The Linguistic U-Turn in the Philosophy of Thought

Dissertation, The University of British Columbia (Canada) (1999)

Michael Fleming
University of British Columbia
A central task of contemporary analytic philosophy is to develop an understanding of how our minds are connected to the external world. Arising from this task is the need to explain how thoughts represent things in the world. Giving such an explanation is the central endeavor of this dissertation---the aim being to contribute to our understanding of what it is for a subject to be thinking of a particular object. The structure of the dissertation is set, in part, by responding to the commonly held view that a satisfactory explanation of what it is to think of a particular object can be drawn out of, or extended from, an explanation of what it is to be referring to that particular object. ;Typically, in investigating these matters, it is accepted that there is an explanatory priority of language over thought. This is the Priority Thesis. Some take the Priority Thesis to reflect an appropriate methodological strategy. In this form, it implies the methodological point that the best way to describe thoughts is by describing them as they are expressed in language. Most, however, seem to take the Priority Thesis to be symptomatic of a substantive, metaphysical truth. This, to put it one way, is that the content of a thought is paralleled by the content of the associated linguistic expression. I call this the Assumption of Parallelism. This characterizes what we call Linguistic Turn philosophy . ;The body of the dissertation arises out of questioning the extent of the application of the Priority Thesis in developing theories of reference and thought. I call the move of the partial overturning of the Priority Thesis the Linguistic U-Turn. The overall conclusion is that we cannot explain what it is to think of a particular object by extending explanations of what it is to be referring to that particular object. In particular, I reject what I call the Causal Theory of Thought---the view that the representational properties of a thought are explained by the referential properties of the appropriate singular term. My aim, then, is to show that a popular conviction concerning the representational properties of thoughts about things in the world is not warranted
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