priori which cannot be transcended.
But this radical acceptance of the empirical violates the, "empirical, for in it speaks the mutilated, "abstract" individual who experiences (and expresses) only that which is given to him (given in a literal sense), who has only the facts and not the factors, whose behavior is one-dimensional and manipulated. By virtue of the factual repression, the experienced world is the result of a restricted experience, and the positivist cleaning of the mind brings the mind in line with the restricted experience.
In this expurgated form, the empirical world becomes the object of positive thinking. With an its exploring, exposing, and clarifying of ambiguities and obscurities, neo-positivism is not concerned with the great and general ambiguity and obscurity which is the established universe of experience. And it must remain unconcerned because the method adopted by this philosophy discredits or "translates" the concepts which could guide the understanding of the established reality in its repressive and irrational structure-the concepts of negative thinking. The transformation of critical into positive thinking takes place mainly in the therapeutic treatment of universal concepts; their translation into operational and behavioral terms parallels closely the sociological translation discussed above.