What not to expect from the pragmatic turn in political theory

European Journal of Political Theory 14 (2):121-140 (2015)
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Abstract

The central ideas coming out of the so-called pragmatic turn in philosophy have set in motion what may be described as a pragmatic turn in normative political theory. It has become commonplace among political theorists to draw on theories of language and meaning in theorising democracy, pluralism, justice, etc. The aim of this paper is to explore attempts by political theorists to use theories of language and meaning for such normative purposes. Focusing on Wittgenstein's account, it is argued that these attempts are unsuccessful. It is shown that pragmatically influenced political theorists draw faulty epistemological, ontological and semantic conclusions from Wittgenstein's view in their normative theorising, and it is argued that pragmatically influenced theories of language and meaning, however full of insight, cannot be put to substantial normative use in political theory. The general scope of the thesis is motivated by pointing to the general form of the argument and by moving beyond Wittgenstein to other philosophers of mind and language, illustrating how similar overextensions are made with regard to Robert Brandom's theory of language and meaning.

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Niklas Möller
Stockholm University
Eva Erman
Stockholm University

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