Nonsense Made Intelligible

Erkenntnis 80 (1):111-136 (2015)

Hans-Johann Glock
University of Zürich
My topic is the relation between nonsense and intelligibility, and the contrast between nonsense and falsehood which played a pivotal role in the rise of analytic philosophy . I shall pursue three lines of inquiry. First I shall briefly consider the positive case, namely linguistic understanding . Secondly, I shall consider the negative case—different breakdowns of understanding and connected forms of failure to make sense . Third, I shall criticize three important misconceptions of nonsense and unintelligibility: the austere conception of nonsense propounded by the New Wittgensteinians ; the “no nonsense position” which roundly denies that there are cases of nonsense—Chomsky’s semantic anomalies or Ryle’s category mistakes–that are grammatically well-formed, without even having the potential for being used to make a truth-apt statement ; the individualistic conception of language and of semantic mistakes championed by Davidson . All three positions, I shall argue, ignore or deny combinatorial nonsense, the fact that perfectly meaningful sentence-components can be combined in a way that may be grammatical, yet without resulting in a sentence that is itself “meaningful”, i.e. endowed with linguistic sense. At a more strategic level, the first and the third position deny or ignore that natural languages are communal historical practices that go beyond idiolects and the employments of expressions in specific contexts and that are guided by semantic rules—standards for the meaningful use of words
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DOI 10.1007/s10670-014-9662-5
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References found in this work BETA

The Varieties of Reference.Gareth Evans - 1982 - Oxford University Press.
The Concept of Mind.Gilbert Ryle - 1949 - Hutchinson & Co.

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