Logic and Voice

Stanley Cavell and Analytic Philosophy


  • Espen Hammer Temple University




In this paper, I aim to reconstruct and discuss Stanley Cavell’s interpretation and critique of analytic philosophy. Cavell objects to the tradition of analytic philosophy that, in its eagerness to provide abstract, theoretical reconstructions, it has failed to understand the importance of “the human voice” for philosophy. First, I outline Cavell’s retelling of the history of analytic philosophy from Frege and Russell to ordinary language philosophy. Second, I turn to Cavell’s reading of Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein in order to show what the suppression of the human voice is supposed to mean and entail. Central to Cavell’s account is a particular view of language according to which no structure can explain our capacity for sense-making. Third, I exemplify Cavell’s approach by analyzing his debate with Kripke. Kripke sees the absence of “rails” determining meaning as a skeptical problem and calls for a communal solution. Cavell, by contrast, accepts the absence of rails while highlighting the need for individual responsiveness. In the conclusion I contrast the analytic interest in theory, structure, and abstraction with what I see as Cavell’s humanism. While respectful of key aspects of the analytic tradition such as its commitment to rigor and transparency, Cavell wished to bring the human subject back into philosophy.


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