Ineffability and Philosophy

Ineffability and Philosophy

Ineffability and Philosophy

Ineffability and Philosophy

Synopsis

Presenting a fascinating analysis of the idea of what can't be said, this book ascertains whether the notion of there being a truth, or a state of affairs, or knowledge that can't be expressed linguistically is a coherent notion. The author distinguishes different senses in which it might be said that something can't be said.The first part looks at the question of whether ineffability is a coherent idea. Part two evaluates two families of arguments regarding whether ineffable states of affairs actually exist: the argument from mysticism and the argument from epistemic boundedness. Part three looks more closely at the relation between mystic and non-mystic stances. In the fourth and final part the author distinguishes five qualitatively different types of ineffability. Ineffability and Philosophy is a significant contribution to this area of research and will be essential reading for philosophers and those researching and studying the philosophy of language.

Excerpt

An author who writes a book on what can't be said owes the reader an apology, at least in the Platonic sense of the word. It's true that I can't directly tell you what it is that can't be said. But I might be able to tell you a lot about what can't be said. For starters, I might be able to ascertain whether the notion of there being a truth, or a state of affairs, or knowledge that can't be expressed linguistically is a coherent notion. I might distinguish different senses in which it might be said that something can't be said. (Some of these varieties of ineffability might be coherent and others might be incoherent.) I might even be able to establish that some varieties of ineffability aren't merely coherent possibilities, but that they actually exist. To be sure, I will never be able to display an ineffable truth; but I might be able to establish its existence by an indirect argument, just as mathematicians sometimes prove that there exists a number having a certain property without being able to say what the number is. in any event, these are the sorts of questions that I seek to answer in this book.

The first and longest chapter of the book is devoted to the question of whether ineffability is a coherent idea. I note that ineffability comes in several degrees of stringency, and argue that the weaker grades are demonstrably coherent, while the stronger grades have not been demonstrated to be incoherent. These claims contradict the conclusions of influential analyses by Donald Davidson and William Alston, whose arguments I undertake to refute.

Granted that the notion of ineffable states of affairs is not incoherent, the question arises whether they actually exist. in Chapter 2, I evaluate two families of arguments to that effect. the argument from mysticism infers the existence of ineffabilities from the premise that some people (mystics) report having insights that

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