New hypotheses of language analysis
Meanwhile, in the second phase of his thought, Wittgenstein, whose teaching at Cambridge (1929-47) had proved extremely fruitful and had influenced the entire English cultural environment, turned his attention not so much to language in its structure as to the multiplicity and variety of its uses and functions, proposing the theory of linguistic games.
The Platonic-Aristotelian conception of language, which Wittgenstein supported in the Tractatus and which implies a mirroring correspondence between language and reality, is thus abandoned; the preconditions for the construction of a rigorously formalized ideal language are dropped, as is the model of reductionist analysis, and the investigation shifts to the problem of the different linguistic levels, the different roles of the different grammatical parts of discourse in different contexts, and the possibility of identifying different syntaxes.
These theses are linked to the exponents of Oxonian philosophy, whose most important representatives, besides A.J.T.D. Wisdom, are G. Ryle, who links his analyses of the mind to behavioral cues, J.L. Austin, P.F. Strawson, who develops in particular the theme of the relations between formal logic-informal logic and linguistic analysis, M. Dummett, who reformulates the theory of linguistic analysis. Dummett, who reformulates the ontological dispute between realism and idealism in terms of rival theories of meaning, and S. Toulmin, R.M. Hare, and P.H. Nowell-Smith for ethical problems, preceded on this ground by the important study of the American C. Stevenson (Ethics and Language, 1944).
Since the second half of the 1960s, the analytical perspective introduced by Austin in his posthumous How to do things with words (1962) has become increasingly widespread in philosophy. This perspective conceives of discourse as a set of linguistic acts characterized by their particular strength. Austin’s proposal of the concept of performative utterances, i.e. utterances that do not describe an act but serve to perform it, has been received with interest. The work of H.P. Grice, who proposes a definition of meaning that does not refer to words or sentences but to the speaker’s “intentions” to produce effects on the audience, comes from the same perspective, which aims to explain language in pragmatic terms.
A systematic presentation of the concept of language and philosophical problems initiated by Austin can be found in J.R. Searle’s work, Speech acts (1969), where speech is presented as a form of behavior and its rules are fully described. In D. Davidson, perhaps the author who has enjoyed the greatest success since the 1970s, the study of meaning, in line with the positions of his master Quine (whose strict behaviorism he rejects, however), is above all equivalent to an empirical investigation of the statements believed to be true by the speakers of a community and the connections between these statements and the broader background of the speakers’ beliefs.
At the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, perhaps the most important novelty is the attention given to psychological and “mental” questions. The interest in the philosophy of mind (or philosophical psychology) is, of course, not new in philosophy: it goes back at least to Ryle and Wittgenstein, who, however, was interested in depriving the traditional mind-body dualism of Cartesian origin of any foundation on the basis of their linguistic analyses. Over the years, although the monistic orientation of the majority of analytic philosophers has not disappeared, more and more space has been given to the typically mental and psychological aspects that oversee the main human activities.
The study of the mental aspects related to meaning has had the effect of overlapping the investigations of the philosophy of language in the strict sense with those of the philosophy of mind, and special emphasis has been given, in this area of intersection between the two subfields of philosophy, to the problem of intentionality, i.e.. i.e. the tendency (theorized in the Middle Ages, but rediscovered by F. Brentano) of linguistic assertions and mental states to be typically directed to extra-linguistic or extra-mental objects, i.e. to have an intrinsic content (intentionality).
Intentionality has been the focus of attention for many analytic philosophers, from Searle and D.C. Dennett to J. Fodor, and it is probably the topic that reveals more than any other the broadening of philosophy’s interest in the kind of psychological and mental questions that were once thought to be analyzable only in exclusively linguistic terms.