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3 - Actions and Their Elaboration

from Part I - Ordinary Language and Its Philosophy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2022

Greg Chase
Affiliation:
College of the Holy Cross, Massachusetts
Juliet Floyd
Affiliation:
Boston University
Sandra Laugier
Affiliation:
Université de Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne
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Summary

Cavell’s notion of an “elaborative utterance” (explicitly introduced only in The Claim of Reason) provides a clue to the thematic unity of Must We Mean What We Say? Elaboratives are called for when the very description of what one has done is at issue, and so calls for being acknowledged (confessed, admitted to) or denied. Cavell takes up from Austin’s “Excuses” to emphasize the importance of finding, inventing, and projecting appropriate descriptions of actions as part of the very possibility of action – and indeed human passion, human response, as such. Moral arguments can always break down: this is due to the indispensability of elaboratives, the embedding of actions with words in life in ways that always allow us to “go on,” refuse to go on, or to divert our attention. The fact that there are always elaborations to be made shows the impossibility of building a “best case” of moral knowledge or action immune to dispute or recasting. But Cavell’s work does not show that there is no knowledge at all of morality: he resists a skeptical conclusion. Instead, he sharpens our sense of the importance of our ability to settle on limits of responsibility in a human world.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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