Stanley Cavell’s Argument of the Ordinary


  • Avner Baz Tufts University



Cavell, Wittgenstein, Austin, ordinary language philosophy, skepticism, Kripke


My overall aim is to show that there is a serious and compelling argument in Stanley Cavell’s work for why any philosophical theorizing that fails to recognize what Cavell refers to as “our common world of background” as a condition for the sense of anything we say or do, and to acknowledge its own dependence on that background and the vulnerability implied by that dependence, runs the risk of rendering itself, thereby, ultimately unintelligible. I begin with a characterization of Cavell’s unique way of inheriting Austin and Wittgenstein – I call it “ordinary language philosophy existentialism” – as it relates to what Cavell calls “skepticism”. I then turn to Cavell’s response to Kripke in “The Argument of the Ordinary”, which is different from all other responses to Kripke’s Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language in that Cavell’s response, while theoretically powerful, is at the same time also existentialist, in the sense that Cavell finds a way of acknowledging in his writing the fundamental fact that his writing (thinking) constitutes an instance of what he is writing (thinking) about. This unique achievement of Cavell’s response to Kripke is not additional to his argument, but essential to it: it enables him not merely to say, but to show that, and how, Kripke’s account falsifies what it purports to elucidate, and thereby to show that the theoretical question of linguistic sense is not truly separable, not even theoretically, from the broadly ethical question of how we relate to others, and how we conduct ourselves in relation to them from one moment to the next.

Author Biography

Avner Baz, Tufts University

Avner Baz is Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Tufts University. He is the author of When Words are Called For (Harvard University Press, 2012), and The Crisis of Method in Contemporary Analytic Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2017).


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