A venerable philosophical tradition claims that only language users possess concepts. But this makes conceptual thought out to be an implausibly rarified achievement. A more recent tradition, based in cognitive science, maintains that any creature who can systematically recombine its representational capacities thereby deploys concepts. But this makes conceptual thought implausibly widespread. I argue for a middle ground: it is sufficient for conceptual thought that one be able to entertain many of the thoughts produced by recombining one.
Metaphor appears to be a paradigmatically pragmatic phenomenon. It involves a gap between the conventional meaning of words and their occasion-specific use, of precisely the kind that motivates distinguishing pragmatics from semantics. This assumption is so widespread that it has received little explicit justification, but at least two obvious considerations can be offered in its support. First, metaphorical interpretation is importantly parasitic on literal meaning. If a hearer doesn’t know the literal meanings of the relevant expressions, she will only accidentally (...) succeed in interpreting an utterance metaphorically. In children, the general ability to comprehend and to knowingly produce metaphors (especially those based on abstract similarities) develops later than the capacity for literal speech (Vosniadou 1987). Moreover, various cognitive and brain disorders, such as autism (Happé 1995), schizophrenia (Langdon et al. 2002), and lesions in the right hemisphere (Brownell et al. 1990) significantly impair metaphorical comprehension, while there are no converse cases of impairment in literal comprehension with preserved capacity to interpret metaphors. Second, metaphorical interpretation depends not just on knowledge of the conventional meanings of the words uttered and their mode of combination, but also on substantive and wide-ranging presuppositions (real or mutually pretended) about the referents of the relevant expressions. As a result, the same sentence can receive dramatically different metaphorical interpretations in distinct contexts. For instance, sentence (1). (shrink)
I take up three puzzles about our emotional and evaluative responses to fiction. First, how can we even have emotional responses to characters and events that we know not to exist, if emotions are as intimately connected to belief and action as they seem to be? One solution to this puzzle claims that we merely imagine having such emotional responses. But this raises the puzzle of why we would ever refuse to follow an author’s instructions to imagine such responses, since (...) we happily imagine many other implausible things. A natural response to this second puzzle is that our responses to fiction are real, and so can’t just be conjured up in response to an author’s demands. However, this simple response is inadequate, because we often respond differently to people and events in fiction than we would if we encountered them in real life. Solving these three puzzles in a consistent way requires the notion of a “perspective” on a fictional world. I sketch an account of this intuitive but frustratingly amorphous notion: perspectives are tools for organizing our thinking, which can in turn alter our emotional and evaluative responses. Cultivating a perspective can be illuminating, entertaining, or corrupting — or all three at once. (shrink)
A venerable philosophical tradition claims that only language users possess concepts. But this makes conceptual thought out to be an implausibly rarified achievement. A more recent tradition, based in cognitive science, maintains that any creature who can systematically recombine its representational capacities thereby deploys concepts. But this makes conceptual thought implausibly widespread. I argue for a middle ground: it is sufficient for conceptual thought that one be able to entertain many of the thoughts produced by recombining one’s representational capacities, so (...) long as one can do this apart from a direct confrontation with the represented states of affairs. (shrink)
Theorists often associate certain “poetic” qualities with metaphor — most especially, open-endedness, evocativeness, imagery and affective power. However, the qualities themselves are neither necessary nor sufficient for metaphor. I argue that many of the distinctively “poetic” qualities of metaphor are in fact qualities of aspectual thought, which can also be exemplified by parables, “telling details,” and “just so” stories. Thinking about these other uses of language to produce aspectual thought forces us to pinpoint what is distinctive about metaphor, and also (...) thereby reveals the weaknesses of three established views of metaphor. (shrink)
Metaphor is a pervasive feature of language. We use metaphor to talk about the world in both familiar and innovative ways, and in contexts ranging from everyday conversation to literature and scientific theorizing. However, metaphor poses serious challenges for standard theories of meaning, because it seems to straddle so many important boundaries: between language and thought, between semantics and pragmatics, between rational communication and mere causal association.
Theorists often associate certain “poetic” qualities with metaphor – most especially, producing an open-ended, holistic perspective which is evocative, imagistic and affectively-laden. I argue that, on the one hand, non-cognitivists are wrong to claim that metaphors only produce such perspectives: like ordinary literal speech, they also serve to undertake claims and other speech acts with propositional content. On the other hand, contextualists are wrong to assimilate metaphor to literal loose talk: metaphors depend on using one thing as a perspective for (...) thinking about something else. I bring out the distinctive way that metaphor works by contrasting it with two other poetic uses of language, juxtapositions and “telling details,” that do fit the accounts of metaphor offered by non-cognitivists and contextualists, respectively. (shrink)
Nearly everyone shares the intuition that sarcasm or verbal irony1 is a use of language in which speaker meaning and sentence meaning come apart. Two millennia ago, Quintilian defined irony as speech in which “we understand something which is the opposite of what is actually said.”2 More recently, Josef Stern sharply distinguishes metaphor, which he argues is semantic, from irony: in the latter case, he says, we are not “even tempted to posit an ironic meaning in the utterance in addition (...) to the ordinary literal meanings of the words used.”3 Indeed, sarcasm is frequently cited as a paradigm case of pragmatic meaning. (shrink)
Traditional theories of sarcasm treat it as a case of a speaker's meaning the opposite of what she says. Recently, 'expressivists' have argued that sarcasm is not a type of speaker meaning at all, but merely the expression of a dissociative attitude toward an evoked thought or perspective. I argue that we should analyze sarcasm in terms of meaning inversion, as the traditional theory does; but that we need to construe 'meaning' more broadly, to include illocutionary force and evaluative attitudes (...) as well as propositional content. I distinguish four subclasses of sarcasm, individuated in terms of the target of inversion. Three of these classes raise serious challenges for a standard implicature analysis. (shrink)
Does thought precede language, or the other way around? How does having a language affect our thoughts? Who has a language, and who can think? These questions have traditionally been addressed by philosophers, especially by rationalists concerned to identify the essential difference between humans and other animals. More recently, theorists in cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and developmental psychology have been asking these questions in more empirically grounded ways. At its best, this confluence of philosophy and science promises to blend the (...) respective strengths of each discipline, bringing abstract theory to bear on reality in a principled and focused way. At its worst, it risks degenerating into a war of words, with each side employing key expressions in its own idiosyncratic way – or worse, contaminating empirical research with a priori dogmas inherited from outmoded philosophical worldviews. In Baboon Metaphysics (2007), Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth offer an analysis of baboon cognition that promises to exemplify the very best interaction of philosophical theory and empirical research. They argue that baboons have a language of thought: a language-like representational medium, which supports the sophisticated cognitive abilities required to negotiate their complex social environment. This claim is intended to be surprising in its own right, and also to shed light on the evolution of spoken language. Because our own ancestors likely lived in a similarly complex social environment, Cheney and Seyfarth propose that the earliest humans also developed language first as a cognitive medium, and that spoken language evolved as a means to express those thoughts. There are two potential difficulties here. First, ‘Language of Thought’ (LOT) is a term of art, with much associated theoretical baggage and often comparatively little careful exposition. Thus, evaluating the claim requires getting clearer about just what LOT implies in this context.. (shrink)
I argue that we can reconcile two seemingly incompatible traditions for thinking about concepts. On the one hand, many cognitive scientists assume that the systematic redeployment of representational abilities suffices for having concepts. On the other hand, a long philosophical tradition maintains that language is necessary for genuinely conceptual thought. I argue that on a theoretically useful and empirically plausible concept of 'concept', it is necessary and sufficient for conceptual thought that a thinker be able to entertain many of the (...) potential thoughts produced by recombining her representational abilities apart from a direct confrontation with the states of affairs being represented. Such representational abilities support a cognitive engagement with the world that is flexible, abstract, and active. (shrink)
Recently, philosophers have discovered that they have a lot to learn from, or at least to ponder about, fiction. Many metaphysicians are attracted to fiction as a model for our talk about purported objects and properties, such as numbers, morality, and possible worlds, without embracing a robust Platonist ontology. In addition, a growing group of philosophers of mind are interested in the implications of our engagement with fiction for our understanding of the mind and emotions: If I don’t believe that (...) Anna Karenina exists, can I really pity her, or hope or desire that she extricate herself from her tragic situation? And why is there no “morality fiction,” analogous to science fiction? I suspect that philosophers have been especially comfortable thinking about fiction because it seems, at least prima facie, to employ the imagination in a way that conforms to a standard model of the mind. Specifically, contemporary philosophers tend to think of imagination as a form of mental pretense. Mental pretense can take two main forms: a cognitive attitude of supposing a set of propositions to be true (make-believe) or else an experiential state of imaging a scenario as if it were before one (imaging). Much of our pretense intertwines the cognitive and experiential modalities, of course. But both share a crucial common feature: all of one’s imaginative effort is invested in pretending that certain contents obtain. In this sense, we can understand imagination as the “offline” simulation of actual beliefs and perceptions (and perhaps other attitudes as well), where we analyze these in the normal way, as states individuated by their attitude and representational content. While I share the burgeoning interest in fiction, I want to suggest that we also have a lot to learn from poetry, and in particular from poetic metaphor. I will argue.. (shrink)
The expression ‘Like’ has a wide variety of uses among English and American speakers. It may describe preference, as in (1) She likes mint chip ice cream. It may be used as a vehicle of comparison, as in (2) Trieste is like Minsk on steroids.
Most of us create and use a panoply of non-sentential representations throughout our ordinary lives: we regularly use maps to navigate, charts to keep track of complex patterns of data, and diagrams to visualize logical and causal relations among states of affairs. But philosophers typically pay little attention to such representations, focusing almost exclusively on language instead. In particular, when theorizing about the mind, many philosophers assume that there is a very tight mapping between language and thought. Some analyze utterances (...) as the outer vocalizations of inner thoughts (e.g. Grice 1957, Devitt 2005), while others treat thought as a form of inner speech (e.g. Sellars 1956/1997, Carruthers 2002). But even philosophers who take no stand on the relative priority of language and thought still tend to individuate mental states in terms of the sentences we use to ascribe them. Indeed, Dummett (1993) claims that it is constitutive of analytic philosophy that it approaches the mind by way of language. In many ways, this linguistic model is salutary. Our thoughts are often intimately intertwined with their linguistic expression, and public language does provide a comparatively tractable proxy for, and a window into, the messier realm of thought. However, an exclusive focus on thought as it is expressed in language threatens to leave other sorts of thought unexplained, or even to blind us to their possibility. In particular, many cognitive ethologists and psychologists find it useful to talk about humans, chimpanzees, birds, rats, and even bees as employing cognitive maps. We need to make sense of this way of talking about minds as well as more familiar sentential descriptions. In what follows, I investigate the theoretical and practical possibility of non-sentential thought. Ultimately, I am most interested in the contours of distinctively human thought: what forms does human thought take, and how do those different forms interact? How does human thought compare with that of other animals? In this essay, however, I focus on a narrower and more basic theoretical question: could thought occur in maps? Many philosophers are convinced that in some important sense, thought per se must be language-like.. (shrink)
On a familiar and prima facie plausible view of metaphor, speakers who speak metaphorically say one thing in order to mean another. A variety of theorists have recently challenged this view; they offer criteria for distinguishing what is said from what is merely meant, and argue that these support classifying metaphor within 'what is said'. I consider four such criteria, and argue that when properly understood, they support the traditional classification instead. I conclude by sketching how we might extract a (...) workable notion of 'what is said' from ordinary intuitions about saying. (shrink)
Philosophers have traditionally inclined toward one of two opposite extremes when it comes to metaphor. On the one hand, partisans of metaphor have tended to believe that metaphors do something different in kind from literal utterances; it is a ‘heresy’, they think, either to deny that what metaphors do is genuinely cognitive, or to assume that it can be translated into literal terms. On the other hand, analytic philosophers have typically denied just this: they tend to assume that if metaphors (...) express any genuine content at all, then that content can in principle be paraphrased into literal terms. They often conclude on this basis that metaphor is theoretically dispensable, and so that it poses no special challenges and affords no distinctive insights for the philosophy of language and mind. (shrink)
Philosophers have often adopted a dismissive attitude toward metaphor. Hobbes (1651, ch. 8) advocated excluding metaphors from rational discourse because they “openly profess deceit,” while Locke (1690, Bk. 3, ch. 10) claimed that figurative uses of language serve only “to insinuate wrong ideas, move the passions, and thereby mislead the judgment; and so indeed are perfect cheats.” Later, logical positivists like Ayer and Carnap assumed that because metaphors like..
Metaphor is a crucially context-dependent linguistic phenomenon. This fact was not clearly recognized until some time in the 1970’s. Until then, most theorists assumed that a sentence must have a fixed set of metaphorical meanings, if it had any at all. Often, they also assumed that metaphoricity was the product of grammatical deviance, in the form of a category mistake. To compensate for this deviance, they thought, at least one of the sentence’s constituent terms underwent a meaning-changing ‘metaphorical twist’, which (...) deleted the objectionable selection restriction or semantic marker (e.g., Levin 1977) or turned one of the term’s fixed set of connotations into its denotation (e.g., Beardsley 1962). This situation changed as theorists began to pay more serious attention to how metaphors actually function. First, it was pointed out that not all sentences used metaphorically are logically or even pragmatically absurd (Cohen 1975). Second, it became increasingly obvious that in the context of different sentences, and in the context of the same sentence as uttered by different speakers on different occasions, the same word could be used metaphorically to express many, very different meanings. Semantic theories became increasingly bloated as theorists attempted to encompass all this variety within the lexicon. Eventually, semantic theories of metaphor were largely abandoned. Instead, theorists generally maintained either that metaphors are a type of speaker meaning, on which a speaker says one thing in order to mean something else (e.g., Grice 1975, Searle 1979), or else that metaphors don’t have any distinctive ‘meaning’ at all, but simply cause certain distinctive effects in their hearers (e.g., Davidson 1984, Rorty 1987). Philosophers of language have devoted much energy in the last 30 years to investigating the various ways in which context can affect communicated.. (shrink)
We should not admit categorial restrictions on the significance of syntactically well formed strings. Syntactically well formed but semantically absurd strings, such as ‘Life’s but a walking shadow’ and ‘Caesar is a prime number’, can express thoughts; and competent thinkers both are able to grasp these and ought to be able to. Gareth Evans’ generality constraint, though Evans himself restricted it, should be viewed as a fully general constraint on concept possession and propositional thought. For (a) even well formed but (...) semantically cross-categorial strings often do possess substantive inferential roles; (b) hearers exploit these inferential roles in interpreting such strings metaphorically; (c) there is no good reason to deny truth-conditions to strings with inferential roles. (shrink)