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date: 26 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Oxford’s own brand of realism (or anti-idealism) flourished from around the turn of the last century until John Cook Wilson’s death in 1915. Other, but related, varieties arose in roughly the same period, first in Frege, then in Cambridge. Some strands of Oxford’s brand flourished there until much later, and continue now, for example in the form of what has come by the name ‘disjunctivism’ (particularly about knowledge). Others died out, at least in Oxford. Cook Wilson and his student, H. A. Prichard, were the first leading Oxford exponents. Their realism centred on knowledge and perception, as opposed to Frege’s, which centred on the objectivity of truth. (A matter of emphasis.) This realism, both at Oxford and at Cambridge, proved fragile. Russell, for example, was soon to endorse the idea that the only genuine singular thoughts were about Vorstellungen in Frege’s sense. By the 1930s, Prichard had very self-consciously come to hold that the only true objects of perception were Vorstellungen. This essay sets out realism’s vicissitudes at Oxford, and offers a diagnosis of its fragility, to wit: until Austin’s working out of one leading idea in Cook Wilson, the tools for preserving it (the idea of the occasion-sensitivity of what is said in speaking of things being thus and so) were simply not available.

Keywords: realism, language, knowledge, perception, Cook Wilson, Prichard, Austin

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