Completely revised and updated in its Second Edition, _Language and Reality_ provides students, philosophers and cognitive scientists with a lucid and provocative introduction to the philosophy of language.
The Chomskian revolution in linguistics gave rise to a new orthodoxy about mind and language. Michael Devitt throws down a provocative challenge to that orthodoxy. What is linguistics about? What role should linguistic intuitions play in constructing grammars? What is innate about language? Is there a 'language faculty'? These questions are crucial to our developing understanding of ourselves; Michael Devitt offers refreshingly original answers. He argues that linguistics is about linguistic reality and is not part of psychology; that linguistic rules (...) are not represented in the mind; that speakers are largely ignorant of their language; that speakers' intuitions do not reflect information supplied by the language faculty and are not the main evidence for grammars; that the rules of 'Universal Grammar' are largely, if not entirely, innate structure rules of thought; indeed, that there is little or nothing to the language faculty. Devitt's controversial theses will prove highly stimulating to anyone working on language and the mind. (shrink)
In their delightfully provocative paper, “Semantics, Cross-Cultural Style,” Edouard Machery, Ron Mallon, Shaun Nichols, and Stephen Stich (2004), make several striking claims about theories of reference. First, they claim: (I) Philosophical views about reference “are assessed by consulting one’s intuitions about the reference of terms in hypothetical situations” (p. B1). This claim is prompted by their observations of the role of intuitions in Saul Kripke’s refutation of the descriptivist view of proper names in favor of a causal-historical view (1980). The (...) particular intuitions they attend to are those aired in discussing Kripke’s cases of Gödel and Jonah. This prompts the next claim: (II) Those particular cases are “central” to Kripke’s refutation (p. B1). Indeed, Machery et al describe these cases as “some of the most influential thought experiments in the philosophy of reference” (p. B8). Inspired by recent work in psychology (e.g., Nisbett et al 2001) that shows “systematic cognitive differences between East Asians and Westerners” (p. B1), Machery et al predicted that there would be cultural differences in referential intuitions. They conducted some ingenious experiments on Gödel and Jonah cases to test this predication. The results in the Gödel cases, although not in the Jonah cases, confirmed their prediction, leading them to conclude: “Westerners are more likely than East Asians to report intuitions that are consistent with the causal-historical view” (p. B1). And, implicitly, they claim: (III) These results raise serious doubts about Kripke’s refutation, which relies solely on the intuitions of Westerners. They are explicit about the following bolder claim: (IV) The fact of these cultural differences “raises questions about the nature of the philosophical enterprise of developing a theory of reference” (p. B1); it points to “significant philosophical conclusions” (p.. (shrink)
The article defends the doctrine that Linnaean taxa, including species, have essences that are, at least partly, underlying intrinsic, mostly genetic, properties. The consensus among philosophers of biology is that such essentialism is deeply wrong, indeed incompatible with Darwinism. I argue that biological generalizations about the morphology, physiology, and behavior of species require structural explanations that must advert to these essential properties. The objection that, according to current “species concepts,” species are relational is rejected. These concepts are primarily concerned with (...) what it is for a kind to be a species and throw little light on the essentialist issue of what it is for an organism to be a member of a particular kind. Finally, the article argues that this essentialism can accommodate features of Darwinism associated with variation and change. (shrink)
Stanford, in Exceeding Our Grasp , presents a powerful version of the pessimistic meta-induction. He claims that theories typically have empirically inequivalent but nonetheless well-confirmed, serious alternatives which are unconceived. This claim should be uncontroversial. But it alone is no threat to scientific realism. The threat comes from Stanford’s further crucial claim, supported by historical examples, that a theory’s unconceived alternatives are “radically distinct” from it; there is no “continuity”. A standard realist reply to the meta-induction is that past failures (...) do not imply present ones because present theories are more successful than past ones. I have preferred to emphasize that present methodology is better than past ones. Stanford’s response to the standard reply is surprisingly brief and inadequate. He defends the inference from the uncontroversial claim but not that from the crucial one. He does not show that past discontinuity implies present discontinuity. Realism survives. (shrink)
Michael Devitt is a distinguished philosopher of language. In this book he takes up one of the most important difficulties that must be faced by philosophical semantics: namely, the threat posed by holism. Three important questions lie at the core of this book: what are the main objectives of semantics; why are they worthwhile; how should we accomplish them? Devitt answers these 'methodological' questions naturalistically and explores what semantic programme arises from the answers. The approach is anti-Cartesian, rejecting the idea (...) that linguistic or conceptual competence yields any privileged access to meanings. This new methodology is used first against holism. Devitt argues for a truth-referential localism, and in the process rejects direct-reference, two-factor, and verificationist theories. The book concludes by arguing against revisionism, eliminativism, and the idea that we should ascribe narrow meanings to explain behaviour. (shrink)
Linguists take the intuitive judgments of speakers to be good evidence for a grammar. Why? The Chomskian answer is that they are derived by a rational process from a representation of linguistic rules in the language faculty. The paper takes a different view. It argues for a naturalistic and non-Cartesian view of intuitions in general. They are empirical central-processor responses to phenomena differing from other such responses only in being immediate and fairly unreflective. Applying this to linguistic intuitions yields an (...) explanation of their evidential role without any appeal to the representation of rules. Introduction The evidence for linguistic theories A tension in the linguists' view of intuitions Intuitions in general Linguistic intuitions Comparison of the modest explanation with the standard Cartesian explanation A nonstandard Cartesian explanation of the role of intuitions? Must linguistics explain intuitions? Conclusion. (shrink)
Kripke defines a rigid designator as one that designates the same object in every possible world in which that object exists. He argues that proper names are rigid. So also, he claims, are various natural kind terms. But we wonder how they could be. These terms are general and it is not obvious that they designate at all. It has been proposed that these kind terms rigidly designate abstract objects. This proposal has been criticized because all terms then seem to (...) come out rigid, thus trivializing rigidity. The paper starts with further criticisms of this proposal aimed particularly at a recent version given by LaPorte. The paper goes on to develop and defend an alternative proposal presented briefly in Devitt and Sterelny (1999): instead of taking those natural kind terms to rigidly designate an object we take them to rigidly apply to the members of their extensions. Schwartz has rightly insisted that a notion of rigidity must do some theoretical work if it is to be interesting. The paper argues that rigid application for kind terms does the same primary work as rigid designation for singular terms, the work of refuting description theories of some terms; and it does the same secondary work, of explaining certain modal phenomena (with one exception). (shrink)
In Philosophy without Intuitions, Herman Cappelen challenges the ‘almost universally accepted’ thesis of ‘Centrality’: ‘philosophers rely on intuitions as evidence for philosophical theories’. Cappelen takes there to be two arguments for Centrality and rejects both. According to the first, Centrality is supported by the way philosophers characterize key premises in their arguments as ‘intuitive’. Central to Cappelen’s rejection of this is his lengthy argument that philosophers’ ‘intuition’-talk is very hard to interpret, indeed often ‘meaningless’. I argue, in contrast, that this (...) talk is easy to interpret. The great mass of philosophers who would endorse Centrality mean by ‘intuition’ just what it ordinarily means: ‘immediate judgment, without reasoning or inference’. Cappelen claims further that philosophers’ ‘intuition’-talk, however it is interpreted, does not support Centrality. I argue that this talk, interpreted in the ordi.. (shrink)
Introduction -- Metaphysics -- "Ostrich nominalism"' or "mirage realism"? -- Postscript to "Ostrich nominalism" or "mirage realism"? -- Aberrations of the realism debate -- Postscript to "aberrations of the realism debate" -- Underdetermination and commonsense realism -- Scientificrealism -- Postscript to "scientific realism" -- Incommensurability and the priority of metaphysics -- Postscript to "incommensurability and the priority of metaphysics" -- Global response dependency and worldmaking -- The metaphysics of nonfactualism -- The metaphysics of truth -- Moral realism : a naturalistic (...) perspective -- Natural kinds and biological realisms -- Resurrecting biological essentialism -- Epistemology -- Naturalism and the a priori -- No place for the a priori -- Intuitions -- On determining what there isn't. (shrink)
The main goal of the paper is to propose a methodology for the theory of reference in which experiments feature prominently. These experiments should primarily test linguistic usage rather than the folk’s referential intuitions. The proposed methodology urges the use of: (A) philosophers’ referential intuitions, both informally and, occasionally, scientifically gathered; (B) the corpus, both informally and scientifically gathered; (C) elicited production; and, occasionally, (D) folk’s referential intuitions. The most novel part of this is (C) and that is where most (...) of the experimental work should be. The secondary goal of the paper is to defend my earlier paper “Experimental Semantics” from the criticisms of Machery, Mallon, Nichols, and Stich in “If Folk Intuitions Vary, Then What?” They charge that I have seriously misunderstood their goal in “Semantics, Cross-Cultural Style” and that many of my arguments are “largely irrelevant”. I argue that these charges are baseless. (shrink)
In "nominalism and realism" armstrong carefully demolishes various nominalist responses to plato's "one over many" problem but simply dismissed the quinean response as "ostrich nominalism". The paper argues that plato's problem is pseudo. So to ignore it is not to behave like an ostrich. Rather to adopt realism because of this problem that isn't there is to be a "mirage realist." there are some good reasons that lead armstrong to realism but he is largely a mirage realist. Quine does not (...) ignore any real problem for nominalism and so is not an ostrich nominalist. (shrink)
In "Intuitions in Linguistics" (2006a) and Ignorance of Language (2006b) I took it to be Chomskian orthodoxy that a speaker's metalinguistic intuitions are provided by her linguistic competence. I argued against this view in favor of the alternative that the intuitions are empirical theory-laden central-processor responses to linguistic phenomena. The concern about these linguistic intuitions arises from their apparent role as evidence for a grammar. Mark Textor, "Devitt on the Epistemic Authority of Linguistic Intuitions" (2009), argues that I have picked (...) the wrong intuitions: I should have picked non-judgmental linguistic "seemings". These reside between metalinguistic judgments and linguistic performances and have an epistemic authority that the orthodox view may well be able to explain. Textor seems to think that the metalinguistic intuitions are not evidence at all. I argue that he is wrong about that. More importantly, I argue that there are no "in-between" linguistic seemings with epistemic authority. (shrink)
Machery argues: (1) that “philosophers’ intuitions about reference are not more reliable than lay people’s —if anything, they are probably worse”; (2) that “intuitions about the reference of proper names and uses of proper names provide equally good evidence for theories of reference”. (1) lacks theoretical and empirical support. (2) cannot be right because usage provides the evidence that intuitions are reliable.
It is plausible to think that members of a linguistic community typically mean the same by their words. Yet “ignorance and error” arguments proposed by the revolution in the theory of reference seem to show that people can share a meaning and yet differ greatly in usage. Horwich responds to this problem for UTM by appealing to deference. I give five reasons for doubting that his brief remarks about deference can be developed into a satisfactory theory. But this appeal has (...) an even deeper problem: the appeal is inconsistent with UTM. These problems are not minor ones of details: they strike at the very core of UTM. (shrink)
In his engaging essay, “Deconstructing the Mind” (1996: 3-90), Stephen Stich raises some very good questions and gives some pretty good answers. My aim in this paper is to give some answers of my own, drawing on earlier work, and to compare these answers with Stich’s.
This paper defends Some anti-Chomskian themes in Ignorance of Language (Devitt 2006a) from, the criticisms of John Collins (2007, 2008a) and Georges Rey (2008). It argues that there is a linguistic reality external to the mind and that it is theoretically interesting to study it. If there is this reality, we have good reason to think that grammars are more or less true of it. So, the truth of the grammar of a language entails that its rules govern linguistic reality, (...) giving a rich picture of this reality. In contrast, the truth of the grammar does not entail that its rules govern the psychological reality of speakers competent in the language and it alone gives a relatively impoverished picture of that reality. For, all we learn about that reality from the grammar is that it “respects” the rules of the grammar. (shrink)
Part I argues that the usc theory in Horwich’s Meaning does not give sufficient attention to the relation between language and thought. A development of the theory is proposed that gives explanatory priority to the mental. The paper also urges that Horwich’s identification of a word’s meaning by its role in explaining the cause of sentences should be broadened to include its role in explaining the linguistic and non linguistic behavior that sentences cause. Part II argues that Horwich greatly overstates (...) the case for his use theory; that the arguments from ignorance and error against description theories of reference can be adapted against the use theory; and that a tempting development of the use theory would risk both the collapse of the theory into truth referentialism and the difficulties that have plagued truth referentialism. Finally, a consideration of our ordinary thought ascriptions provides evidence against any use theory. (shrink)
In their discussion of semantic holism, Fodor and Lepore claim that Quine showed that any inferential properties constituting a meaning cannot be distinguished on epistemic grounds like apriority. But they often write as if Quine showed that such properties cannot be distinguished at all. The paper argues that Quine did not show the latter. It goes on to propose a criterion for distinguishing the constitutive properties: they are the ones that determine reference. Fodor is not in a position to reject (...) this criterion since he already uses an analogous one in his own theory. (shrink)
This paper takes up the two main points in John Collins “Note” (2008b), which responds to my paper, “Explanation and Reality in Linguistics” (2008). (1) Appealing to what grammars actually say, the paper argues that they primarily explain the nature of linguistic expressions. (2) The paper responds to Collins’ criticisms of my view that these expressions have many of their properties by convention.