A successor concept to a notion of languages and theories. A vocabulary is a way of talking / what we deploy in discursive practice.
- the vocabulary of 16th century theology
- also, the vocabulary of modernity
- where that’s presumably an autonomous discursive practice
In mature sciences, a lot of work is taken to allow for discourse to proceed as if the vocabulary were fixed:
- The discursive equivalent of “clean rooms”, maintained through heroic social disciplinary measures
- This is for mature sciences: if you think of the history of temperature, every single time a new way of measuring temperature was discovered, the concept changed.
But it would be a serious mistake to take this extreme, artificial case to be the paradigm on the basis of which we understand the use of language in general.
Sometimes we want to prevent the vocabulary from changing, but not always.
Rorty calls this process Redescription.
Quantifying over all vocabularies
This is a central fallacy of platonists: this is not a determinate or determinable domain. (discursive practice is fundamentally plastic, as Wittgenstein describes, so at best you’ll get a snapshot of the current moment).
One doesn’t try to do this unless they are trying to permanently end some philosophical conversation (by finding the final vocabulary).
Because each vocabulary gives rise to characteristic sorts of facts (e.g. physical facts, culinary facts, theological facts…) we also cannot quantify over all facts.2
Rorty does quantify over all vocabularies insofar as he is a declarativist - all vocabularies have something that plays the role of declarative sentences and thus can be interpreted as purportively fact-stating.
Comparing different vocabularies
If you are a representationalist, then you get for free a notion of one vocabulary being better than another. Rorty’s notion of coping is a pragmatist-friendly subsitute for this.
The vocabulary vocabulary leads Rorty to questioning the distinction of Real properties vs Cambridge properties.