The use of verbs inﬂected or modiﬁed for tense, and temporal adverbs, indexicals, and quantiﬁers, pervades everyday speech. Getting clearer about their semantics not only promises to help us to understand how we understand each other, but is also a step toward clarifying the nature of time and temporally located thoughts. The goal of this chapter is to investigate, from the standpoint of truth-theoretic semantics, English tense, temporal designators and quantiﬁers, and other expressions we use to relate ourselves and other (...) things to the temporal order. Truththeoretic semantics provides a particularly illuminating standpoint from which to discuss issues about the semantics of tense and their relation to thoughts at, and about, times. Tense, and temporal modiﬁers, contribute systematically to conditions under which sentences we utter are true or false. A Tarski-style truth-theoretic semantics, by requiring explicitly represented truth conditions, helps to sharpen questions about the function of tense and to deepen our insight into the contribution the tenses and temporal modiﬁers make to what we say by using them. We are interested in a semantic, rather than syntactic, phenomenon. Although tense is identiﬁed traditionally with verb inﬂection, our concern is with linguistic devices used for indicating a time interval, relative to or in which a state or activity is to be understood to occur or obtain. For ease of exposition, we will press ‘tense’ into use to cover any verb form used to indicate time intervals in which the event or state expressed by a verb is to occur or obtain. In English, verb inﬂection, such as adding ‘-ed’ to a bare inﬁnitive, is one such device. But the phenomenon occurs.. (shrink)
It would be ever so nice if there were a viable analytic/synthetic distinction. Though nobody knows for sure, there would seem to be several major philosophical projects that having one would advance. For example: analytic sentences2 are supposed to have their truth values solely in virtue of the meanings (together with the syntactic arrangement) of their constituents; i.e., their truth values are supposed to supervene on their linguistic properties alone.3 So they are true in every possible world where they mean (...) what they mean here.4 So they are necessarily true. So if there were a viable analytic/synthetic distinction (‘a/s distinction’ often hereafter), we would understand the necessity of at least some necessary truths. If, in particular, it were to turn out that the logical and/or the mathematical truths are analytic, we would understand why they are necessary. It would be ever so nice to understand why the logical and/or mathematical truths are necessary (cf. Gibson 1998; Quine 1998). (shrink)
Plato did it. Aristotle did it. All the great philosophers did it. You do it and we do it: we draw philosophical conclusions from linguistic data. Although we all do it, the degree, manner, and intensity to which it is done varies. Some have made piecemeal observations about language (e.g., “all these different things have the same term predicated of them”) to draw metaphysical conclusions (e.g., “there is some one existing thing that all these different entities share”). Others have made (...) observations about how all people – or at least, some important subset of them – employ a term (e.g., “we don’t say an action is voluntary unless we wish to say that it was done for (or in) an unusual reason (or manner)”) to draw conclusions about human agency (e.g., “actions that are done in the normal way in the normal course of events are neither free nor compulsory”). And others have looked to how people would talk were certain actual conditions not to be true (e.g., “we would say that we were still talking about Aristotle even if it were to turn out that he didn’t teach Alexander the Great”) to infer necessary features of the semantic realm (e.g., that some propositions must contain an actual individual and not a description of an individual). Still others have looked to empirical results from the science of linguistics (e.g., “the types of complements allowed by the verbs believes and knows are different”) to draw epistemological conclusions (e.g., “knowledge of something does not imply belief of it”), or again “the distributional facts concerning knows that and knows how are the same” to draw the conclusion “practical knowledge is a kind of theoretical knowledge”. (shrink)
It’s been, for some time now, a pet thesis of ours that compositionality is the key constraint on theories of linguistic content. On the one hand, we’re convinced by the usual arguments that the compositionality of natural languages1 explains how L-speakers can understand any of the indefinitely many expressions that belong to L.2 And, on the other hand, we claim that compositionality excludes all “pragmatist”3 accounts of content; hence, practically all of the theories of meaning that have been floated by (...) philosophers and cognitive scientists for the last fifty years or so. A number of objections to our claim have been suggested to us, but none that we find persuasive (see, for example, the discussions of the “uniformity principle” and of “reverse compositionality” in Fodor and Lepore 2002). These objections have a common thread: they all grant that mental and linguistic content are compositional but challenge the thesis that compositionality is incompatible with semantic pragmatism. In this paper, we want to consider an objection of a fundamentally different kind, namely, that it doesn’t matter whether compositionality excludes semantic pragmatism because compositionality isn’t true; the content of an expression supervenes not on its linguistic structure4 alone but on its linguistic structure together with the context of its tokening.5.. (shrink)
We’re lucky in that many (so far about twenty)1 extremely able philosophers have read and commented on our work in print. A slightly discouraging fact is that all these commentators seem to think we are completely, utterly mistaken. On the positive side: Our critics seem to disagree about what we’re completely wrong about. On the one hand, radical contextualists (e.g. Travis) find our objections against them off the mark, but our objections to moderate contextualism dead-on. On the other hand, the (...) moderate contextualists (e.g. Szabo) think that our objections against them fail, but our objections to radical contextualism are strong (Szabo, concludes that we ‘present strong arguments against radical contextualism, but only a weak case against moderate contextualism’). This means we’ve got our work cut out for us—defending the middle ground from every which way— something we are more than pleased to do. (shrink)
It matters to a number of projects whether monomorphemic lexical items (‘boy’, ‘cat’, ‘give’, ‘break’, etc.) have internal linguistic structure. (Call the theory that they do the Decomposition Hypothesis (DC).) The cognitive science consensus is, overwhelmingly, that DC is true; for example, that there is a level of grammar at which ‘breaktr’ has the structure ‘cause to breakint’ and so forth. We find this consensus surprising since, as far as we can tell, there is practically no evidence to support it. (...) (For example, there is no psychological evidence that you can’t have a word that expresses the concept BREAKTR unless you have the concept CAUSE. But there ought to be if CAUSE is a constituent of BREAKTR) This isn’t, of course, to say that there are no prima facie arguments at all for DC. The best one’s we’ve heard are the Impossible Word Arguments (IWA). That being so we’re very interested in whether IWAs are, in fact, sound. (shrink)
I conclude that there is no such thing as a language, not if a language is anything like what many philosophers and linguists have supposed. There is therefore no such thing to be learned, mastered or born with. (Davidson, 1986, p. 446).
A standard view about the quotation is that ‘the result of enclosing any expression...in quotation marks is a constant singular term’ [Wallace 1972, p.237]. There is little sense in treating the entire complex of an expression flanked by a right and left quotation mark, a quotation term for short, as a ‘constant singular term’ of a language L if that complex is not, in some sense, itself a constituent of L. So, just as (1) contains twenty-seven tokened symbols (including twenty-three (...) roman letters, three spaces and a period), so too, on the standard view about quotation terms, (2) contains twenty-nine tokened symbols (including twenty-two roman letters, four spaces, a left and right quotation mark, and a period). (shrink)
Roger Gibson has achieved as much as anyone else, indeed, more, in presenting and defending Quine’s philosophy. It is no surprise that the great man W.V. Quine himself said that in reading Gibson he gained a welcome perspective on his own work. His twin books The Philosophy of W.V. Quine and Enlightened Empiricism have no rivals. We are all indebted to Roger. The essay that follows is intended not only to honor him but also to continue a theme that runs (...) throughout his (and Quine’s) work, namely, the seamless division between science and philosophy. The techniques we invoke are consonant with the naturalistic conception of language that central themes of Professor Gibson’s writings, namely, that language is “a social art to be studied empirically” (Enlightened Empiricism, p. 64). (shrink)
When we wish to frame or to communicate a precise and nuanced argument, we should first clarify whatever meaningful distinctions our reasoning exploits. That’s why every good paper begins by defining its terms. A tiger is a large and ferocious predatory cat, yellow with black stripes. A bachelor is an unmarried man. Freedom is the capacity to choose one’s actions for oneself, independent of causal forces in the outside world. Knowledge is justified true belief. Getting clear on our concepts is (...) the process of analysis. It is such a fundamental part of philosophical practice that the preponderance of contemporary philosophical writing in English today is described as ‘analytic’. (shrink)
Starting with Frege, the semantics (and pragmatics) of quotation has received a steady flow of attention over the last one hundred years. It has not, however, been subject to the same kind of intense debate and scrutiny as, for example, both the semantics of definite descriptions and propositional attitude verbs. Many philosophers probably share Davidson's experience: ‘When I was initiated into the mysteries of logic and semantics, quotation was usually introduced as a somewhat shady device, and the introduction was accompanied (...) by a stern sermon on the sin of confusing the use and mention of expressions’ (Davidson 1979, p. 79). Those who leave it at that, however, miss out on one of the most difficult and interesting topics in the philosophy of language. (shrink)
(i) Under what conditions are two utterances utterances of the same word? (ii) What are words? That these questions have not received much attention is rather surprising: after all, philosophers and linguists frequently appeal to considerations about word and sentence identity in connection with a variety of puzzles and problems that are foundational to the very subject matter of philosophy of language and linguistics.1 Kaplan’s attention to words is thus to be applauded. And there is no doubt that his discussion (...) contains many useful insights. Nevertheless, we find his picture deeply flawed for a variety of crosscutting reasons. Our aim in this paper is to further advance an understanding of the nature of words, both by remedying the problems with Kaplan’s account, and also by achieving a suitable perspective on what the metaphysical investigation of word identity can hope to achieve. Our discussion divides into four parts. In Part One, we examine and critique Kaplan’s discussion of a contrast integral to his own account: that between the type-token and the stage-continuant conceptions of words. In Part Two, we present three constraints on any account of words and two further themes in Kaplan’s discussion central to his conception of words – the role of repetition and the constitutive authority of intentions. While these ideas have laudable motivations, we argue they are far from the best way of making good on the insights that drive them. The final two sections take a skeptical turn. In Part Three, we express doubt about Kaplan’s presumption of the importance of what he calls ‘common currency names’, thus raising a suspicion that he may be in pursuit of chimera. Finally, in Part Four, we express pessimism about whether interesting answers to question (i) above will be forthcoming, and suggest that the legitimacy of our word ontology need not depend on the availability of such answers. Along the way, we tease apart a number of metaphysical questions in the vicinity of the topic of word individuation – questions that are often not disentangled – and consider how the discussion of the previous parts bears on them.. (shrink)
Philosophy and Poetry is the 33rd volume in the Midwest Studies in Philosophy series. It begins with contributions in verse from two world class poets, JohnAshbery and Stephen Dunn, and an article by Dunn on the creative processthat issued in his poem. The volume features new work from an internationalcollection of philosophers exploring central philosophical issues pertinent topoetry as well as the connections between the two domains.
The commonplace view about metaphorical interpretation is that it can be characterized in traditional semantic and pragmatic terms, thereby assimilating metaphor to other familiar uses of language. We will reject this view, and propose in its place the view that, though metaphors can issue in distinctive cognitive and discourse effects, they do so without issuing in metaphorical meaning and truth, and so, without metaphorical communication. Our inspiration derives from Donald Davidson’s critical arguments against metaphorical meaning and Richard Rorty’s exploration of (...) the diverse uses of language. But unlike these authors we ground our discussion squarely in distinctions about causal mechanisms in cooperative activity developed by H.P. Grice and others. (shrink)
Now I may not be an educated man . . . But it seems to me to go against common sense to ask what the poet is ‘trying to say’. The poem isn’t a code for something easily understood. The poem is what he is trying to say.
Donald Davidson (1917 – 2003) was born in Springfield, Massachusetts , and raised, from 1924, in Staten Island, New York. He was educated both as an undergraduate and graduate at Harvard University. After a stint in the navy during the Second World War, which interrupted his graduate education, he returned to Harvard to complete a dissertation on Plato‟s Philebus in 1949. He became one the most important philosophers of second half of the 20 t h century.
The Oxford Handbooks series is a major new initiative in academic publishing. Each volume offers an authoritative and up-to-date survey of original research in a particular subject area. Specially commissioned essays from leading figures in the discipline give critical examinations of the progress and direction of debates. Oxford Handbooks provide scholars and graduate students with compelling new perspectives upon a wide range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences. -/- Ernie Lepore and Barry Smith present the definitive reference work (...) for this diverse and fertile field of philosophy. A superb international team contribute more than forty brand-new essays covering topics from the nature of language to meaning, truth, and reference, and the interfaces of philosophy of language with linguistics, psychology, logic, epistemology, and metaphysics. It will be an essential resource for anyone working in the central areas of philosophy, for linguists interested in syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, and for psychologists and cognitive scientists working on language. (shrink)
Language Turned on Itself examines what happens when language becomes self-reflexive; when language is used to talk about language. Those who think, talk, and write about language are habitual users of various metalinguistic devices, but reliance on these devices begins early: kids are told, 'That's called a "rabbit"'. It's not implausible that a primitive capacity for the meta-linguistic kicks in at the beginning stages of language acquisition. But no matter when or how frequently these devices are invoked, one thing is (...) clear: they present theorists of language with a complex data pattern. Herman Cappelen and Ernest Lepore show that the study of these devices and patterns not only represents an interesting and neglected project in the philosophy of language, but also carries important consequences for other parts of philosophy. -/- Part I is devoted to presenting data about various aspects of our metalinguistic practices. In Part II, the authors examine and reject the four leading metalinguistic theories, and offer a new account of our use of quotation in a variety of different contexts. But the primary goal of this book is not to promote one theory over another. Rather, it is to present a deeply puzzling set of problems and explain their significance. (shrink)
This paper evaluates arguments presented by John Perry (and Ken Taylor) in favor of the presence of an unarticulated constituent in the proposition expressed by utterance of, for example, (1):1 1. It's raining (at t). We contend that these arguments are, at best, inconclusive. That's the critical part of our paper. On the positive side, we argue that (1) has as its semantic content the proposition that it is raining (at t) and that this is a location-neutral proposition. According to (...) the view we propose, an audience typically looks for a location when they hear utterances of (1) because their interests in rain are location- focused: it is the location of rain that determines whether we get wet, carrots grow, and roads become slippery. These are, however, contingent facts about rain, wetness, people, carrots, and roads – they are not built into the semantics for the verb 'rain'. (shrink)
The work of Donald Davidson (1917-2003) transformed the study of meaning. Ernie Lepore and Kirk Ludwig, two of the world's leading authorities on Davidson's work, present the definitive study of his widely admired and influential program of truth-theoretic semantics for natural languages, giving an exposition and critical examination of its foundations and applications.
Reading these excellent commentaries we already wish we had written another book—a more comprehensive, clearer, and better defended one than what we have. We are, however, quite fond of the book we ended up with, and so we’ve decided that, rather than to yield, we’ll clarify. These contributions have helped us do that, and for that we are grateful to our critics. We’re lucky in that many (so far about twenty)1 extremely able philosophers have read and commented on our work (...) in print. A slightly discouraging fact is that all these commentators seem to think we are completely, utterly mistaken. On the positive side: Our critics seem to disagree about what we’re completely wrong about. On the one hand, radical contextualists (e.g. Travis) find our objections against them off the mark, but our objections to moderate contextualism dead-on. On the other hand, the moderate contextualists (e.g. Szabo) think that our objections against them fail, but our objections to radical contextualism are strong (Szabo, concludes that we ‘present strong arguments against radical contextualism, but only a weak case against moderate contextualism’). This means we’ve got our work cut out for us—defending the middle ground from every which way— something we are more than pleased to do. We start with general points of clarification, points it will be useful to reference from time to time when discussing each commentary. (General Comment #4 is the most important, and we will make reference to it repeatedly in what follows.). (shrink)
A general and fundamental tension surrounds our concept of what is said. On the one hand, what is said (asserted, claimed, stated, etc.) by utterances of a significant range of sentences is highly context sensitive. More specifically, (Observation 1 (O1)), what these sentences can be used to say depends on their contexts of utterance. On the other hand, speakers face no difficulty whatsoever in using many of these sentences to say (or make) the exact same claim, assertion, etc., across a (...) wide array of contexts. More specifically, (Observation 2 (O2)), many of the sentences in support of (O1) can be used to express the same thought, the same proposition, across a wide range of different contexts. (shrink)
This paper advances a general argument, inspired by some remarks of Davidson, to show that appeal to meanings as entities in the theory of meaning is neither necessary nor sufficient for carrying out the tasks of the theory of meaning. The crucial point is that appeal to meaning as entities fails to provide us with an understanding of any expression of a language except insofar as we pick it out with an expression we understand which we tacitly recognize to be (...) a translation of the term whose meaning we want to illuminate by the appeal to assigning to it a meaning. The meaning drops out as irrelevant: the work is done, and can only be done, by matching terms already understood with terms they translate. (shrink)
Ernie Lepore and Barry Smith present the definitive reference work for this diverse and fertile field of philosophy. A superb international team contribute forty brand-new essays covering topics from the nature of language to meaning, truth, and reference, and the interfaces of philosophy of language with linguistics, psychology, logic, epistemology, and metaphysics. It will be an essential resource for anyone working in the central areas of philosophy, for linguists interested in syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, and for psychologists and cognitive scientists (...) working on language. (shrink)
Ernest Lepore and Kirk Ludwig present the definitive critical exposition of the philosophical system of Donald Davidson (1917-2003). Davidson's ideas had a deep and broad influence in the central areas of philosophy; he presented them in brilliant essays over four decades, but never set out explicitly the overarching scheme in which they all have their place. Lepore's and Ludwig's book will therefore be the key work, besides Davidson's own, for understanding one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century.
In Insensitive Semantics (2004), we argue for two theses â€“ Semantic Minimalism and Speech Act Pluralism.Â In this paper, we outline our defense against two objections often raised against Semantic Minimalism. We begin with five stage-setting sections. These lead to the first objection, viz., that it might follow from our view that comparative adjectives are context insensitive. We defend our view against that objection (not, as you might expect, by denying that implication, but by endorsing it). Having done so, we (...) address a second objection, viz., that Semantic Minimalism makes it difficult to see what role semantic content plays in communicative exchanges. We respond and end with a reversal, i.e., we argue that even though the second objection fails against us, it works against those who raise the objection. In particular, we show that our critics, especially, Carston (2002) and Recanati (2004), end up with a notion of communicated content that fails various tests for psychological reality. (shrink)
In Insensitive Semantics (2004), we argue for two theses – Semantic Minimalism and Speech Act Pluralism. In this paper, we outline our defense against two objections often raised against Semantic Minimalism. We begin with five stage-setting sections. These lead to the first objection, viz., that it might follow from our view that comparative adjectives are context insensitive. We defend our view against that objection (not, as you might expect, by denying that implication, but by endorsing it). Having done so, we (...) address a second objection, viz., that Semantic Minimalism makes it difficult to see what role semantic content plays in communicative exchanges. We respond and end with a reversal, i.e., we argue that even though the second objection fails against us, it works against those who raise the objection. In particular, we show that our critics, especially, Carston (2002) and Recanati (2004), end up with a notion of communicated content that fails various tests for psychological reality. (shrink)
Davidson, Donald (Herbert) (b. 1917, d. 2003; American), Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor, University of California at Berkeley (1986–2003). Previously Instructor then Professor in Philosophy at: Queens College New York (1947–1950), Stanford University, California (1950–1967), Princeton University (1967–1969), Rockefeller University, New York City (1970–1976), University of Chicago (1976–1981), University of California at Berkeley (1981–2003). John Locke Lecturer, University of Oxford (1970).
Critics and champions alike have fussed and fretted for well over fifty years about whether Russell’s treatment is compatible with certain alleged acceptable uses of incomplete definite descriptions, where a description (the F( is incomplete just in case more than one object satisfies its nominal F, as in (1).
Following Aristotle (who himself was following Parmenides), philosophers have appealed to the distributional reflexes of expressions in determining their semantic status, and ultimately, the nature of the extra-linguistic world. This methodology has been practiced throughout the history of philosophy; it was clarified and made popular by the likes of Zeno Vendler and J.L. Austin, and is realized today in the toolbox of linguistically minded philosophers. Studying the syntax of natural language was fueled by the belief that there is a conceptually (...) tight connection between the syntax of our language and its semantics, and the belief that there is a similarly tight connection between the semantics of our language and metaphysical facts about the world. We are less confident than our colleagues about the relation syntax has to semantics and metaphysics. In particular, we do not believe that the current status of theoretical syntax (or semantics or metaphysics) provides much support for either of the above two beliefs. We will illustrate our view with a case study regarding the status of complex demonstratives. We will show that a recent and particularly subtle syntactically based argument for the semantic/metaphysical status of complex demonstratives does not in fact show what semantic category complex demonstratives are in. Since the devil always lies in the details, we cannot extract a general method for undermining any argument that is similar in spirit. However, our case study will act as a cautionary note against any theory that attempts to derive important philosophical consequences from the shapes of sentences. (shrink)
Indexicals are linguistic expressions whose meaning remain stable while their reference shifts from utterance to utterance. Paradigmatic cases in English are ‘I’, ‘here’, and ‘now’. Recently, a number of authors have argued that various constructions in our language harbor hidden indexicals. We say ’hidden’ because these indexicals are unpronounced, even though they are alleged to be real linguistic components. Constructions taken by some authors to be associated, or to ‘co-habit’, with hidden indexicals include: definite descriptions and quantifiers more generally (hidden (...) indexical refers to a domain – Davies (1981), Westerstahl (1985), Soames (1986), Higginbotham (1988), Stanley and Williamson (1995)), propositional attitude verbs (hidden indexical refers to a mode of presentation – Richard (1990)), comparative adjectives (hidden indexical refers to comparison classes – Partee (1989), Kamp (1975), Ludlow (1989)). An interesting recent addition is the view that all nouns are associated with a hidden indexical referring to a domain restriction (Stanley and Szabo (2000), Stanley (2002)). (shrink)
Bertrand Russell, in the second of his 1914 Lowell lectures, Our Knowledge of the External World, asserted famously that ‘every philosophical problem, when it is subjected to the necessary analysis and purification, is found either to be not really philosophical at all, or else to be, in the sense in which we are using the word, logical’ (Russell 1993, p. 42). He went on to characterize that portion of logic that concerned the study of forms of propositions, or, as he (...) called them, ‘logical forms’. This portion of logic he called ‘philosophical logic’. Russell asserted that ... some kind of knowledge of logical forms, though with most people it is not explicit, is involved in all understanding of discourse. It is the business of philosophical logic to extract this knowledge from its concrete integuments, and to render it explicit and pure. (p. 53) Perhaps no one still endorses quite this grand a view of the role of logic and the investigation of logical form in philosophy. But talk of logical form retains a central role in analytic philosophy. Given its widespread use in philosophy and linguistics, it is rather surprising that the concept of logical form has not received more attention by philosophers than it has. The concern of this paper is to say something about what talk of logical form comes to, in a tradition that stretches back to (and arguably beyond) Russell’s use of that expression. This will not be exactly Russell’s conception. For we do not endorse Russell’s view that propositions are the bearers of logical form, or that appeal to propositions adds anything to our understanding of what talk of logical form comes to. But we will be concerned to provide an account responsive to the interests expressed by Russell in the above quotations, though one clarified of extraneous elements, and expressed precisely. For this purpose, it is important to note that the concern expressed by Russell in the above passages, as the surrounding text makes clear, is a concern not just with logic conceived narrowly as the study of logical terms, but with propositional form more generally, which includes, e.g., such features as those that correspond to the number of argument places in a propositional function, and the categories of objects which propositional.... (shrink)
Meaning and Argument shifts introductory logic from the traditional emphasis on proofs to the symbolization of arguments. Another distinctive feature of this book is that it shows how the need for expressive power and for drawing distinctions forces formal language development. This revised edition includes expanded sections, additional exercises, and an updated bibliography. Updated and revised edition includes extended sections, additional exercises, and an updated bibliography. Distinctive approach in that this text is a philosophical, rather than mathematical introduction to logic. (...) Concentrates on symbolization and does all the technical logic simply with truth tables and no derivations at all. Contains numerous exercises and a corresponding answer key. Extensive appendix which allows the reader to explore subjects that go beyond what is usually covered in an introductory logic course. Features accompanying website at www.meaningargument.com. (shrink)
Complex demonstratives, expressions of the form 'That F', 'These Fs', etc., have traditionally been taken to be referring terms. Yet they exhibit many of the features of quantified noun phrases. This has led some philosophers to suggest that demonstrative determiners are a special kind of quantifier, which can be paraphrased using a context sensitive definite description. Both these views contain elements of the truth, though each is mistaken. We advance a novel account of the semantic form of complex demonstratives that (...) shows how to reconcile the view that they function like quantified noun phrases with the view that simple demonstratives function as context sensitive referring terms wherever they occur. If we are right, previous accounts of complex demonstratives have misconceived their semantic role; and philosophers relying on the majority view in employing complex demonstratives in analysis have proceeded on a false assumption. (shrink)
The idea that quotidian, middle-level concepts typically have internal structure-definitional, statistical, or whatever—plays a central role in practically every current approach to cognition. Correspondingly, the idea that words that express quotidian, middle-level concepts have complex representations "at the semantic level" is recurrent in linguistics; it is the defining thesis of what is often called "lexical semantics," and it unites the generative and interpretive traditions of grammatical analysis. Hale and Keyser (HK) (1993) have endorsed a version of lexical decomposition according to (...) which "denominal" verbs are typically derived from phrases containing the corresponding nouns: ‘singvtr’ is supposed to come from something like DO A SONG; ‘saddlevtr’ is supposed to come from something like PUT A SADDLE ON; ‘shelvevtr’ is supposed to come from something like PUT ON A SHELF; and so forth.1 Their case for these claims revives a form of argument, the "impossible-word" argument, which has for some time been in eclipse. In this article we will claim that, whatever the right account of lexical decomposition eventually turns out to be, impossible-word arguments are infirm and should be discounted. We will use HK's paper as a text for this critique. (shrink)
Philosophers in general are uncomfortable, if not downright skeptical, about attributing semantic knowledge, particularly of a semantic theory, to ordinary speakers. 2 Those who do not feel the pinch often adopt a two-pronged defense: they rebut skeptics with an array of distinctions (and hedges), contending that the skeptics' confusions arise because they ignore such..
1 There is a Standard Objection to the idea that concepts might be prototypes (or exemplars, or stereotypes): Because they are productive, concepts must be compositional. Prototypes aren't compositional, so concepts can't be prototypes (see, e.g., Margolis, 1994).2 However, two recent papers (Osherson and Smith, 1988; Kamp and Partee, 1995) reconsider this consensus. They suggest that, although the Standard Objection is probably right in the long run, the cases where prototypes fail to exhibit compositionality are relatively exotic and involve phenomena (...) which any account of compositionality is likely to find hard to deal with; for example, the effects of quantifiers, indexicals, contextual constraints, etc. KP are even prepared to indulge a guarded optimism: "... when a suitably rich compositional theory... is developed, prototypes will be seen ... as one property among many which only when taken altogether can support a compositional theory of combination" (p.56). In this paper, we argue that the Standard Objection to prototype theory was right after all: The problems about compositionality are insuperable in even the most trivial sorts of examples; it is therefore as near to certain as anything in cognitive science ever gets that the structure of concepts is not statistical. Theories of categorization, concept acquisition, lexical meaning and the like, which assume the contrary simply don't work. We commence with a general discussion of the constraints that an account of concepts must meet if their compositionality is to explain their productivity. We'll then turn to a criticism of proposals that OS2 and KP make for coping with some specific cases. (shrink)
The Connection Principle (hereafter, CP) says that there is some kind of internal relation between a state's1 having intentional content ("aspectual shape") and its being (at least potentially) conscious. Searle's argument for the principle is just that potential consciousness is the only thing he can think of that would distinguish original intentionality from ersatz (Searle, 1992, pp. 84, 155 and passim. All Searle references are to 1992). Cognitivists have generally found this argument underwhelming given the empirical successes recently enjoyed by (...) linguistic and psychological theories with which, according to Searle, CP is not reconcilable. Our primary interest in this paper is not, however, to decide whether CP is true, but just to get as clear as we can about what exactly it asserts. Finding a reasonable formulation of the principle turns out to be harder than Searle appears to suppose; or so we claim. (shrink)
In a short article called “Mid-Term Examination: Compare and Contrast” that epitomizes and concludes his book The Intentional Stance, D. C. Dennett (1987) provides a sketch of what he views as an emerging Interpretivist consensus in the philosophy of mind. The gist is that Brentano’s thesis is true (the intentional is irreducible to the physical) and that it follows from the truth of Brentano’s thesis that: strictly speaking, ontologically speaking, there are no such things as beliefs, desires, or other intentional (...) phenomena. But the intentional idioms are “practically indispensable,” and we should see what we can do to make sense of their employment in what Quine called an “essentially dramatic” idiom…. Not just brute facts , then but an element of interpretation…must be recognized in any use of the intentional vocabulary. (Dennett, 1987, p. 342)12 In this context, “making sense of” the prevalence of the intentional idiom is not explaining why it should be indispensable if there are no beliefs or desires for it to refer to. Nor is it specifying the truth conditions of intentional attribution inevitably involves “an element of interpretation.” The discussion that follows treats these two papers together. (shrink)
It's an achievement of the last couple of decades that people who work in linguistic semantics and people who work in the philosophy of language have arrived at a friendly, de facto agreement as to their respective job descriptions. The terms of this agreement are that the semanticists do the work and the philosophers do the worrying. The semanticists try to construct actual theories of meaning (or truth theories, or model theories, or whatever) for one or another kind of expression (...) in one or another natural language; for example, they try to figure out how the temperature could be rising compatibly with the substitutivity of identicals. The philosophers, by contrast, keep an eye on the large, foundational issues, such as: what's the relation between sense and denotation; what's the relation between thought and language; whether translation is determinate; and whether life is like a fountain. Every now and then the philosophers and the semanticists are supposed to get together and compare notes on their respective progress. Or lack thereof. (shrink)
The main thesis of this paper is that the most cogent demands of subjectivity, at least with respect to questions concerning the contents of our thoughts, can be accommodated within an objectivist framework. I begin with two theses: (1) Subjectivity: I can know (the contents of) my own thoughts without appeal to any knowledge of features external to my mind; (2) Environmentalism: (The contents of) my thoughts are determined by features external to my mind, at least in this sense: without (...) causal and/or social interaction between my internal states and various external features, these internal states would not have the particular contents they have and therefore would not be the mental states they are. Section I proceeds by elucidating various lines of environmentalism, an overtly objectivist thesis. Section II considers and refutes one purported environmentalist challenge to subjectivity, namely, that, according to it, thoughts are not in the head. Section III discusses a central subjectivist thesis, namely, thoughts do not admit of an appearance/reality distinction. Tyler Burge and Hilary Putnam, two environmentalists, seem to endorse such a distinction. It is argued that the two most reasonable routes of escape open to them require a retreat from environmentalism. This leaves us with an apparent dilemma: reject either subjectivity or environmentalism Section IV defends environmentalism. Section V considers and criticizes a maneuver Donald Davidson makes to preserve first?person authority over thought?contents. Section VI concludes with a brief defense of environmentalism which rests largely on rejecting a deeply entrenched epistemic model about how we access our own thoughts. It is argued that it is this bad epistemic model and not subjectivity per se, which has created whatever tension there appears to be between subjectivity and environmentalism. (shrink)
According to Davidson, a theory of meaning for a language L should specify information such that if someone had this information he would be in a position to understand L . He claims that a theory of truth for L fits this description. Many critics have argued that a truth theory is too weak to be a theory of meaning. We argue that these critics and Davidson's response to them have been misguided. Many critics have been misguided because they have (...) not been clear aboutwhat a theory of meaning is supposed to do. These critics and Davidson himself, though, have also been misguided because they thought that by adding further conditions on a truth theory we can come up with an adequate theory of meaning. We will show that Davidson has available to him, though he apparently failed to see so, a reply to his critics in his own paratactic account of the semantics for indirect discourse reports. (shrink)