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Inkpin, Andrew. Disclosing the World: On the Phenomenology of Language.

INKPIN, Andrew. Disclosing the World: On the Phenomenology of Language. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2016. xiv + 381 pp. Cloth, $43.00--Inkpin characterizes his approach to language as a "minimalist phenomenology." This approach makes no use of Husserl's conception of pure experience and its transcendental grounding of mundane being. Accordingly, phenomenological method is simply accountability to our readily recognizable experience as agents in the world. While this reduced conception invites skepticism about whether experience captures how things really are, Inkpin claims that in the case of language the object of study exists "only in virtue of speakers' having some understanding and hence experience of it." Inkpin can thus remain modest about phenomenology's epistemological power while asserting its indispensability to an account of artifacts like language, which are never "completely beyond the pale of human understanding." This retrenched phenomenology still fulfills many classical desiderata. It defines explananda of empirical inquiry (into artifacts), is resolutely antidualist, antiformalist, and antireductionist, and illuminates neglected features of experience. Whatever the challenges involved in defending minimalist phenomenology as a philosophical position, it serves Inkpin well as a strategy for coordinating the insights of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Wittgenstein, which he shapes into a formidable challenge to contemporary semantics and utilizes to negotiate ongoing debates about the role of concepts in unreflective activity.

Inkpin's basic thesis is that speakers do not primarily experience language as a bearer of mental acts, a medium intervening between ourselves and reality, or an abstract object. Instead, we primarily rely on language as an instrument for articulating the world. Language is something in the world that enables world disclosure. Inkpin thus embraces Heidegger's treatment of linguistic signs as compound instruments; they illuminate the context in which one lives, but they also facilitate the established practices by which one lives. Heidegger's discovery serves as the starting point for an account of these two kinds of sense (presentational and pragmatic). Employing a neat division of labor, subsequent chapters examine how Merleau-Ponty and Wittgenstein enrich our understanding of presentational and pragmatic sense respectively, each doing so in mature works that reflect a recognition of previous limitations. For Merleau-Ponty, the turning point is his appropriation of Saussure's linguistics, for Wittgenstein his shift in emphasis from rules to practices in the constitution of meaning. These chapters yield a robust account of the functional discontinuity between prepredicative language use and truth-preserving, bivalent, properties-based predication. Inkpin then emphasizes how his approach identifies linguistic processes that post-Fregean philosophy of language ignores at its own peril. In concluding, he allies the minimalist phenomenology of language with the research agenda of 4e cognitive science.

By neutralizing the most ambitious--and conflicting--aims of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Wittgenstein, Inkpin is able to tell a convincing story about how they complement one another within a framework of general agreement about how language works. Inkpin argues that Merleau-Ponty's reflections on the rationality of expressive systems resolve Heidegger's struggles to grasp the internal temporality of language as well as the way linguistic form conditions disclosure.

Wittgenstein enhances Heidegger's account of circumspective Auslegung by situating reference within the context of prejustificatory language games, and fills out the hermeneutic-apophantic distinction by showing how rule stating builds upon rule exemplification as a more basic way of following rules. Inkpin also brings Merleau-Ponty and Wittgenstein into a symbiotic relationship. Wittgenstein's description of the interlacing of language and practice effectively dispels Merleau-Ponty's worry that treating routine use as primitive entails metaphysical assumptions. Conversely, Merleau-Ponty's attention to how sublexical features of a sign system convey nuances of meaning balances Wittgenstein's suspicions about linguistic form. Inkpin's orchestration of these conversations is judicious. He charts the relations of dependency between diverse linguistic functions without collapsing one into the other or dismissing any as philosophically uninteresting. His recurring attempts to specify how prepredicative understanding "founds" predicative understanding are especially incisive.

Inkpin frames problems exegetically while tracking what is philosophically at stake in solving them. Generally, he provides a coherent reading of canonical texts while simultaneously developing a plausible account of linguistic phenomena. For example, his first chapter on Heidegger centers on resolving an apparent tension in Sein und Zeit between the "story of progressive determination" that seems to found linguistic articulation in prelinguistic forms of understanding, and the "story of underlying determination" that makes Rede, which seems to refer to linguistic ability, "equiprimordial" with understanding as such. Inkpin argues that the consistency of Heidegger's "story" depends upon recognizing a discontinuity within language. Circumspective awareness is not necessarily prelinguistic, but rather prepredicative in nature. Inkpin then pursues these hints toward a theory of prepredicative language that leverages his subsequent confrontation with contemporary semantics. Occasionally, however, Inkpin's exegetical focus seems belabored in light of his minimalist approach. Inkpin is at his best when his engagement with canonical thinkers is less concerned with demonstrating doctrinal consistency or development than with tracing the contours of experientially grounded problems about language.--Kenneth Knies, Sacred Heart University
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Author:Knies, Kenneth
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2017
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