The third of a series of Philosophy Seminars, which have been organised by Michael Krausz, Adjunct Fellow at Linacre, will take place on Thursday 2nd November.
Bernard Harrison, “Knowing What It Means”.
Abstract: A powerful strand in recent theorizing about meaning, represented in philosophy, for example, by W.V. Quine and Donald Davidson and in literary studies by Stanley Fish, and (in a very different form, against a very different philosophical background) by Jacques Derrida, and often held to constitute something called “meaning skepticism”, holds in effect that judgments concerning the meaning of a text are essentially empirical claims concerning the responses of competent members of linguistic or critical communities.
The present paper suggests that at least two varieties of assessment of meaning present difficulties for meaning-skepticism. The first, pioneered by Wittgenstein, is the assessment of the meaning of a given sentence relative to the practice or practices that created the need for that type of sentence in the first place. The second is the assessment of the bearings of a remark upon (its meaning-for] some given topic of interest. Both, it is argued, allow meaning to be determined objectively and finally, in ways not subject to any of the systematic uncertainties canvassed by any of the above writers.
Bernard Harrison was educated in the 1940s at Dursley and Cheltenham Grammar Schools, and studied philosophy in the 1950s at the universities of Birmingham and Michigan. He has taught at various times at the universities of Toronto, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Western Australia, Sussex and Utah. He is presently Emeritus E.E. Ericksen Professor of Philosophy in the University of Utah, and Emeritus Professor in the Faculty of Humanities in the University of Sussex.
He has published extensively in two fields whose problems have seemed to him closely connected: philosophy of language and philosophy and literature. His work in the former, strongly influenced by the excellent grounding in Wittgenstein owed to his Birmingham teacher Peter Geach, includes his books Form and Content (Blackwell, 1973) and (with his Utah colleague Patricia Hanna), Word and World: Practice and the Foundations of Language (Cambridge, 2004). Work in the second includes Fielding’s Tom Jones: The Novelist as Moral Philosopher (Chatto/Sussex, 1975), Inconvenient Fictions: Literature and the Limits of Theory (Yale, 1992), and What Is Fiction For? Literary Humanism Restored (Indiana University Press, 2015). He is the author of some seventy papers in journals and collections.
Latterly he has also become interested in certain issues involving what appears to him, as to many others, Jewish and non-Jewish, to be a recrudescence of antisemitism in contemporary politics. In 2006 he published The Resurgence of Antisemitism: Jews, Israel and Liberal Opinion (Rowman and Littlefield). A further book on these questions, Blaming the Jews: The Persistence of a Delusion, for Indiana University Press, is currently in preparation and should appear, deo volente, late in 2018 or early in 2019.