The following text has been automatically reproduced by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithm. It may not have been checked over by human eyes. For matters of precision please consult the original pdf.

6 Editorial

Radical Philosop-hy_6_ __
Orthodox English-language philosophy may be pretty
boring, ignorant, and mystifying; but beyond this it
is hard to make generalisations about it. One of
the complications concerns its attitudes to the
conceptions which characterise the minds of nonintellectuals or non-academics, to ‘common sense’ or
‘ordinary language’. On this issue, there have been
two wings in orthodox modern philosophy. On one
side, thinkers like Bertrand Russell have contrasted
the ordinary language of ordinary people (‘the metaphysics of the stone age’) with the pure and precise
language of scientists. On the other Side, thinkers
like Moore, while comfortably settled in old
fashioned university life, have adopted a seemingly
anti-elitist attitude, cultivating a plain man’s
honest bafflement at the abstractions and technicalities of scientists and intellectuals cut off
from the practical concerns of everyday life.

is a similar appearance of anti-elitism in post war
Oxford philosophy, especially in Austin’s dream of
setting teams of philosophical technicians to work
at codifying the concepts of ordinary people.

Austin said it might be necessary ‘to torture, to
fake, and to override, ordinary language’, but still
he thought it should be treated with enormous respect,
because i t embodied ‘the inherited experience and
acumen of many generations of men’. Amongst
Austin’s followers, the slogan ‘ordinary language’

became a rallying cry.

The formation of the Radical Philosophy Group
has been, amongst other things, a protest against
the ideas and influence of the self-styled philosophers of ordinary language. At the same time, i t
has always been one of the Group’s main aims to get
away from the elitist idea that philosophy only concerns professional intellectuals; and one might
expect that this would lead the group to adopt the
respectful attitude to ordinary language which
Austin recommended. And several of the articles
printed in Radical Philosophy, particularly Bernard
Harrison’s ‘Fielding and the Moralists’, in this
issue, have indeed been based on a conception of
philosophy which resembles Austin’s; they have aimed
to rescue the refined and subtle concepts or ordinary
language from the crudities perpetrated by philosophical theorists. _
Now i t might well be thought that Althusser has
completely discredited the idea that philosophy
should pay attention to ordinary language.

Althusser’s work seems to indicate that ordinary
language expresses and enforces ideologies which
systematically conceal the realities they refer to.

As John Mepham put it in Radical Philosophy 2,
”’ordinary language”,. far from being something to
which we should appeal in theoretical discussion,
is something which we have good grounds for suspecting of distortion … Ordinary language, and
the philosophy which makes a fetish of it, has,
as Marx says, things standing on their heads.’

Thus the question of ordinary language seems to
loom quite large both when the Radical Philosophy
Group defines its own attitudes to orthodox philosophy, and in disputes within the group. But the
issues are not as simple as they may seem.

It is a mistake to think that the division
between mystified, ideological consciousness on the
one hand and lucid, scientific consciousness on the
other corresponds to a division between enlightened
individuals and tinenlightened individuals; and it
is an even worse mistake to assume that it corresponds to the distinction between intellectuals and

(See John Mepham’s ‘Who Makes
History?’ below). The division between science and
ideology may be a division within the consciousnesses
of individuals or classes; i t is not only or even
primarily a division between them.

But the slogan ‘ordinary language philosophy’

does not really pick out a question on which it

nakes much sense to take sides anyway. Ordinary
language and scientific language are not really
languages; still less are they different languages.

rechnical language is not independent of or separate
from ordinary language. So it would be silly to
jenounce the study of ordinary language in the
name of technical language. To escape the crushing
embrace of ordinary language it is necessary to do
more than turn one’s back.

The Radical Philosophy Group has always ~ealised
~hat a lot of what’s wrong with orthodox “philosophy
:esults from its place in the institutional frameNork of academic life. But although most of us
~ork in academic institutions, we have not yet
3ucceeded in analysing what we are doing in them,
let alone in changing them significantly. The recent
~onference at Middlesex Polytechnic, on The Role of
?hilosophy in Higher Education (see p.45 for full
report) showed that some philosophy teachers at
Least – and not only supporters of the Radical
‘hilosophy Group – are getting interested in the
problems of designing new courses, or new types of
courses, and of teaching different types of
students etc.

Informal discussions at the conference resulted
in moves towards the formation of a permanent
organisation of philosophy teachers, to be
concerned with philosophy as a teaching subject.

The organisation wi.ll be set up at a conference
which will be held within the next few months.

Those interested should contact Mark Fisher,
Middlesex Polytechnic at Enfield, Queensway,
Enfield, Middlesex.


Buy the newest RP in printDownload the PDF