“…We turn our attention here to a buzzing philosophical activity in post-war England, and primarily among Oxford’s young dons, animated by [philosopher J.L.] Austin, but including a number of older and already influential colleagues like Gilbert Ryle, editor of Mind. Here, Oxford seemed to be cutting a way for itself, leaving Russell and his Cambridge colleagues — including their celebrated ‘darling’ Wittgenstein — behind (and out). With Germany’s defeat in WWII, an entire page in history was felt to have been turned. During the war, Austin had been recruited to set up, and ended up heading, the ‘order of battle’ section of what became SHAEF (the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force) under Eisenhower. The section was responsible for collecting and analysing information from a variety of sources, including the top-secret Enigma at Bletchley Park, but also through the developing art of aerial reconnaissance (which later became satellite imaging) and human intelligence from the resistance across Europe, in support of the war effort generally and to prepare for the D-Day landing.
It is said that when the German army surrendered at Frankfurt, Austin was the only person amongst the Allies who knew where all of the German army was actually located. Returning to do philosophy at Oxford from this high-level Intelligence posting, it was natural for the young Austin to try applying this very special war experience in his resumed philosophical investigations. He set himself the task (again, as he preferred it, and had found more effective during the war, through team-work) of demystifying philosophical concepts in a somewhat parallel way, one imagines, to the manner he employed as scattered data (e.g., pictures) or separate pieces of information (e.g., a train movement) were painstakingly ‘put to work’ in order to interpret the data being gathered — very much a bottom-up, piece-by-piece approach to finding out what these meant.
A full appreciation of this background may help clarify Austin’s articulation of [Ordinary Language Philosophy]. It is one thing to fit pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together, where each piece is already uniquely shaped to be inserted into just one place in the overall puzzle — their meanings, one might say, already determined by the investigator to be part of one specific overall picture. It is a fundamentally different thing to try to fit together intelligence pieces of information, where each piece could be fitted with another alongside it either in one way as part of one possible overall picture, or in some other way with other pieces alongside it as part of an altogether entirely different overall picture. In the latter case, one and the same piece of information, such as a train movement, could either mean the entire army is about to move or that only a battalion is being relocated. This case requires what we might call ‘a pragmatist’s approach’ to determining meanings.
The difference between the two approaches to determining what meanings words have is staggering, and far-reaching. What Baz succeeds in showing is that its implication has not yet been fully digested even by contextualist practitioners of OLP, who continue to insist — to use the intelligence-gathering metaphor — that besides fitting the way it turns out to be actually fitted in the revealed enemy plan, that very same piece of intelligence information continues to retain its ‘fittedness’, so to speak, in one or another presumed (though disqualified) plan (or in any and all of them). Taking the intelligence metaphor one step further, one could also see how Austin and his colleagues might have come to deal with some pieces of intelligence information they suspected of being red-herrings, that is, as perlocutionary acts for which it was more important to assess what effect these were meant to produce than what truth-value their presumed information-content had…”
Reblogged from Ekstasis.