This interdisciplinary book considers the relationship between language and thought from a philosophical perspective, drawing both on the philosophical study of language and the purely formal study of grammar, and arguing that the two should align. The claim is that grammar provides homo sapiens with the ability to think in certain grammatical ways and that this in turn explains the vast cognitive powers of human beings. Evidence is considered from biology, the evolution of language, language disorders, and linguistic phenomena.
Leading linguists and philosophers report on all aspects of compositionality, the notion that the meaning of an expression can be derived from its parts. This book explores every dimension of this field, reporting critically on different lines of research, revealing connections between them, and highlighting current problems and opportunities.
This book introduces generative grammar as an area of study and asks what it tells us about the human mind. Wolfram Hinzen lays the foundation for the unification of modern generative linguistics with the philosophies of mind and language. He introduces Chomsky's program of a 'minimalist' syntax as a novel explanatory vision of the human mind. He explains how the Minimalist Program originated in work in cognitive science, biology, linguistics, and philosophy, and examines its implications for work in these fields. (...) He considers the way the human mind is designed when seen as an arrangement of structural patterns in nature, and argues that its design is the product not so much of adaptive evolutionary history as of principles and processes that are ahistorical and internalist in character. Linguistic meaning, he suggests, arises in the mind as a consequence of structures emerging on formal rather than functional grounds. From this he substantiates an unexpected and deeply unfashionable notion of human nature. Clearly written in nontechnical language and assuming a limited knowledge of the fields it examines and links, Minimal Mind Design will appeal to a wide range of scholars in linguistics, philosophy, and cognitive science. It also provides an exceptionally clear insight into the nature and aims of Chomsky's Minimalist Program. (shrink)
A traditional view maintains that thought, while expressed in language, is non-linguistic in nature and occurs in non-linguistic beings as well. I assess this view against current theories of the evolutionary design of human grammar. I argue that even if some forms of human thought are shared with non-human animals, a residue remains that characterizes a unique way in which human thought is organized as a system. I explore the hypothesis that the cause of this difference is a grammatical way (...) of structuring semantic information, and I present evidence that the organization of grammar precisely reflects the organization of a specific mode of thought apparently distinctive of humans. Since there appears to be no known non-grammatical structuring principle for the relevant mode of thought, I suggest that grammar is that principle, with no independent ?Language of Thought? needed. (shrink)
The view that proper names are uniformly predicates has recently gained prominence. I review linguistic evidence against it. Overall, the linguistic evidence suggests that proper names function as predicates when they appear in a grammatically predicative position and as referential expressions when they are grammatically in a referential position. Conceptual grounds on which the predicativist view might nonetheless be upheld include ‘uniformity’, i.e., that a single semantic value be lexically specified for names in all of their occurrences irrespective of differences (...) in their grammar. However, ‘being a predicate’ or ‘being referential’ are not lexical properties of words but indications for how these grammatically function on an occasion of their use. Moreover, the intuitively referential and intuitively predicative uses of proper names precisely covary with grammatical differences. A proper name is therefore a predicate when it is predicatively used, not when its grammar and meaning are different. Given this grammar-meaning alignment there is no motivation to posit a novel ‘covert syntax’ for names in their referential uses, which breaks this alignment. Cross-linguistic evidence from languages such as Catalan, which features overt determiners in referential uses of proper names, moreover turns out to strongly support the view that the grammar of human language is systematically sensitive to differences in the referential and predicative uses of names. (shrink)
Like proper names, demonstratives, and definite descriptions, pronouns have referential uses. These can be 'essentially indexical' in the sense that they cannot be replaced by non-pronominal forms of reference. Here we show that the grammar of pronouns in such occurrences is systematically different from that of other referential expressions, in a way that illuminates the differences in reference in question. We specifically illustrate, in the domain of Romance clitics and pronouns, a hierarchy of referentiality, as related to the topology of (...) the grammatical phase. Our explanation is based on extending the 'Topological Mapping Hypotheses' of Longobardi (2005) and Sheehan & Hinzen (2011). The extended topology covers the full range of interpretations, from purely predicative to quantificational (scope-bearing), to referential and deictic. Along this scale, grammatical complexity increases, and none of these forms of reference is lexical. This provides evidence for the foundational conclusion that the source of essential indexicality is grammatical rather than lexical, semantic or pragmatic. (shrink)
A defining assumption in the debate on contextual influences on truth-conditional content is that such content is often incompletely determined by what is specified in linguistic form. The debate then turns on whether this is evidence for positing a more richly articulated logical form or else a pragmatic process of free enrichment that posits truly unarticulated constituents that are unspecified in linguistic form. Questioning this focus on semantics and pragmatics, this article focuses on the independent grammatical dimensions of the problem. (...) Against the background of a principled account of the different ways in which the lexicon and the grammar, respectively, determine aspects of propositional meaning, and an uncontentious notion of content, nothing turns out to be ‘missing’ in grammatical expressions in order for them to encode complete propositional thoughts. As this predicts, when putatively hidden constituents are made overt or are otherwise added, propositions result that are systematically different from the thoughts originally expressed. Context, while potentially affecting lexically specified aspects of meaning, never affects grammar-determined ones, suggesting a specific role for grammar in the normal cognitive mode. (shrink)
I argue that the implementation of theDummettian program of an ``anti-realist'' semanticsrequires quite different conceptions of the technicalmeaning-theoretic terms used than those presupposed byDummett. Starting from obvious incoherences in anattempt to conceive truth conditions as assertibilityconditions, I argue that for anti-realist purposesnon-epistemic semantic notions are more usefully kept apart from epistemic ones rather than beingreduced to them. Embedding an anti-realist theory ofmeaning in Martin-Löf's Intuitionistic Type Theory(ITT) takes care, however, of many notorious problemsthat have arisen in trying to specify suitableintuitionistic (...) notions of semantic value,truth-conditions, and validity, taking into accountthe so-called ``defeasibility of evidence'' forassertions in empirical discourses. (shrink)
Mind–body dualism has rarely been an issue in the generative study of mind; Chomsky himself has long claimed it to be incoherent and unformulable. We first present and defend this negative argument but then suggest that the generative enterprise may license a rather novel and internalist view of the mind and its place in nature, different from all of, (i) the commonly assumed functionalist metaphysics of generative linguistics, (ii) physicalism, and (iii) Chomsky’s negative stance. Our argument departs from the empirical (...) observation that the linguistic mind gives rise to hierarchies of semantic complexity that we argue (only) follow from constraints of an essentially mathematical kind. We assume that the faculty of language tightly correlates with the mathematical capacity both formally and in evolution, the latter plausibly arising as an abstraction from the former, as a kind of specialized output. On this basis, and since the semantic hierarchies in question are mirrored in the syntactic complexity of the expression involved, we posit the existence of a higher-dimensional syntax structured on the model of the hierarchy of numbers, in order to explain the semantic facts in question. If so, syntax does not have a physicalist interpretation any more than the hierarchy of number-theoretic spaces does. (shrink)
Carnap took the content of a particular sentence or set of sentences to consist in the set of the consequences of the sentence or set. This claim equates meaning with inferential role, but it restricts the inferences to deductive or explicative ones. Here I reject a recent proposal by Robert Brandom, where inductive or ampliative inferences are also meant to confer contents on expressions. I argue that if Brandom's inferentialist picture is upheld, and both explicative and ampliative inferences confer meaning, (...) one consequence of this is that the content of a sentence is to be read off from our ways of rationally altering our beliefs. Meaning and content then are largely concepts of pragmatics, with no clear theoretical interest. My critique affects certain aspects of Dummett's meaning-theoretic picture too, and the discussion also links up with the development of 'dynamic semantics'. (shrink)
Spencer’s heritage, while almost a forgotten chapter in the history of biology, lives on in psychology and the philosophy of mind. I particularly discuss externalist views of meaning, on which meaning crucially depends on a notion of reference, and ask whether reference should be thought of as cause or effect. Is the meaning of a word explained by what it refers to, or should we say that what we use a word to refer to is explained by what concept it (...) expresses? I argue for the latter view, which I call ‘Darwinian’, and against the former, ‘Spencerian’ one, assuming conceptual structures in humans to be an instance of adaptive structures, and adaptive relations to an environment to be the effect rather than the cause of evolutionary novelties. I conclude with the deficiency – both empirically and methodologically – of a functionalist study of human concepts and the languages they are embedded in, as it would be undertaken in a paradigm that identifies meaning with reference or that gives reference an explanatory role to play for what concepts we have. (shrink)
Internalism is an explanatory strategy that makes the internal structure and constitution of the organism a basis for the investigation of its external function and the ways in which it is embedded in an environment. It is opposed to an externalist explanatory strategy, which takes its departure from observations about external function and mind-environment interactions, and infers and rationalizes internal organismic structure from that. This paper addresses the origins of truth, a basic ingredient in the human conceptual scheme. I suggest (...) the necessity of pursuing an internalist line of explanation for it, as adopted in the biolinguistic program and generative grammar at large. According to this view, the concept of truth is a presupposition for the way language is used in relation to the world, rather than a function of that use or a consequence of language-world relations. (shrink)
Baumard et al. attribute to humans a sense of fairness. However, the properties of this sense are so underspecified that the evolutionary account offered is not well-motivated. We contrast this with the framework of Universal Moral Grammar, which has sought a descriptively adequate account of the structure of the moral domain as a precondition for understanding the evolution of morality.
ABSTRACTMuch philosophical attention has been devoted to the truth predicates of natural language and their logic. However, lexical truth predicates are neither necessary nor sufficient for a truth-attribution to occur, which warrants closer attention to the grammar of truth attribution. A unified analysis of five constructions is offered here, in two of which the lexical truth predicate occurs, while in the three remaining, it does not. This analysis is philosophically significant for four reasons. First, it explains why speakers of natural (...) language find standard instances of Tarski-inspired equivalences intuitively compelling. Second, it derives the widespread ‘deflationist’ intuition that truth has no substantive content. Third, insofar as the deflationist sees insights on truth as flowing from understanding our practice of truth attribution, it... (shrink)
Contemporary arguments for forms of psycho-physical dualism standardly depart from phenomenal aspects of consciousness. Conceptual aspects of conscious experience, as opposed to phenomenal or visual/perceptual ones, are often taken to be within the scope of functionalist, reductionist, or physicalist theories. I argue that the particular conceptual structure of human consciousness makes this asymmetry unmotivated. The argument for a form of dualism defended here proceeds from the empirical premise that conceptual structure in a linguistic creature like us is a combinatorial and (...) compositional system that implicates a distinction between simple and complex, or 'atomic' and 'molecular' concepts. The argument is that conceptual atoms, qua atoms, are irreducible to anything else. If so, and if the atoms are essentially semantic, a form of dualism follows: though positively inviting naturalistic inquiry into the semantic and mental aspects of nature, it requires that we look at the mental as a primitive domain of nature. Schematically, then, the argument is as follows: Human consciousness/thought is conceptually structured. The human conceptual system is a 'particulate' system at a syntactic and semantic level of representation. This implies the existence of conceptual 'particles', concepts that have no further semantic decomposition. A conceptual atom cannot be explained in terms of anything that does not involve its own intrinsic properties. Physicalism as normally conceived is inconsistent with and. (shrink)
Since our visual perception of physical things essentially involves our identifying objects by their colours, any theory of visual perception must contain some account of the colours of things. The central problem with colour has to do with relating our normal, everyday colour perceptions to what science, i.e. physics, teaches us about physical objects and their qualities. Although we perceive colours as categorical surface properties of things, colour perceptions are explained by introducing physical properties like reflectance profiles or dispositions to (...) cause certain experiences in normal human perceivers. Hence, it seems as if colours as they are experienced by us have no place in the physical world, because they are fundamentally different from the properties which we ascribe to physical objects in scientific accounts of colour perceptions. This special issue on perspectives on colour perception presents new suggestions to solve to this major problem. (shrink)
Seeing human nature through the prism of grammar may seem rather unusual. I will argue that this is a symptom for a problem – in both discussions of human nature and grammar: Neither the theory of grammar has properly placed its subject matter within the context of an inquiry into human nature and speciation, nor have discussions of human nature properly assessed the significance of grammar.
In einer vereinzelten Anmerkung in den Bemerkungen über die Grundlagen der Mathematik scheint Wittgenstein die Existenz synthetischer Urteile a priori anzunehmen und damit ein entscheidendes Element der rationalistisch-transzendentalen Tradition. Ich argumentiere für eine Weise, in der sich diese Bemerkung in den größeren Zusammenhang von Wittgensteins Nachdenken über Mathematik einbettet, sowie für den kohärenten erkenntnistheoretischen Sinn, den sie unabhängig davon hat. Tatsächlich weist dieser weit über den Bereich bloß mathematischer Urteile hinaus. Beginnend mit einem empirisch-syntaktischen Begriff von Urteil, argumentiere ich, dass (...) die relevanten Urteile a priori darin sind, dass sich unsere Erfahrungen ihnen gegenüber verantworten und nicht umgekehrt die Urteile vor der Erfahrung. Sie sind gleichwohl synthetisch darin, dass sie nicht aus der Analyse von Begriffen allein entstehen und extern bedingt sind. Dass derlei Urteile in einem relevanten Sinne weder begründbar noch wahr-oder-falsch sind, scheint wie eine natürliche Konsequenz dessen, dass sie der inhärenten Struktur des menschlichen Geistes, und damit der menschlichen Natur, entspringen. (shrink)
In a recent paper, Kit Fine offers a reconstruction of Cantor's theory of ordinals. It avoids certain mentalistic overtones in it through both a non-standard ontology and a non-standard notion of abstraction. I argue that this reconstruction misses an essential constructive and computational content of Cantor's theory, which I in turn reconstruct using Martin-Löf's theory of types. Throughout, I emphasize Kantian themes in Cantor's epistemology, and I also argue, as against Michael Hallett's interpretation, for the need for a constructive understanding (...) of Cantorian ?existence principles? (shrink)
The notion of 'the first person' is centrally invoked in philosophical discussions of selfhood, subjectivity, and personhood. We ask whether this notion, as invoked in these discussions, is con-tingently or essentially a grammatical term. While it is logically possible that the linguistic dimensions of self-reference are accidental to this phenomenon, we argue that no explications of such phenomena as 'reference de se' or 'essential indexicality' in non-grammatical terms has been or likely can be provided, since grammatical factors uniquely co-vary with (...) the forms of self-reference in question. The role of grammar is reinforced by the fact that species-specific forms of reference are never purely lexical and always have a structural signature involving specific grammatical configurations; and by findings that in cognitive disorders independently characterized as disorders of selfhood, such as autism spectrum conditions, the pronominal system proves to be a particular locus of vulnerability. We conclude that grammar and human-specific forms of selfhood form an inextricable unity, inviting renewed attention to language as a constitutive condition of personhood in at least some of its forms. (shrink)