Tales of the Unknown: Austin and the Argument from Ignorance<sup>1</sup>

Mark Kaplan

in The Philosophy of J. L. Austin

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199219759
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191730818 | DOI:
Tales of the Unknown: Austin and the Argument from Ignorance1

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Suppose you want to question my claim to know that the bird in my garden is a goldfinch. Austin held that you cannot legitimately demand that I do more than ‘enough to show that (within reason, and for the present intents and purposes) it “can’t” be anything else, there is no room for an alternative, competing, description of it’, where it is understood that ‘[e]nough is enough […]. It does not mean, for example, enough to show it isn’t a stuffed goldfinch’. But why not? This chapter argues that (i) the standard answers are not available to Austin, (ii) Austin’s writings and methods (including his characteristic way of arguing for philosophical conclusions via appeal to what we would say when) make available a different and novel diagnosis of what goes wrong with scepticism based on arguments from ignorance, and (iii) these methods—comprising Austin’s ‘ordinary language philosophy‘—have been misunderstood, and their power underestimated.

Keywords: J. L. Austin; goldfinch; argument from ignorance; scepticism; ordinary language philosophy

Chapter.  16941 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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