Stanley Cavell

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Stanley Cavell (b. 1926) is an American post- analytic philosopher whose work crosses into aesthetics, literary criticism, psychoanalysis and film studies. After first teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, Cavell taught from 1963 to 1997 at Harvard University, where he became the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value. Chief among his philosophical works are Must We Mean What We Say? (1969), The Claim of Reason (1979) and Philosophical Passages (1995). Cavell has written a number of books on the New England Transcendentalists and the possibility of a distinctively “American” philosophy, including The Senses of Walden (1972), In Quest of the Ordinary (1988) and Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome (1990). He has also written three books on photography and film: The World Viewed (1971), Pursuits of Happiness (1981) and Contesting Tears (1996). More recently, Cavell has produced autobiographical reflection: A Pitch of Philosophy (1994). In retirement, he continues to write and publish prolifically, with Cities of Words (2004) and Philosophy the Day After (2005). Cavell has been extremely influential in American philosophical circles, with such thinkers as Hilary Putnam, Richard Rorty and Stephen Mulhall acknowledging his impact. He has also influenced a number of writers on the arts, most notably the art critic and historian Michael Fried and the film theorist William Rothman. Cavell describes himself in interviews as an “ordinary-language” philosopher. He recalls that the decisive event in his intellectual life was his encounter with the English philosopher of speech acts J. L. Austin, when Austin came to Harvard in 1955 to deliver the William James Lectures. Cavell was at the time attempting unsuccessfully to complete his doctoral thesis, but it was only after hearing Austin that, as he says, “I found the beginning of my own intellectual voice” (Conant 1989: 36). Th e subject of Cavell’s thesis, early versions of which formed his first book, Must We Mean What We Say?, is the question of how our words and actions mean. Th is was a common enough problem within post-Wittgensteinian philosophy, but Cavell brought a distinctively new approach to it.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFilm, Theory and Philosophy: The Key Thinkers
EditorsFelicity Colman
Place of PublicationDurham, UK
PublisherAcumen Publishing
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781844654406
ISBN (Print)9781844651849
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

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