Linguistic Legislation and Psycholinguistic Experiments: Redeveloping Waismann's Approach

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This paper presents a neglected philosophical approach, redevelops it on fresh empirical foundations, and seeks to bring out that it is of not merely historical interest. Building on ideas Ludwig Wittgenstein mooted in the early 1930s, Friedrich Waismann developed a distinctive metaphilosophy: Through case studies on particular philosophical problems, he identified a characteristic structure and genesis displayed by several philosophical problems and presented a distinctive dialogical method for dissolving problems of this kind. This method turns on exposing the need to endow philosophical questions or claims with more determinate meaning and meeting this need by proposing linguistic rules and explanations which the problems’ proponents are free to accept or reject. The approach is embedded in the view that unconscious thought decisively shapes the formulation of philosophical problems. This paper first presents the approach on the basis of Waismann’s texts and then redevelops it through a case study on the ‘problem of perception’ and within a post-Freudian conception of unconscious thought: We will draw on psycholinguistic findings about automatic inferences in language comprehension and production, to examine how unconscious cognition shapes the problem formulation. Findings provide fresh, empirical foundations for the approach which has advantages over more familiar critical projects in ordinary language philosophy, to which it is kindred in spirit.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFriedrich Waismann
Subtitle of host publicationThe Open Texture of Analytic Philosophy
EditorsDejan Makovec, Stewart Shapiro
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-25008-9
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-25007-2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2019


  • Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • Friedrich Waismann
  • metaphilosophy
  • ordinary language philosophy
  • philosophical method
  • language comprehension
  • Problem of perception

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