The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy

By Stanley Cavell | Go to book overview

IV

What a Thing Is (Called)

I said that the use I wished to make of the term "criterion" in discussing Austin's views is not fully analogous to its use in Wittgenstein's investigations. The point of the analogy turned on the fact that neither sort of criterion serves as a mark of existence or reality but of identification or recognition, and that (hence) both are related to a knowledge of what a thing is (conventionally) called. The point of difference is this. In Austin's cases, directed toward specific objects, there is a natural question about what, and whether you know what, the thing is called. It is a natural question because it has a natural answer, viz., the provision of a name or title (e.g., "goldfinch", "half gainer") which is justified on the basis of established criteria; to be competent in such matters is to know these criteria and justifying the application of the name in a given case is a full expression of your knowledge in the case. If I have, in response to the query "How do you know (can you tell) it's a goldfinch?", "[indicated], or to some extent set out. . . those features of the situation which enable me to recognize it as one to be described in the way I describe it", you may object or claim that I am "evidently unable to recognize goldfinches"; and Austin goes on to say that "in making this sort of accusation you would perhaps tend not so much to use the expression 'You don't know' . . . as, rather, 'But that isn't a goldfinch (goldfinch)', or 'Then you're wrong to call it a goldfinch' " (pp. 51-52). This quite usual entry of "call" registers someone's inability to recognize a thing as a function of his not having "learned the right (customary, popular, official) name to apply to the creature ('Who taught you to use the word "goldfinch"?')".

-65-

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