Mutual Misunderstanding

Scepticism and the Theorizing of Language and Interpretation

Mutual Misunderstanding

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: Published: July 1992

Linguistics, Theory and Philosophy

Do others understand what we say or write? Do we understand them? Theorists of language and interpretation claim to be more concerned with questions about "what" we understand and "how" we understand, rather than with the logically prior question "whether" we understand each other. An affirmative answer to the latter question is apparently taken for granted. However, in Mutual Misunderstanding, Talbot J. Taylor shows that the sceptical doubts about communicational understanding do in fact have a profoundly important, if as yet unacknowledged, function in the construction of theories of language and interpretation.
Mutual Misundertanding thus presents a strikingly original analysis of the rhetorical patterns underlying Western linguistic thought, as exemplified in the works of John Locke, Jacques Derrida, Gottlob Frege, Jonathan Culler, Noam Chomsky, Ferdinand de Saussure, H. Paul Grice, Michael Dummet, Stanley Fish, Alfred Schutz, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Harold Garfinkel, and others.
This analysis reveals how, by the combined effect of appeals to "commonsense" and anxieties about implications of relativism, scepticism has a determining role in the discursive development of a number of the intellectual disciplines making up the "human sciences" today, including critical theory, literary hermeneutics, philosophy of language and logic, communication theory, discourse and conversation analysis, pragmatics, stylistics, and linguistics. Consequently, this provocative study will be of value to readers from a wide variety of disciplinary backgrounds.


“Taylor has written a complex and provocative book about the centrality of questions about communication in modern linguistic theory and philosophy of language. He not only argues for the role that skepticism about communication has played in theorizing language and interpretation, but rightly notes the broader significance and currency of these issues in pervasive concerns about incommensurate worldviews and conceptual frameworks and doubts about our ability to understand other cultures or even other groups within our own culture. . . . The book incorporates an enormous amount of scholarship.” — Janet Skupien, Journal of Communication

"Mutual Misunderstanding juxtaposes and critiques eight central theories of language within an utterly new and enlightening framework—and manages to retain a highly lucid and readable format at the same time." — Michael Macovski, Fordham University


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