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Linguistic turn


The linguistic turn was a major development in Western philosophy during the early 20th century, the most important characteristic of which is the focusing of philosophy and the other humanities primarily on the relationship between philosophy and language.

Very different intellectual movements were associated with the "linguistic turn", although the term itself is commonly thought to be popularised by Richard Rorty's 1967 anthology The Linguistic Turn, in which it is taken to mean the turn towards linguistic philosophy. According to Rorty, who later dissociated himself from linguistic philosophy and analytic philosophy generally, the phrase "the linguistic turn" originated with philosopher Gustav Bergmann.

In the tradition of analytical philosophy, according to Michael Dummett the linguistic movement first took shape in Gottlob Frege's 1884 work The Foundations on Arithmetic, specifically paragraph 62 where Frege explores the identity of a numerical proposition. This concern for the logic of propositions and their relationship to "facts" was later taken up by the notable analytical philosopher Bertrand Russell in "On Denoting", and played a weighty role in his early work in Logical Atomism.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, an associate of Russell, was one of the progenitors of the linguistic turn. This follows from his ideas in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that philosophical problems arise from a misunderstanding of the logic of language, and from his remarks on language games in his later work. His later work (specifically Philosophical Investigations) significantly departs from the common tenets of analytic philosophy and might be viewed as having some resonance in the poststructuralist tradition. In analytic philosophy, one of the results of the linguistic turn was an increasing focus on philosophy of language and ordinary language philosophy. Later in the twentieth century, philosophers like Saul Kripke in Naming and Necessity drew metaphysical conclusions from closely analysing language.



  • Neil Gross (2008), Richard Rorty, The Making of an American Philosopher. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
  • Richard Rorty (ed.), 1967. The Linguistic Turn: Recent Essays in Philosophical Method. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
  • Rorty, Richard. 'Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Reification of Language.' Essays on Heidegger and Others. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • Clark, Elizabeth A. (2004), History, Theory, Text: Historians and the Linguistic Turn, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Toews, John E. (1987), "Intellectual History after the Linguistic Turn: The Autonomy of Meaning and the Irreducibility of Experience", The American Historical Review 92/4, 879–907.
  • White, Hayden (1973), Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.
  • Cornforth, Maurice (1971), Marxism and the Linguistic Philosophy, Lawrence & Wishart, London (repr. of 1967). The classical critique from the left-wing standpoint.
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