Single-Mindedness: Language, Thought, and the First Person

Dissertation, Boston University (2004)
Philosophy has always taken the asymmetry between self and other as one of its major themes. In this thesis, I examine the relation between an individual's knowledge of language from a first-person perspective, on the one hand, and characterization of her as a member of a linguistic community from a third-person perspective, on other. Focusing on Crispin Wright, I try in Chapter One to show that semantic antirealism cannot stably be combined with either communitarianism or constructivism about meaning. I also argue that the rational tenability of communitarianism is threatened by a powerful argument of Wright's own devising in "What Could Anti-Realism About Ordinary Psychology Possibly Be?" In Chapters Two and Three, I defend the "individualist" idea that the meaning of an expression in an agent's idiolect is correlative with her understanding of its use. I try to show that individualism, so conceived, is fully compatible with natural-kind externalism and that none of the familiar and widely accepted arguments for social externalism are cogent. I also argue that there is no incompatibility between externalism and self-knowledge in matters of meaning. In Chapters Four and Five, I criticize a transcendental argument developed by Donald Davidson and recently defended by Robert Brandom that a creature cannot properly be credited with language or thought unless it is in communication with at least one other creature. Neither philosopher, I argue, provides a cogent case for the argument's crucial premise that the concept of objectivity is unavailable to a creature outside of a social, linguistic setting. The thesis that meaning is "normative" has widespread currency in the philosophy of language and does much to motivate the social, deontological approach to meaning taken in Making it Explicit. However, I argue in Chapter Six that central arguments for the thesis rest on confusions about the relation between the concepts of meaning, truth, use and intention. In Chapter Seven, I conclude, by connecting Davidson and Brandom's social account of the concept of objectivity with a certain "non-individualist" theory of perception. Following John McDowell, I argue that the theory renders the empirical contentfulness language and thought unintelligible
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