The Breath of Sense: Language, Structure, and the Paradox of Origin


  • Paul M. Livingston University of New Mexico, Philosophy



Within contemporary analytic philosophy, at least, varieties of “naturalism” have attained a widespread dominance. In this essay I suggest, however, that a closer look at the history of the linguistic turn in philosophy can offer helpful terms for rethinking what we mean in applying the categories of “nature” and “culture” within a philosophical reflection on human life and practice. For, as I argue, the central experience of this history—namely, philosophy’s transformative encounter with what it envisions as the logical or conceptual structure of everyday language – also repeatedly demonstrates the existence of a fundamental aporia or paradox at the center of the claim of language upon an ordinary human life. I discuss the occurrence of this aporia, and attempts to resolve it, in the philosophical writing of Carnap, Quine, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and McDowell. I conclude that the prevailing naturalistic style in analytic philosophy, whatever its recommendations, is itself the outcome of an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the central aporia of twentieth-century philosophical reflection on language. Closer attention to this aporia reveals that language, as we find it in both theoretical and everyday reflection, is in the most important sense, neither essentially “natural” nor “cultural.”

Author Biography

Paul M. Livingston, University of New Mexico, Philosophy

Paul M. Livingston works on the history of twentieth-century philosophy in both the analytic and continental traditions, and has special interests in phenomenology, philosophy of language and mind, and philosophy of science.  He has published articles on Husserl, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Carnap, among others.  His most recent book, Philosophy and the Vision of Language (Routledge, 2008), analyzes the history and enduring implications of the “linguistic turn” in twentieth-century philosophy.




How to Cite

Livingston, P. M. (2010). The Breath of Sense: Language, Structure, and the Paradox of Origin. Konturen, 2(1), 14–42.