Assertions, Clearing One’s Throat


Completely by accident, while looking for something else, I came across this passage on the very first page of Crispin Wright’s Truth and Objectivity:

…if there ever was a consensus of understanding about ‘realism’, as a philosophical term of art, it has undoubtedly been fragmented by the pressures exerted by the various debates—so much so that a philosopher who asserts that she is a realist about theoretical science, for example, or ethics, has probably, for most philosophical audiences, accomplished little more than to clear her throat.

One could most likely switch out “realism” for a number of other terms, but I think this might be true.  I had a much longer post about this passage a few minutes ago, but somehow it dissapeared.  I suppose it’s been a nice lesson in nihilism.

One thought on “Assertions, Clearing One’s Throat

  1. Yes, it’s sort of like Dr Johnson kicking the stone. Or one of Wittgenstein’s interlocutors banging the table. On the other hand, Wittgenstein would say that such moves are perfectly admissible, even though they probably don’t accomplish very much.

    Reading this post reminded me of the opening of Now We Are Six:

    When you are reciting poetry, which is a thing we never do, you find sometimes, just as you are beginning, that Uncle John is telling Aunt Rose that if he can’t find spectacles he won’t be able to hear properly; and does she know where they are; and by the time everybody has stopped looking for them, you are at the last verse and in another minute they will be saying, ‘Thank-you, thank-you,’ without really knowing what it was all about. So next time, you are more careful; and just before you begin, you say, ‘Er-h’r’m!’ very loudly, which means, ‘Now then, here we are;’ and everybody stops talking and looks at you, which is what you want.

    Milne says the Introduction is the er-h’r’m of a book. And you suggest that Wright suggests that “Realism” (or any number of other terms) are sort of the er-h’r’m of an argument.

    The difference between this and Dr Johnson of course is that Johnson thought he was doing something at the end of an argument, whereas “realism” qua throat-clearing is an opening salvo. Maybe part of our current difficulty in talking with each other is a confusion between carts and horses?

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