“Nothing but Sounds, Ink-Marks”—Is Nothing Hidden? Must Everything Be Transparent?

In: Danish Yearbook of Philosophy
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  • 1 University College London Institute of Education

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Is there something that lies beneath the surface of our ordinary ways of speaking? Philosophy sometimes encourages the all-too-human thought that reality lies just outside our ordinary grasp, hidden beneath the surface of our experience and language. The present discussion concentrates initially on a few connected paragraphs of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (particularly ##431–435). Wittgenstein leads the reader to the view that meaning is there in the surface of the expression. Yet how adequate is Wittgenstein’s treatment of the sounds and ink-marks, the materiality of the sign? With some reference to Emerson, Stanley Cavell, and Jacques Derrida, my discussion explores how far a more adequate account of the sign can coincide with the claim that nothing is hidden. It exposes phony obsessions with transparency, which in a culture of accountability have had a distorting effect on education and the wider social field. It endorses confidence in the reality of ordinary words.

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