Ordinary language philosophy, explanation, and the historical turn in philosophy of science

Franco, Paul L. 2021. "Ordinary language philosophy, explanation, and the historical turn in philosophy of science." Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A. Volume 90: 77-85

Taking a cue from remarks Thomas Kuhn makes in 1990 about the historical turn in philosophy of science, I examine the history of history and philosophy of science within parts of the British philosophical context in the 1950s and early 1960s. During this time, ordinary language philosophy's influence was at its peak. I argue that the ordinary language philosophers' methodological recommendation to analyze actual linguistic practice influences several prominent criticisms of the deductive-nomological model of scientific explanation and that these criticisms relate to the historical turn in philosophy of science. To show these connections, I primarily examine the work of Stephen Toulmin, who taught at Oxford from 1949 to 1954, and Michael Scriven, who completed a dissertation on explanation under Gilbert Ryle and R.B. Braithwaite in 1956. I also consider Mary Hesse's appeal to an ordinary language-influenced account of meaning in her account of the role of models and analogies in scientific reasoning, and W.H. Watson's Wittgensteinian philosophy of science, an early influence on Toulmin. I think there are two upshots to my historical sketch. First, it fills out details of the move away from logical positivism to more historical- and practice-focused philosophies of science. Second, questions about linguistic meaning and the proper targets and aims of philosophical analysis are part and parcel of the historical turn, as well as its reception. Looking at the philosophical background during which so-called linguistic philosophers also had a hand in bringing these questions to prominence helps us understand why.

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