Wednesday, March 30, 2005

two senses of the linguistic turn

Habermas differentiates between two senses of the linguistic turn: linguistic turn as a paradigm shift and “merely methodological understanding” of the turn. Here is an explanation of what he means by a methodological understanding of the linguistic turn:

“. . . there continues from Russel and Carnap onward an empiricist analysis of language with a merely methodological understanding of the linguistic turn, a strand that has gained worldwide acceptance through the work of Quine and Davidson. From the outset, Davidson assimilates an interlocutor's understanding of a linguistic expression to an observer’s interpretation of data and ends up with a nominalist conception of language that accords primacy to the passing idiolects of individual speakers over the social realm of linguistically embodied and intersubjectively shared meaning. With this move language loses the status of social fact, with Humboldt had attributed to it by subsuming it under the concept of subjective spirit.” (TJ: 69).

The above understanding of the language leads to a different conception of how we are related to (connected to) the world. For the likes of Quine and Davidson whose understanding of the linguistic turn is merely methodological our fundamental or basic relation with the world is “causal” (so they remain in the empiricist tradition of Hume even after the linguistic turn) while for those who take the turn in the meaning of paradigm shift our basic connection with the world is not “causal” but “semantic” (causality work in the context of "world disclosing semantics" and not the other way round).

In this context Habermas further differentiates between two distinct approaches to the linguistic turn understood as paradigm shift. Here he differentiates between those who have an overburdened understanding of linguistic world disclosure and hence of semantic connection with the world and those who give equal weight to innerworldly learning processes and do not reduce innerwordly to the world disclosure:

“. . . I am interested in a third current represented by philosophers as diverse as Putnam, Dummett and Apel. What these authors have in common that they take seriously the linguistic turn in the sense of a paradigm shift, without paying the price of the culturalist assimilation of being true to taking to be true. It is characteristics of these thinkers that they fight on two fronts: against the half-hearted linguistic analysis that merely tackles the old problems of Kant and Hume by new means, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, against semantic particularism that is hostile to the enlightenment and ignores the rational self understanding of language users as creatures for whom reasons are binding.” (p. 69).

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