SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Pp. ix, 345 , Cambridge University Press , 2008 , £45.00/$85.00.

The cynosure of the Catholic University of America's philosophy department has funneled forty years of scholarship into a volume which could serve as an ideal text for introductory students in either epistemology or metaphysics (for S the two are inextricably linked), with animadversions into the history of philosophy, including Aristotle, Descartes, the British Empiricists, and with special consideration given to Husserl's phenomenology. Building on the work of Francis Slade, Kevin White, and the late Tom Prufer, S approaches philosophy through language, the advance we make as children from ‘protolanguage’ to language with the crucial introduction of syntax, which opens us up for disclosures of being through the presentation of a subject that carries an intelligibility, and the various predications we can make to unpack the latter. S corrects the bias involved in the modern ‘subjective turn’ (which sets up a mediating object – an idea or ‘mental representation’–between ourselves and the object we are talking about) with a more Pearcean ‘inter-subjective turn’ that studies language and the various uses to which it may legitimately be put, always arising in conversation; transposed into this context, many of the otherwise difficult distinctions of scholastic philosophy snap into place as an obvious contributing observation. Philosophy does not so much discover new objects as notice how we regularly dart our attention back and forth, here and there, taking different ‘looks’ at the same object – for example, remembering an object typically involves a view of ourselves looking at it. We are in the picture. The vision is given from a third-party perspective, rather than simply re-running our ‘dying sensations’. Initially enthralled with the world and the various claims made by declarative agents around us, we gradually develop an ability to distance ourselves from these accounts and the concepts used to express them, to treat them as new kinds of ‘objects’ in their own right, handling them neutrally or hypothetically as propositions, and enlist or ‘trope’ language beyond its first, natural use to absorb this new type of reflective disclosure. Such an extension is legitimate (what other resource do we have?), but demands attention, lest we fall back into thinking the terms carry the same sense they did in their initial use. Man is the ‘agent of truth’ the ‘dative of disclosure’, and he naturally pushes beyond propositional awareness to sort out the various forms of identity or access to intelligibility available to him, and given the linguistic resource he has. Then there is philosophy, which dares the most abstract and formal extension of language (‘transcendentalese’, in Tom Prufer's term); it provides the valuable service and intellectual satisfaction of clarifying the overall nature of the real and man's relation to it; it brings man's defining ‘project to truth’ to its culmination and completion. S gives ample demonstration of this philosophical art in his intriguing contrast of the way a single subject can be ‘present’ as himself, in his name, in a snapshot, in a painting, etc. At the same time the book is written in a style that makes it easily understandable by an intelligent undergraduate. This book does for language what Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance did for cycles, the patient and mature breakdown of the parts, leading us to savour the expert functioning of language and the human mind behind it when both work well.