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Revolution of the OrdinaryLiterary Studies after Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell$
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Toril Moi

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226464305

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226464589.001.0001

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Critique, Clarity, and Common Sense

Critique, Clarity, and Common Sense

Ordinary Language Philosophy and Politics

(p.150) 7 Critique, Clarity, and Common Sense
Revolution of the Ordinary

Toril Moi

University of Chicago Press

Theorists from Gellner and Marcuse to Butler and Žižek accuse ordinary language philosophy of being inherently conservative or even reactionary, largely because they take this philosophy to endorse common sense. But Gellner’s critique of Wittgenstein is based on severe misreadings. Marcuse’s influential attack on “linguistic analysis” is also based on misunderstandings. For Marcuse, critique (critical philosophy) is incompatible with the ordinary; truly critical thinking requires a special philosophical vocabulary, unavailable to the ordinary “chap in the street.” This chapter challenges these beliefs and demonstrates that partisans of critique misread Wittgenstein. Drawing on Austin, it explains what “ordinary language” is. It criticizes the various arguments that cast common sense as inherently reactionary, and refuses to disdain the critical powers of ordinary people. Through a discussion of the so-called “Bad Writing Contest,” it shows that both champions and critics of obscure theory writing fail to grasp the real issues at stake. No specific writing style, whether darkly obscure or crystal clear, is inherently critical (or inherently uncritical). In its commitment to the ordinary and the everyday, ordinary language philosophy inspires us to find our “real need,” to change our ordinary practices, not just philosophy

Keywords:   Ernst Gellner, Herbert Marcuse, Judith Butler, Slavoj Žižek, "Bad Writing Contest", J. L. Austin, Ludwig Wittgenstein, critique, the ordinary, ordinary language

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