Words as deeds: Wittgenstein's ''spontaneous utterances'' and the dissolution of the explanatory gap

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Abstract

Wittgenstein demystified the notion of ''observational self-knowledge''. He dislodged the long-standing conception that we have privileged access to our impressions, sensations and feelings through introspection, and more precisely eliminated knowing as the kind of awareness that normally characterizes our first-person present-tense psychological statements. He was not thereby questioning our awareness of our emotions or sensations, but debunking the notion that we come to that awareness via any epistemic route. This makes the spontaneous linguistic articulation of our sensations and impressions nondescriptive. Not descriptions, but expressions that seem more akin to behaviour than to language. I suggest that Wittgenstein uncovered a new species of speech acts. Far from the prearranged consecration of words into performatives, utterances are deeds through their very spontaneity. This gives language a new aura: the aura of the reflex action. I argue, against Peter Hacker, that spontaneous utterances have the categorial status of deeds. This has no reductive consequences in that I do not suggest that one category is reduced to another, but that the boundary between them is porous. This explodes the myth of an explanatory gap between the traditionally distinct categories of saying (or thinking) and doing, or of mind and body.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-372
JournalPhilosophical Psychology
Volume13
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2000

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