When attempting to delineate or discriminate a feature of something that has not been noticed before, philosophers have few good choices. We can, and sometimes do, invent a term, or use an obscure term, to refer to the newly designated feature. Peirce, Whitehead and Buchler all did this, as did Heidegger and many others.
If we do not see the need or do not wish to create a neologism, we may use an already familiar term in a new way, which has also been done many times. Either way we are subject to criticism. If we use a neologism or draw on an unfamiliar linguistic past we may be accused of obscurantism and failing to be sufficiently clear to be able to speak in straightforward language. If we stretch terms to accommodate new meanings we may be accused of misleading our readers and creating unnecessary confusion.
In what follows I am interested in considering three instances of the latter phenomenon, which is to say three cases in which philosophers have used familiar terms in ways that may be insightful but may also be guilty of confusing and misleading us. I am specifically interested in how Walter Benjamin, John Dewey, and Justus Buchler approached the manipulative and communicative dimension of experience, and how we might evaluate and benefit in our own work from what they offered. In Benjamin’s case the term in question is “language”, for Dewey it is “inference”, and for Buchler it is “judgment”.