Austin by G.J. Warnock

By G.J. Warnock

This booklet is offered both separately, or as a part of the specially-priced Arguments of the Philosphers assortment.

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Some philosophers would say that the ‘real’ problem about other minds is precisely that. What Austin has to say on this no doubt important matter is extremely brief and rather cryptic. There are, he says, tempting replies that will not really do. We may be tempted to say that, quite often, we do actually find out in all sorts of unproblematic cases that what people say is true, so that, though our experience in that respect is not quite invariably reassuring, it is possible to construct a kind of inductive argument which makes it rational, in general, to believe them rather than not.

If it is not, or there is not, a goldfinch, I may well of course think that it is or that there is; but I certainly do not—could not—know it, if it isn’t so. ’, answers of very different kinds are possible. I may claim general competence in matters of this sort: ‘I’m an ornithologist’; or particularly favourable present conditions of exercise of such competence as I have: ‘I saw it very clearly’. I may mention what, in general, identifies certain birds as goldfinches; or I may say on what basis I so identified this particular bird.

I would stand in need not of an argument but of a spell of sabbatical leave or a course of therapy. It is pretty clear, I think, that something of that sort is what Austin had in mind. IV Truth Austin’s paper ‘Truth’, which was the first contribution to a three-paper symposium at the Joint Session of 1950, has been the occasion of as much sharp controversy as any of his writings. I shall not sift through this controversial fall-out in detail, since much of it was, I believe, beside the point—sometimes insisting upon things that Austin did not deny, sometimes firmly denying things that he did not assert, and sometimes debating issues that, to the main issue, do not much matter.

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