“Must we mean what we say?”

Here is an interesting philosophical profile of Stanley Cavell, a philosopher at Harvard who has been a pioneer in applying philosophical thought to materials (like music, poetry, and films) that had been long thought to be irrelevant to philosophy. A representative quote:

A philosopher who limits the meaning of her words to carefully set out definitions, attempting to root out all ambiguity, in effect says, “I say, and you should hear, only what I mean.” Cavell insists that language cannot be limited in this way. Language, to Cavell, is ambiguous not because it is imperfect, awaiting precise definition, but because we do not all see in the same way; it is a reflection of our basic predicament as distinct human beings. Thus, we must dare to mean what we say, take responsibility for all the meanings our words might be taken to have—even if those meanings go beyond what we understand as our intentions—because in our unintentional (though perhaps meaningful) slips, and the misapprehensions, mistakes, and insights of those with whom we speak, we bring together not just words but worldviews.

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