Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

The Last Post? Post-Postmodernism and the Linguistic U-Turn

Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

The Last Post? Post-Postmodernism and the Linguistic U-Turn

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. This paper adopts an autobiographical tone to review the linguistic turn and its demise at the hands Richard Rorty. Rorty, along with Continental philosophers like Lyotard rescued us from a philosophical delusion that we might achieve a neutral analysis resulting in linguistic and conceptual hygiene. This view became the basis of a highly influential doctrine in philosophy of education during the 1970s under R. S. Peters and the London school. I review the Wittgenstein-inspired movement and its conceptual affinities with postpositivism, postmodernism and postcoloniality as the dominating motifs of the age we have now passed beyond.

Keywords: linguistic turn, postmodernism, philosophy of education

University of Waikato

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

1. Introduction: The Ends of History

I remember the intellectual excitement when I first discovered Jean-François Lyotard's (1984) The Postmodern Condition. I read the book the year it was translated into English while finishing a PhD in philosophy of education on Ludwig Wittgenstein with a thesis entitled 'The problem of rationality.' Earlier after completing an MA in philosophy at the University of Auckland I had been warned off the late Wittgenstein as too 'unphilosophicaP. The early Wittgenstein was fine but the later Wittgenstein evidently was not. I persisted in my own philosophical tastes and preferences and eventually found a philosopher of education, Jim Marshall, who was willing to supervise my work on Wittgenstein, which initially focused on the question of cultural relativism.

Lyotard's reading of Wittgenstein while playful, imaginative and a 'creative misappropriation', as I have argued (Peters, 1999), nonetheless struck me as a thunderbolt from the blue. It provided a political interpretation of Wittgenstein's philosophy of language that I thought both necessary and warranted. I translated for myself into bad English his essay 'Wittgenstein "After"' (Lyotard, 1993) about the 'mourning' of the loss of language that I found insightful and that helped to historically locate Wittgenstein's attempt to deal with the problem of nihilism that is strongly influenced and prefigured in Nietzsche.

At that very moment I became 'poststructuralist' in my interests and 'postmodern' in my sensibilities, finding ways to reinterpret Wittgenstein in the light of a broadly postmodernist canvas - both the content and structure of his thought, especially the Investigations, and also his style of philosophizing (Peters & Marshall, 1999; Peters, Burbules, & Smeyers, 2010). This was I now realize a process of fictionalizing the past, a kind of creative historiography of philosophy that grew out of the postmodern emphasis on language and the crafting of historical narrative. My postmodernist reading of Wittgenstein was assisted enormously not only by Lyotard's influential adaptation of 'language-games' as a method in The Postmodern Condition but also by the early account of Alan Janik and Stephen Toulmin (1972) of Wittgenstein in terms of Viennese modernism. These texts were not based on close or accurate readings of Wittgenstein but they were inspired speculations that led to new horizons and applications.

I was enabled through this new awareness of textuality - new forms of reading and writing the text, hypertextuality, metatextuality - that gelled with both philosophical hermeneutics and also with at least one significant direction that post-analytical philosophy took with Richard Rorty after the 'death' of Kantian-styled analysis. Rorty's linguistic turn had finally collapsed into a kind of philosophical hermeneutics he called 'conversation' that was in reality a combination of Michael Oakeshott's emphasis on liberal learning and Hans-Georg Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics. In philosophy it represented a move away from epistemology-centered philosophy and forms of foundationalism and representationalism. …

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