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Mulhall himself, however, does not fully accept this invitation. But he insufficiently explores the degree to which the skeptical impulse fundamentally infects this overarching ambition with doubt. For if ordinary language philosophy—in working through the ineluctable tension between modernity and history—cannot produce work capable of being called philosophy or itself fails to find an audience, what can?

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This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. These ideas are endlessly provocative in their own right. Coming to terms with groundless expression, accepting question without answer and provocation without instruction, are processes as challenging for the reader as they are risky for the writer. At key points of his discussion, Cavell modulates into questioning and provocation, a modulation seriously troubling for rhetorical force.

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There is a definite danger of distancing here. While followers of Cavell applaud his refusal to assert, his more sceptical readers find evidence of philosophical irresponsibility.

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Kenny writes:. The need for trimming can be illustrated by the very first sentence.

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The exasperated reader might well put the book down and go no further Why take all this trouble about writing philosophy? What exactly does this contribute to the philosophical issues at hand? The relation between philosophical style and content has always been central to Cavell. The topics of the modern, of the philosophy of philosophy, and of the form of philosophical writing come together in the question: What is the audience of philosophy? For the answer to this question will contribute to the answer to the question: What is philosophy?

How is it to be written? In concern and expression, this excerpt is typically Cavell. For whom exactly, Cavell wonders, is philosophy written? How is philosophy to be written?


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These questions are equally central to The Senses of Walden. The preoccupation with style is rehearsed again in the foreword to The Claim of Reason. Again and again, Cavell returns to these question of philosophical style and philosophical form, questions equally central to the establishment of his own position within American philosophy as they are to his ongoing re-habilitation of Emerson and Thoreau. This counters standard intellectual histories that take American philosophy as rooted not in transcendentalism but pragmatism. Not only is Cavell concerned to explore the claims made for and by America, then, but to insist upon the place of American philosophy — specifically, a romanticized American philosophy — in articulating those claims.

Cavell is as concerned with the expression as with the content of philosophy; this concern, moreover, has a specifically American inflection. It is interesting that a writer so intellectually cosmopolitan, so averse to disciplinary boundary, still privileges in this manner the native over the foreign. The nationality of philosophy, particularly in the American case, is for Cavell a continuous and pressing concern. Typical of Cavell, however, no straightforward answer is offered.


  1. ISBN 13: 9780198238508!
  2. “This is said on tiptoe”: Stanley Cavell and the Writing of Philosophy?
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  8. Indeed, by leaving these related and increasingly nuanced questions unanswered, Cavell suggests that the questions themselves, if not exactly rhetorical, do not ask for a reply. Their primary philosophical work is inspirational rather than instructive.

    Stephen Mulhall, Stanley Cavell: Philosophy's Recounting of the Ordinary - PhilPapers

    The closest Cavell comes to a formulated response comes in a purely negative guise. For Cavell, it seems, there is no finally agreed-upon form for philosophical writing. The assortment of writing modes that fall broadly under its disciplinary domain and here we may think of the philosophical poem, fragment, dialogue, confession, essay and treatise as well as the most widely accepted contemporary formats of the journal article or monograph are not definitively united by characteristics of style or procedure, by logical or even literary form.

    In drawing attention to the irreducibility yet continuing importance of philosophical form, Cavell follows the later Wittgenstein. Cavell invokes Emerson, particularly, to complicate any easy distinctions between style and substance:. How might we distinguish between a work of philosophy and a work of cultural criticism? If philosophy is a kind of writing, if it is only a kind of writing, what preserves its identity from methodological or disciplinary free-fall?

    A philosophical posture that abandons the traditional strictures of inference and argument is liberating, indeed, but it is only edifying if alternative measures or criteria — alternative markers of precision and lucidity — are somehow proposed. This explains to some extent why his writing is not precisely contained by disciplinary philosophy in either its analytic or its continental modes.

    It is worth stepping carefully through this point. On this reading, Thoreau is not abandoning rigour but showing a different form for rigour to take.

    Stanley Cavell: Philosophy's Recounting of...

    Austin and Gilbert Ryle. Philosophers of ordinary language traditionally consider philosophical problems to be rooted in our distortive use of everyday language. In his idiosyncratic interpretation, Cavell conceives of ordinary language philosophy as an attempt to regain intimacy with our words and life. The way we use language, Cavell argues, is immediate and intimate. It is not a matter of knowing — of being assured of the logical essences of words — but a matter of attunement, of using criteria that we know are open to refutation.

    In Wittgensteinian terms, the task is to bring our words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use. And here again, the emphasis rests on philosophy as the reclamation of philosophical language. Emerson, Cavell argues, retains the vocabulary of philosophy but divests it of its claim to mastery.

    Stanley Cavell : philosophy's recounting of the ordinary

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