MUST WE MEAN WHAT WE SAY? by Stanley Cavell


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At one point in these inquisitive and peculiar essays, Stanley Cavell notes with regret that his colleagues (other philosophers or academicians, one presumes) have not understood him, especially as regards his position vis a vis linguistic philosophy, with which he has, to borrow Frost's sly phrase, ""a lover's quarrel."" Cavell seems to be drawn to the ""coherent tradition"" of humanist discourse -- that is to say, he-wants both questions of value and logic grounded in some sort of common sense ""realism"" -- while at the same time keeping up with the more revolutionary-(avant garde or scientific) attempts at the clarification of language and the whole problem of ""meaning,"" especially in the arts. Thus, he is an extremely rigorous thinker, so fastidious in his point-making that, ironically and unfortunately, he gives the impression of elegant muddling. Here he is on Wittgenstein: ""The more one learns, so to speak, the hang of oneself, and mounts one's problems, the less one is able to say what one has learned; not because you have forgotten what it was, but because nothing you said would seem like an answer or a solution: there is no longer any question or problem which your words would match."" And so on throughout the book. Of course, paying close attention the reader is eventually rewarded, and when Cavell is not completely involved with language-games and Oxford grammar, there are even lively polemics re the new music and painting, and two brilliant set-pieces: a multi- angled discussion of Beckett's Endgame and a long illuminating look at King Lear.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1969
Publisher: Scribners