Linguistic analysis was a movement in 20th century
philosophy (its roots were in the thinking of
Russell, and others, and its chief practitioners included Barfield's
A. J. Ayer and the German
Carnap) which insisted that almost all philosophical problems could
be dispensed with once their underlying linguistic basis was exposed. Philosophy,
linguistic analysis insisted, constantly asks questions which, given the
inherently limited nature of language, should not be asked because they
are not capable of being answered.
If linguistic analysis is correct, Barfield
quotes C. S. Lewis (in "The Rediscovery of Meaning,"
"the history of the human mind since the beginning has consisted in 'almost
nobody making linguistic mistakes about almost nothing'" (RM 13).
But, as he was well aware, linguistic analysis is "the typical contemporary
outcrop of a subterranean vein of human response which is unlikely to peter
out" (PD 22). Fathered by logical positivism, linguistic analysis
grows from it "as naturally as ever a chicken grew out of an egg" (WA
His extreme distaste for its postulates does
not prevent Barfield from admiring its ingenious effect:
And yet, ironically enough, linguistic analysis
may, in the long run, have a cleansing effect:
Of all the devices for dragooning
the human spirit, the least clumsy is to procure its abortion in the womb
of language; and we should recognize, I think, that those--and their number
is increasing--who are driven by the impulse to reduce the specifically
human to a mechanical or animal regularity, will continue to be increasingly
irritated by the nature of the mother tongue and make it their point of
attack. . . . If . . . they succeed in expunging from language all the
substance of its past, in which it is naturally so rich, and finally converting
it into the species of algebra that is best adapted to the uses of indoctrination
and empirical science, a long and important step forward will have been
taken in the selfless cause of the liquidation of the human spirit. (XXX)
[It] is interesting and significant
just because it forces the issue to its logical conclusion and brings into
the open the mental predicament which acceptance of positivism has always
really implied. Like a sort of scalpel, linguistic analysis lays bare [the]
connection . . . between the rise of positivism and the
general sense of meaninglessness in the West. At last the choice is plain.
Either we must concede that 99 per cent of all we say and think (or imagine
we think) is meaningless verbiage, or we must--however great the wrench--abandon
positivism. (RM 13-14)
|See in particular
Worlds Apart, pp.
92-103 (throughout, Dunn argues the case for linguistic analysis), "The
Rediscovery of Meaning" (RM 11-21), "Language, Evolution of
Consciousness, and the Recovery of Human Meaning," "The Evolution Complex,"