The meanings of silence: Wittgensteinian contextualism and polyphony

Jose Maria Medina*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Radical feminists have argued that there are normative exclusions that have silenced certain voices and have rendered certain meanings unintelligible. Some Wittgensteinians (including some Wittgensteinian feminists) have argued that these radical feminists fall into a philosophical illusion by appealing to the notions of 'intelligible nonsense' and 'inexpressible meanings', an illusion that calls for philosophical therapy. In this paper I diagnose and criticize the therapeutic dilemmathat results from this interpretation of Wittgenstein's contextualism. According to this dilemma, if something is meaningful, it must be expressible from the perspective of the participantin language-games; and if it is not so expressible, it is not meaningful at all. I argue that this is a false dilemma that rests on the untenable internalist notion of a unified 'participant's perspective'. I propose an alternative contextualist view that underscores the polyphonyof language-games, that is, the irreducible multiplicity of perspectives always present in discursive practices (if only implicitly and in embryo). Through a discussion of the different meanings of silence, my polyphonic contextualism tries to show that our linguistic practices always exhibit an irreducible diversity and heterogeneity of points of view that cannot be subsumed under a unified perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)562-579
Number of pages18
JournalInquiry (United Kingdom)
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy

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