Merleau‐Ponty, Taylor, and the expressiveness of language

Southern Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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This article explores how the thought that language is expressive, in the sense of bearing emotional or affective meaning, can be made sense of, with particular attention to two authors for whom this thought plays an important role. It begins by introducing the idea of language being “expressive” and using Charles Taylor's work to consider its potential interest, before showing how the expressiveness of language might be accounted for by a position that seems particularly suited to this task, namely Merleau‐Ponty's view of embodied expression in Phenomenology of Perception. I then set out a significant challenge to that position based on Wittgenstein's “private language argument,” which implies there is no necessary connection between language use and a subject's internal (affective) states, thus contesting Merleau‐Ponty's explanatory emphasis on the body. I therefore propose a revised “complex” view of language's expressiveness that meets this Wittgensteinian challenge by reconceiving the body's role. Finally, I draw out some implications of this revised view, arguing that while language itself cannot be considered expressive, it remains significant that we can experience language as expressive. I also suggest that, although apparently threatened, Taylor's position can not only accommodate, but be better understood with, this revised view.



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Andrew Inkpin
University of Melbourne

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The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity.Charles Taylor - 2016 - Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Sein und Zeit.Martin Heidegger - 1928 - Annalen der Philosophie Und Philosophischen Kritik 7:161-161.
Signes.Maurice Merleau-Ponty - 2018 - Chiasmi International 20:229-229.
L'Être et le Néant.J. -P. Sartre - 1943 - Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 49 (2):183-184.

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