- Philosophy of language
Philosophy of language is the reasoned inquiry into the nature, origins, and usage of
language. As a topic, the philosophy of language for Analytic Philosophers is concerned with four central problems: the nature of meaning, language use, language cognition, and the relationship between language and reality. For Continental philosophers, however, the philosophy of language tends to be dealt with, not as a separate topic, but as a part of Logic, Historyor Politics. (See the section "Language and Continental Philosophy" below.)
First, philosophers of language inquire into the "nature" of meaning, and seek to explain what it means to "mean" something. Topics in that vein include the nature of
synonymy, the origins of meaning itself, and how any meaning can ever really be known. Another project under this heading of special interest to analytic philosophers of language is the investigation into the manner in which sentences are "composed" into a meaningful whole out of the meaning of its "parts".
Second, they would like to understand what speakers and listeners do with language in
communication, and how it is used socially. Specific interests may include the topics of language learning, language creation, and speech acts.
Third, they would like to know how language relates to the
minds of both the speaker and the interpreter. Of specific interest is the grounds for successful translationof words into other words.
Finally, they investigate how language and meaning relate to
truthand the world. Philosophers tend to be less concerned with which sentences are "actually true", and more with "what kinds of meanings can be true or false". A truth-oriented philosopher of language might wonder whether or not a meaningless sentence can be true or false; whether or not sentences can express propositions about things that do not exist; and whether or not it is a sentence that is true or false, rather than the way sentences are used.
Linguistic speculation in
Indiais attested since the Vedic period(roughly 1500 BC) with the deification of " vāk" "speech". In the West, inquiry into language stretches back to the 5th century BC with Socratesand Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. [Blackburn,S. "History of the Philosophy of Language". In "Oxford Companion to Philosophy". ed. Ted Honderich. Oxford:Oxford University Press. 1995. ISBN 0-19-866132-0] Both in India and in Greece, linguistic speculation predates the emergence of grammatical traditions of systematic description of language, which emerge from ca. the 7th century BC in India ( Yaska), and from the ca. 3rd century BC in Greece ( Rhyanus).
In the dialogue "Cratylus", Plato considered the question whether the names of things were determined by convention or by nature. He criticized
conventionalismbecause it leads to the bizarre consequence that anything can be conventionally denominated by any name. Hence it cannot account for the correct or incorrect application of a name. He claimed that there was a natural correctness to names. To do this, he pointed out that compound wordsand phrases have a range of correctness. He also argued that primitive names (or morphemes) had a natural correctness, because each phonemerepresented basic ideas or sentiments. For example, the letter and sound of "l" for Plato represented the idea of softness. However, by the end of the Cratylus, he had admitted that some social conventions were also involved, and that there were faults in the idea that phonemes had individual meanings. [Plato, "Cratylus"(c. 360 BCE) Series: Cambridge Studies in the Dialogues of Plato. Trans. David Sedley. Cambridge:University of Cambridge Press. 2003. ISBN 978-0-521-58492-0]
Aristotle concerned himself with the issues of
logic, categories, and meaning creation. He separated all things into categories of speciesand genus. He thought that the meaning of a predicate was established through an abstraction of the similarities between various individual things. This theory later came to be called "nominalism". [Steven K. Strange, (1992) "Porphyry: On Aristotle, Categories". Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-2816-5.] However, since Aristotle took these similarities to be constituted by a real commonality of form, he is more often considered a proponent of "moderate realism".
The Stoic philosophers made important contributions to the analysis of grammar, distinguishing five parts of speech: nouns, verbs, appellatives (names or
epithets), conjunctionsand articles. They also developed a sophisticated doctrine of the "lektón" associated with each sign of a language, but distinct from both the sign itself and the thing it refers to. This "lektón" was the meaning (or sense) of every term. The "lektón" of a sentence is what we would now call its proposition. Only propositions were considered " truth-bearers" or "truth-vehicles" (i.e., they could be called true or false) while sentences were simply their vehicles of expression. Different "lektá" could also express things besides propositions, such as commands, questions, and exclamations. [Mates, B. (1953) "Stoic Logic". Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-02368-4]
Linguistic philosophy proper has its origins in early medieval
Indian philosophy(roughly 5th to 10th centuries) with debate between various schools of thought. The "materialist" Mimamsaschool led by Kumārila Bhaṭṭaand Prabhākaratended towards conventionalism, claiming a separation of linguistic performance and meaning. The holistic ( sphoṭa) "grammarian" school led by Bhartṛhariand Maṇḍana Miśraheld that phonetic utterance and meaning form an indivisible whole ultimately identical with Brahman(" śabda-tattva-brahman"), culminating in Vācaspati Miśraand the later Navya-Nyāyaschool.
Medieval philosophers were greatly interested in the subtleties of language and its usage. For many scholastics, this interest was provoked by the necessity of translating Greek texts into
Latin. There were several noteworthy philosophers of language in the medieval period. According to Peter King, although it has been disputed, Peter Abelardanticipated the modern ideas of " sense and reference". [King, Peter. "Peter Abelard." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abelard/#4] Also, William of Occam's "Summa Logicae" brought forward one of the first serious proposals for codifying a mental language. [Chalmers, D. (1999) "Is there Synonymy in Occam's Mental Language?". Published in "The Cambridge Companion to Ockham", edited by Paul Vincent Spade. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-58244-5]
The scholastics of the high medieval period, such as Occam and
John Duns Scotus, considered logic to be a "scientia sermocinalis" (science of language). The result of their studies was the elaboration of linguistic-philosophical notions whose complexity and subtlety has only recently come to be appreciated. Many of the most interesting problems of modern philosophy of language were anticipated by medieval thinkers. The phenomena of vagueness and ambiguity were analyzed intensely, and this led to an increasing interest in problems related to the use of "syncategorematic" words such as "and", "or", "not", "if", and "every". The study of "categorematic" words (or "terms") and their properties was also developed greatly.Marconi, D. "Storia della Filosofia del Linguaggio". In "L'Enciclopedia Garzantina della Filosofia". ed. Gianni Vattimo. Milan:Garzanti Editori. 1981. ISBN 88-11-50515-1] One of the major developments of the scholastics in this area was the doctrine of the "suppositio".Kretzmann, N, Kenny, N. & Jan Pinborg. (1982) "Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521226058 ] The suppositio of a term is the interpretation that is given of it in a specific context. It can be "proper" or "improper" (as when it is used in metaphor, metonyms and other figures of speech). A proper suppositio, in turn, can be either formal or material, accordingly as it refers to its normal non-linguistic referent (as in "Charles is a man") or to itself as a linguistic entity (as in "'Charles' has five letters"). Such a classification scheme is the precursor of modern distinctions between use and mention, and between language and metalanguage.
There is a tradition called speculative grammar which existed from the 11th to the 13th century. Leading scholars included among other Martin of Dace and Thomas of Erfurth.
Early Modern period
Linguists of the
Renaissanceand Baroqueperiods such as Johannes Goropius Becanus, Athanasius Kircheror John Wilkinswere infatuated with the idea of a philosophical languagereversing the confusion of tongues, influenced by the gradual discovery of Chinese characters and Egyptian hieroglyphs(" Hieroglyphica"). This thought parallels the idea that there is a universal language of music, a theory that has been proven false.
European scholarship began to absorb the Indian linguistic tradition only from the mid-18th century, pioneered by
Jean François Ponsand Henry Thomas Colebrooke(the "editio princeps" of Varadarājadating to 1849). Language began to play a central role in Western philosophy in the late 19th century, especially with Port Royal in France, and in the English speaking world and other parts of Europe. The foundational work is Ferdinand de Saussure's " Cours de linguistique générale" published posthumously in 1916.
The philosophy of language then became so pervasive that for a time, in
analytic philosophycircles, philosophy as a whole was understood to be a matter of philosophy of language. In the 20th century, "language" became an even more central theme within the most diverse traditions of philosophy. The phrase "the linguistic turn", was used to describe the noteworthy emphasis that modern-day philosophers put upon language.Philosophy of Language in Africa. See John Aglo,"Norme et Symbole. Les Fondements philosophiques de l'obligation, L'Harmattan, Paris.
# Aglo, John (2001), 'Les Fondements philosophiques de la morale dans une société à tradition orale,# John Aglo, (2002) "La Vie et le Vivre ensemble", L'Harmattan, Paris.
Major topics and sub-fields
Composition and parts
It has long been known that there are different
parts of speech. One part of the common sentence is the lexical word, which is composed of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. A major question in the field - perhaps the single most important question for formalistand structuralistthinkers - is, "how does the meaning of a sentence emerge out of its parts?"
Many aspects of the problem of the composition of sentences are addressed in the field of linguistics of
syntax. Philosophical semantics tends to focus on the principle of compositionalityin order to explain the relationship between meaningful parts and whole sentences. The principle of compositionality asserts that a sentence can be understood on the basis of the meaning of the "parts" of the sentence (i.e., words, morphemes) along with an understanding of its "structure" (i.e., syntax, logic). [Pagin, P. "Are Holism and Compositionality Compatible?". In "Olismo". ed. Massimo dell'Utri. Macerata:Quodlibet. 2002. ISBN 88-86570-85-6]
One perspective, put forward by logician
Alfred Tarski, explains the lexical parts of a sentence by appealing to their "satisfaction conditions". Roughly, this involves looking at the extension of the word -- that is to say, the objects which are governed by a certain meaning. "To obtain a definition of satisfaction... we indicate which objects satisfy the simplest sentential functions." By "sentential function", Tarski means roughly what we mean by a "sentence".Tarski, Alfred. (1944). "The Semantical Conception of Truth". [http://www.ditext.com/tarski/tarski.html online PDF] ]
It is possible to use the concept of "functions" to describe more than just how lexical meanings work: they can also be used to describe the meaning of a sentence. Take, for a moment, the sentence "The horse is red". We may consider "the horse" to be the product of a "propositional function". A propositional function is an operation of language that takes an entity (in this case, the horse) as an input and outputs a "semantic fact" (i.e., the proposition that is represented by "The horse is red"). In other words, a propositional function is like an algorithm. The meaning of "red" in this case is whatever takes the entity, "the horse", and turns it into the statement, "The horse is red".Stainton, Robert J. (1996). Philosophical perspectives on language. Peterborough, Ont., Broadview Press.]
Linguists have developed at least two general methods of understanding the relationship between the parts of a linguistic string and how it is put together: syntactic and semantic trees.
Syntactic trees draw upon the words of a sentence with the " grammar" of the sentence in mind. Semantic trees, on the other hand, focus upon the role of the "meaning" of the words and how those meanings combine in order to provide insight onto the genesis of semantic facts.
The nature of meaning
The answer to the question, "What is meaning?", is not immediately obvious. One section of philosophy of language tries to answer this question.
Geoffrey Leechposited that there are two essentially different types of linguistic meaning: "conceptual" and "associative". For Leech, the conceptual meanings of an expression have to do with the definitions of words themselves, and the features of those definitions. This kind of meaning is treated by using a technique called the semantic featureanalysis. The conceptual meaning of an expression inevitably involves both definition(also called " connotation" and " intension" in the literature) and extension (also called " denotation"). The associative meaningof an expression has to do with individual mental understandings of the speaker. They, in turn, can be broken up into six sub-types: "connotative, collocative, social, affective, reflected and thematic". [Mwihaki, S. (2004) "Meaning as Use: A Functional view of Semantics and Pragmatics". In "Swahili Forum". 11: 127-129]
Generally speaking, there have been at least six different kinds of attempts at explaining what a linguistic "meaning" is. Each has been associated with its own body of literature.
"Idea theories of meaning", most commonly associated with the British
empiricisttradition of Locke, Berkeley and Hume, claim that meanings are purely mental contents provoked by signs. [Penco, C. "Filosofia del Linguaggio". In "Enciclopedia Garzantina della Filosofia". ed. Gianni Vattimo. 2004. Milian:Garzanti Editori. ISBN 88-11-50515-1] Although this view of meaning has been beset by a number of problems from the beginning (see the main article for details), interest in it has been renewed by some contemporary theorists under the guise of "semantic internalism". [Block, Ned. "Conceptual Role Semantics." "The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Forthcoming. [http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/block/papers/ConceptualRoleSemantics.html] ]
"Truth-conditional theories" hold meaning to be the conditions under which an expression may be true or false. This tradition goes back at least to Frege and is associated with a rich body of modern work, spearheaded by philosophers like
Alfred Tarskiand Donald Davidson.Davidson, D. (2001) "Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation". Oxford:Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-924629-7]
"Use theorist" perspectives understand meaning to involve or be related to
speech actsand particular utterances, not the expressions themselves. The later Wittgenstein helped inaugurate the idea of 'meaning as use', and a communitarian view of language. Wittgenstein was interested in the way in which the communities use language, and how far it can be taken.Wittgenstein, L. (1958) "Philosophical Investigations". Third edition. trans. G.E.M. Anscombe. New York:MacMillan Publishing Co.] It is also associated with P.F. Strawson, Robert Brandom, and others.Brandom, R. (1994) "Making it Explicit". Cambridge, Mass.:Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-54330-0]
"Reference theories of meaning", also known collectively as "semantic
externalism", view meaning to be equivalent to those things in the world that are actually connected to signs. There are two broad sub-species of externalism: social and environmental. The first is most closely associated with Tyler Burgeand the second with Hilary Putnam, Saul Kripkeand others. [Burge, Tyler. 1979. Individualism and the Mental. "Midwest Studies in Philosophy" 4: 73-121.] [Putnam, H. (1975) [http://internalism.googlegroups.com/web/Putnam%20-%20The%20meaning%20of%20%27meaning%27.pdf?gda=twdJY1oAAABFSTngQf24Sy1RD7yNn1iVgy3Odg0ZctAT1N_Bh2qhdGG1qiJ7UbTIup-M2XPURDQe1sJTwbuelxnpaL6JzH4yeFMfiRQRvg6UTOJgQe0faGtRc9Sp7hcxNJ_gjwZr8bQ "The Meaning of 'Meaning'"] . In "Language, Mind and Knowledge". ed. K. Gunderson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 88-459-0257-9] Kripke, S. (1980) "Naming and Necessity". Oxford:Basil Blackwell. ISBN 88-339-1135-7]
"Verificationist theories of meaning" are generally associated with the early 20th century movement of
logical positivism. The traditional formulation of such a theory is that the meaning of a sentence is its method of verification or falsification. In this form, the thesis was abandoned after the acceptance by most philosophers of the Duhem-Quine thesisof confirmation holismafter the publication of Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism". [Voltolini, A. (2002) "Olismi Irriducibilmente Indipendenti?". In "Olismo" ed. Massimo Dell'Utri. Macerata: Quodlibet. ISBN 88-86570-85-6] However, Michael Dummetthas advocated a modified form of verificationism since the 1970s. In this version, the "comprehension" (and hence meaning) of a sentence consists in the hearer's ability to recognize the demonstration (mathematical, empirical or other) of the truth of the sentence.Dummett, M. (1991) "The Logical Basis of Metaphysics". Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. ISBN 88-15-05669-6]
A "pragmatist theory of meaning" is any theory in which the meaning (or understanding) of a sentence is determined by the consequences of its application. Dummett attributes such a theory of meaning to
C.S. Peirceand other early 20th century American pragmatists.
Other theories exist to discuss non-linguistic meaning (i.e., meaning as conveyed by body language, meanings as consequences, etc.) [Grice, Paul. "Meaning". "Perspectives in the Philosophy of Language." (2000) ed. Robert Stainton.]
Investigations into how language interacts with the world are called "theories of reference".
Gottlob Fregewas an advocate of a mediated reference theory. Frege divided the semantic content of every expression, including sentences, into two components:"Sinn" (usually translated as "sense") and "Bedeutung" (translated as "meaning", "denotation","nominatum", and "reference", among others). The sense of a sentence is the thought that it expresses. Such a thought is abstract, universal and objective. The sense of any sub-sentential expression consists in its contribution to the thought that its embedding sentence expresses. Senses determine reference and are also the modes of presentation of the objects that expressions refer to. Referents are the objects in the world that words pick out. Hence, the referents of "the evening star" and "the morning star" are the same, the planet Venus. But they are two different modes of presenting the same object and hence they have two different senses. The senses of sentences are thoughts, while their referents are truth-values (the True or the False). The referents of sentences embedded in propositional attitudeascriptions and other opaque contexts are their usual senses.Frege, G. (1892) "On Sense and Reference". In "Frege:Senso, Funzione e Concetto". eds. Eva Picardi and Carlo Penco. Bari: Editori Laterza. 2001. ISBN 88-420-6347-9] John Stuart Millproposed a different analysis of the relationship between meaning and reference. For him, although there are two components to consider for most terms of a language ( connotationand denotation), proper names, such as "Bill Clinton", "Bismarck", or "John Hodgman" have only a denotation. Hence, Mill's view is similar to what is now called a direct referencetheory. [Mill, John Stuart, " A System of Logic", University Press of the Pacific, Honolulu, 2002, ISBN 1-4102-0252-6] Bertrand Russell, in his later writings and for reasons related to his acquaintance theory in epistemology, held that the only directly referential expressions are, what he called, "logically proper names". Logically proper names are such terms as "I", "now", "here", and other indexicals. [Stanley, Jason. (2006). [http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~jasoncs/routledge.pdf Philosophy of Language in the Twentieth Century] . Forthcoming in the Routledge Guide to Twentieth Century Philosophy.] He viewed proper names of the sort described above as "abbreviated definite descriptions". Hence "George W. Bush" may be an abbreviation for "the current President of the United States and son of George H.W. Bush." Definite descriptions are denoting phrases (see On Denoting) which are analyzed by Russell into existentially quantified logical constructions. Such phrases denote in the sense that there is an object that satisfies the description. However, such objects are not to be considered meaningful on their own, but have meaning only in the propositionexpressed by the sentences of which they are a part. Hence, they are not directly referential in the same way as logically proper names, for Russell. [Russell, B. (1905) "On Denoting". Published in "Mind". [http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/Russell/denoting/ online text] , Neale, Stephen (1990) Descriptions, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.] [Russell, B. (1903) "I Principi della Matematica". Original title: "The Principles of Mathematics". Italian trans. by Enrico Carone and Maurizio Destro. Rome:Newton Compton editori. 1971. ISBN 88-8183-730-7]
On Frege's account, any referring expression has a sense as well as a referent. Such a "mediated reference" view has certain theoretical advantages over the Millian view. For example, co-referential names, such as "Samuel Clemens" and "Mark Twain" cause problems for a directly referential view because it is possible for someone to hear that "Mark Twain is Samuel Clemens" and be surprised -- thus, their cognitive content seems different. Millian views also run into trouble in dealing with names without bearers. The sentence "Pegasus is the winged horse of Greek mythology" seems to be a perfectly meaningful, even true, sentence. But, according to Millianism, "Pegasus" has no meaning because it has no referent. Hence, following the principle of compositionality, the sentence itself is neither true nor false and has no meaning. Several other difficulties have also been noted in the literature. [Katz, Jerrold (2005) "Names Without Bearers", [http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/courses/concepts/katznames.html online text] ]
Despite the differences between the views of Frege and Russell, they are generally lumped together as descriptivists about proper names. Such descriptivism faces problems which were articulated in
Saul Kripke's influential "Naming and Necessity".
First, Kripke put forth what has come to be known as "the modal argument" (or "argument from rigidity") against descriptivism. Consider the name ‘’Aristotle’’ and the descriptions “the greatest student of Plato’’, “the founder of logic” and “the teacher of Alexander.” Aristotle obviously satisfies all of the descriptions (and many of the others we commonly associate with him), but it is not a necessary truth that if Aristotle existed then Aristotle was any one, or all, of these descriptions. Aristotle may well have existed without doing any single one of the things for which he is known to posterity. He may have existed and not have become known to posterity at all or he may have died in infancy. Suppose that Aristotle is associated by Mary with the description “the last great philosopher of antiquity” and (the actual) Aristotle died in infancy. Then Mary’s description would seem to refer to Plato. But this is deeply counterintuitive. Hence, names are "
rigid designators", according to Kripke. That is, they refer to the same individual in every possible world in which that individual exists. In the same work, Kripke articulated several other arguments against "Frege-Russell" descriptivism.
Mind and language
Innateness and learning
Some of the major issues at the intersection of philosophy of language and philosophy of mind are also dealt with in modern
psycholinguistics. Some important questions are: how much of language is innate? Is language acquisition a special faculty in the mind? What's the connection between thought and language?
There are three general perspectives on the issue of language learning. The first is the
behavioristperspective, which dictates that not only is the solid bulk of language learned, but it is learned via conditioning. The second is the "hypothesis testing perspective", which understands the child's learning of syntactic rules and meanings to involve the postulation and testing of hypotheses, through the use of the general faculty of intelligence. The final candidate for explanation is the innatist perspective, which states that at least some of the syntactic settings are innate and hardwired, based on certain modules of the mind.cite book |author=Fodor, Jerry A. |title=The Modularity of Mind:An Essay in Faculty Psychology |year= 1983 |publisher=The MIT Press |id=ISBN 0-262-56025-9] Pinker, S. (1994) "L'Istinto del Linguaggio". Original title: "The Language Instinct". 1997. Milan:Arnaldo Mondadori Editori. ISBN 88-04-45350-8]
There are varying notions of the structure of the brain when it comes to language, as well. Connectionist models emphasize the idea that a person's lexicon and their thoughts operate in a kind of distributed, associative network. [Churchland, P. (1995) Engine of Reason, Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey Into the Brain. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.] Nativist models assert that there are specialized devices in the brain that are dedicated to language acquisition. Computation models emphasize the notion of a representational
language of thoughtand the logic-like, computational processing that the mind performs over them. [Fodor, J and E. Lepore. (1999) "All at Sea in Semantic Space: Churchland on Meaning Similarity." Journal of Philosophy 96, 381-403.] Emergentist models focus on the notion that natural faculties are a complex system that emerge out of simpler biological parts. Reductionist models attempt to explain higher level mental processes in terms of the basic low-level neurophysiological activity of the brain. [Hofstadter,D.R. (1979)"Godel, Escher, Bach:An Eternal Golden Braid". New York:Random House. ISBN 0-394-74502-7]
Language and thought
An important problem which touches both philosophy of language and
philosophy of mindis to what extent language influences thought and vice-versa. There have been a number of different perspectives on this issue, each offering a number of insights and suggestions.
Linguists Sapir and Whorf suggested that language limited the extent to which members of a "linguistic community" can think about certain subjects (a hypothesis paralleled in
George Orwell's novel " 1984"). [Kay, P. and W. Kempton. 1984. "What is the Spair-Whorf Hypothesis?" American Anthropologist 86(1): 65-79.] In other words, language was analytically prior to thought. Philosopher Michael Dummettis also a proponent of the "language-first" viewpoint.cite book|title=The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy|author=Bunnin, Nicholas and E. P. Tsui-James|publisher=Blackwell|location=Oxford|page=97, 120-121]
The stark opposite to the Sapir-Whorf position is the notion that thought (or, more broadly, mental content) has priority over language. The "knowledge-first" position can be found, for instance, in the work of
Paul Grice. Further, this view is closely associated with Jerry Fodorand his language of thoughthypothesis. According to his argument, spoken and written language derive their intentionality and meaning from an internal language encoded in the mind.Fodor, J. "The Language of Thought", Harvard University Press, 1975, ISBN 0-674-51030-5.] The main argument in favor of such a view is that the structure of thoughts and the structure of language seem to share a compositional, systematic character. Another argument is that it is difficult to explain how signs and symbols on paper can represent anything meaningful unless some sort of meaning is infused into them by the contents of the mind. One of the main arguments against is that such levels of language can lead to an infinite regress. In any case, many philosophers of mind and language, such as Ruth Millikan, Fred Dretskeand Fodor, have recently turned their attention to explaining the meanings of mental contents and states directly.
Another tradition of philosophers has attempted to show that language and thought are coextensive: that there is no way of explaining one without the other. Donald Davidson, in his essay "Thought and Talk", argued that the notion of belief could only arise as a product of public linguistic interaction.
Daniel Dennettholds a similar "interpretationist" view of propositional attitudes. [Gozzano, S. "Olismo, Razionalità e Interpretazione". In "Olismo" ed. Massimo dell'Utri. 2002. Macerata:Quodlibet. ISBN 88-86570-85-6] To an extent, the theoretical underpinnings to cognitive semantics(including the notion of semantic framing) suggest the influence of language upon thought. [Lakoff, G. (1987) "Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind". Chicago:University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-46804-6.] However, the same tradition views meaning and grammar as a function of conceptualization, making it difficult to assess in any straightfoward way.
Some thinkers, like the ancient sophist
Gorgias, have questioned whether or not language was capable of capturing thought at all.
Social interaction and language
A common claim is that language is governed by social conventions. Questions inevitably arise on surrounding topics. One question is, "What exactly is a convention, and how do we study it?". And second, "To what extent do conventions even matter in the study of language?". David Lewis proposed a worthy reply to the first question by expounding the view that a convention is a "rationally self-perpetuating regularity in behavior". However, this view seems to compete to some extent with the Gricean view of speaker's meaning, requiring either one (or both) to be weakened if both are to be taken as true.
Yet the puzzles do not stop there. Some have questioned whether or not conventions are relevant to the study of meaning at all.
Noam Chomskyproposed that the study of language could be done in terms of the I-Language, or internal language of persons. If this is so, then it undermines the pursuit of explanations in terms of conventions, and relegates such explanations to the domain of "meta-semantics". "Metasemantics" is a term used by philosopher of language Robert Staintonto describe all those fields that attempt to explain how semantic facts arise. One fruitful source of research involves investigation into the social conditions that give rise to, or are associated with, meanings and languages. " Etymology" (the study of the origins of words) and "stylistics" (philosophical argumentation over what makes "good grammar", relative to a particular language) are two other examples of fields that are taken to be meta-semantic.
Not surprisingly, many separate (but related) fields have investigated the topic of linguistic convention within their own research paradigms. The presumptions that prop up each theoretical view are of interest to the philosopher of language. For instance, one of the major fields of sociology,
symbolic interactionism, is based on the insight that human social organization is based almost entirely on the use of meanings. [Teevan, James J. and W.E. Hewitt. (2001) Introduction to Sociology: A Canadian Focus. Prentice Hall: Toronto. p.10 ] In consequence, any explanation of a social structure(like an institution) would need to account for the shared meanings which create and sustain the structure. Rhetoricis the study of the particular words that people use in order to achieve the proper emotional and rational effect in the listener, be it to persuade, provoke, endear, or teach. Some relevant applications of the field include the examination of propagandaand didacticism, the examination of the purposes of swearing and pejoratives (especially how it influences the behavior of others, and defines relationships), or the effects of gendered language. It can also be used to study linguistic transparency(or speaking in an accessible manner), as well as performativeutterances and the various tasks that language can perform (called "speech acts"). It also has applications to the study and interpretation of law, and helps give insight to the logical concept of the domain of discourse. Literary theoryis a discipline that overlaps with the philosophy of language. It emphasizes the methods that readers and critics use in understanding a text. This field, being an outgrowth of the study of how to properly interpret messages, is closely tied to the ancient discipline of hermeneutics. The methods taken in the interpretation of texts may extend far beyond literary interpretation, and help in the interpretation of law (for example).
Language and Continental Philosophy
Continental Philosophy, language is not studied as a separate discipline, as it is in Analytic Philosophy. Rather, it is an inextricable part of many other areas of thought, such as Phenomenology, Semiotics, Hermeneutics, Heideggerean Ontology, Existentialism, Structuralism, Deconstruction, and Critical Theory. The idea of language is often related to that of logic in its Greek sense as "Logos", meaning discourse or dialectic. Language and concepts are also seen as having been formed by history and politics, or even by historical philosophy itself.
The field of hermeneutics, and the theory of interpretation in general, has played a significant role in 20th century
continental philosophyof language and ontologybeginning with Martin Heidegger. Heidegger combines phenomenology with the hermeneutics of Wilhelm Dilthey. Heidegger believed language was one of the most important concepts for " Dasein": "Language is the house of being, which is propriated by being and pervaded by being." [Heidegger, Martin.(1998) "Pathmarks". Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-43968-X] However, Heidegger believed that language today is worn out because of overuse of important words, and would be inadequate for in-depth study of Being ("Sein"). For example, "Sein" ("being"), the word itself, is saturated with multiple meanings. Thus, he invented new vocabulary and linguistic styles, based on Ancient Greekand Germanic etymological word relations, to disambiguate commonly used words. He avoid words like consciousness, ego, human, nature, etc. and instead talks holistically of Being-in-the-world, Dasein.
With such new concepts as "Being-in-the-world", Heidegger constructs his theory of language, centered around speech. He believed speech (talking, listening, silence) was the most essential and pure form of language. Heidegger claims writing is only a supplement to speech, because even a reader constructs or contributes one's own "talk" while reading. The most important feature of language is its 'projectivity', the idea that language is prior to human speech. This means that when one is "thrown" into the world, his existence is characterized from the beginning by a certain pre-comprehension of the world. However, it is only after naming, or "articulation of intelligibility", can one have primary access to "Dasein" and "Being-in-the-World".Heidegger, Martin.(1996) "Being and Time". New York: Blackwell, ISBN 0-631-19770-2]
Hans Georg Gadamerexpanded on these ideas of Heidegger and proposed a complete hermeneutic ontology. In "Truth and Method", Gadamer describes language as "the medium in which substantive understanding and agreement take place between two people."Gadamer, Hans G. (1989)"Truth and Method", New York:Crossroad, 2nd ed., ISBN 0-8264-0401-4] In addition, Gadamer claims that the world is linguistically constituted, and cannot exist apart from language. For example, monuments and statues cannot communicate without the aid of language. Gadamer also claims that every language constitutes a world-view, because the linguistic nature of the world frees each individual from an objective environment: "... the fact that we have a world at all depends upon [language] and presents itself in it. The world as world exists for man as for no other creature in the world." Paul Ricoeur, on the other hand, proposed a hermeneutics which, reconnecting with the original Greek sense of the term, emphasized the discovery of hidden meanings in the equivocal terms (or "symbols") of ordinary language. Other philosophers who have worked in this tradition include Luigi Pareysonand Jacques Derrida.Volli,U. (2000) "Manuale di Semiotica". Rome-Bari:Editori Laterza. ISBN 88-420-5953-6] Semioticsis the study of the transmission, reception and meaning of signs and symbols in general. In this field, human language (both natural and artificial) is just one among many ways that humans (and other conscious beings) are able to communicate. It allows them to take advantage of and effectively manipulate the external world in order to create meaning for themselves and transmit this meaning to others. Every object, every person, every event, and every force communicates (or "signifies") continuously. The ringing of a telephone for example, "is" the telephone. The smoke that I see on the horizon is the sign that there is a fire. The smoke signifies. The things of the world, in this vision, seem to be "labeled" precisely for intelligent beings who only need to interpret them in the way that humans do. Everything has meaning. True communication, including the use of human language however, requires someone (a "sender") who sends a "message", or "text", in some codeto someone else (a "receiver"). Language is studied only insofar as it is one of these forms (the most sophisticated form) of communication. Some important figures in the history of semiotics, are C.S. Peirce, Roland Barthes, and Roman Jakobson. In modern times, its best-known figures include Umberto Eco, A.J. Greimas, Louis Hjelmslev, and Tullio De Mauro.
Major problems in philosophy of language
One issue that has bothered philosophers of language and logic is the problem of the
vaguenessof words. Often, meanings expressed by the speaker are not as explicit or precise as the listener would like them to be. In consequence, vagueness gives rise to the Paradox of the heap. Many theorists have attempted to solve the paradox by way of n-valued logics, such as fuzzy logic, which have radically departed from classical two-valued logics. [Sorensen, Roy. (2006) "Vagueness". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/vagueness/#3] Problem of universalsand composition
One debate that has captured the interest of many philosophers is the debate over the meaning of
universals. One might ask, for example, "when people say the word, "rocks", what is it that the word represents?" Two general answers have emerged to this question. Some have said that the expression stands for some real, abstract universal out in the world called "rocks". Others have said that the word stands for some collection of particular, individual rocks that we happen to put into a common category. The former position has been called " philosophical realism", and the latter has been called " nominalism". [ws|"" in the 1913 "Catholic Encyclopedia"]
The issue here can be explicated if we examine the proposition "Socrates is a Man".
From the radical realist's perspective, the connection between S and M is a connection between two abstract entities. There is an entity, "man", and an entity, "Socrates". These two things connect together in some way or overlap one another.
From a nominalist's perspective, the connection between S and M is the connection between a particular entity (Socrates) and a vast collection of particular things (men). To say that Socrates is a man is to say that Socrates is a part of the class of "men". Another perspective is to consider "man" to be a "property" of the entity, "Socrates".
There is a third way, between nominalism and radical realism, usually called "moderate realism" and attributed to Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. Moderate realists hold that "man" refers to a real essence or form that is really present and identical in Socrates and all other men, but "man" does not exist as a separate and distinct entity. This is a realist position, because "Man" is real, insofar as it really exists in all men; but it is a moderate realism, because "Man" is not an entity separate from the men it informs.
The nature of language
Many philosophical discussions of language begin by clarifying terminology. One item which has undergone significant scrutiny is the idea of language itself. Those philosophers who have set themselves to the task ask two important questions: "What is language in general?", and "What is a particular, individual language?".
semioticoutlooks have stressed that language is the mere manipulation and use of symbols in order to draw attention to signified content. If this were so, then humans would not be the sole possessors of language skills. On the other hand, many works by linguist Noam Chomskyhave emphasized the role of syntax as a characteristic of any language. [Chomsky, N. (1985)"The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory". Chicago: University of Chicago Press]
More puzzling is the question of what it is that distinguishes one particular language from another. What is it that makes "English" English? What's the difference between Spanish and French? Chomsky has indicated that the search for what it means to be a language must begin with the study of the internal language of persons, or I-languages, which are based upon certain rules (or principles and parameters) which generate grammars. This view is supported in part by the conviction that there is no clear, general, and principled difference between one language and the next, and which may apply across the field of all languages. Other attempts, which he dubs "E-languages", have tried to explain a language as usage within a specific speech community with a specific set of well-formed utterances in mind (markedly associated with linguists like Bloomfield). [Chomsky, Noam. "Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use." "Perspectives in the Philosophy of Language." (2000) ed. Robert Stainton. ]
Formal versus informal approaches
Another of the questions that has divided philosophers of language is the extent to which formal logic can be used as an effective tool in the analysis and understanding of natural languages. While most philosophers, including Frege,
Alfred Tarskiand Rudolf Carnap, have been more or less skeptical about formalizing natural languages, many of them developed formal languages for use in the sciences or formalized "parts" of natural language for investigation. Some of the most prominent members of this tradition of formal semantics include Tarski, Carnap, Richard Montagueand Donald Davidson. [Partee, B. [http://people.umass.edu/partee/docs/Richard_Montague_by_%20Partee_05.pdf Richard Montague (1930 - 1971)] . In Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd Ed., ed. Keith Brown. Oxford: Elsevier. V. 8, pp. 255-57, 2006]
On the other side of the divide, and especially prominent in the 1950s and 60s, were the so-called "Ordinary language philosophers". Philosophers such as
P.F. Strawson, John Austinand Gilbert Rylestressed the importance of studying natural language without regard to the truth-conditions of sentences and the references of terms. They did not believe that the social and practical dimensions of linguistic meaning could be captured by any attempts at formalization using the tools of logic. Logic is one thing and language is something entirely different. What is important is not expressions themselves but what people use them to do in communication. [Lycan, W. G. (2000). "Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction". New York: Routledge.]
Hence, Austin developed a theory of
speech acts , which described the kinds of things which can be done with a sentence (assertion, command, inquiry, exclamation) in different contexts of use on different occasions. [cite book |author=Austin, J.L.|year=1962 |title= How to Do Things With Words: The William James Lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955|editor=ed. J.O. Urmson.|location=Oxford|publisher=Clarendon Press|id=ISBN 0-674-41152-8] Strawson argued that the truth-table semantics of the logical connectives (e.g., , and ) do not capture the meanings of their natural language counterparts ("and", "or" and "if-then"). [P. F. Strawson, "On Referring". "Mind", New Series, Vol. 59, No. 235 (Jul., 1950), pp. 320-344] While the "ordinary language" movement basically died out in the 1970s, its influence was crucial to the development of the fields of speech-act theory and the study of pragmatics. Many of its ideas have been absorbed by theorists such as Kent Bach, Robert Brandom, Paul Horwichand Stephen Neale.
While keeping these traditions in mind, the question of whether or not there is any grounds for conflict between the formal and informal approaches is far from being decided. Some theorists, like
Paul Grice, have been skeptical of any claims that there is a substantial conflict between logic and natural language. [Grice, Paul. "Logic and Conversation". "Perspectives in the Philosophy of Language." (2000) ed. Robert Stainton.]
Translation and Interpretation
Translation and interpretation are two other problems that philosophers of language have attempted to confront. In the 1950s,
W.V. Quineargued for the indeterminacy of meaning and reference based on the principle of "radical translation". In "Word and Object", Quine asks the reader to imagine a situation in which he is confronted with a previously undocumented, primitive tribe and must attempt to make sense of the utterances and gestures that its members make. This is the situation of radical translation.Quine, W.V. (1960) "Word and Object". MIT Press; ISBN 0-262-67001-1.]
He claimed that, in such a situation, it is impossible "in principle" to be absolutely certain of the meaning or reference that a speaker of the primitive tribe's language attaches to an utterance. For example, if a speaker sees a rabbit and says "gavagai", is she referring to the whole rabbit, to the rabbit's tail, or to a temporal part of the rabbit. All that can be done is to examine the utterance as a part of the overall linguistic behaviour of the individual, and then use these observations to interpret the meaning of all other utterances. From this basis, one can form a manual of translation. But, since reference is indeterminate, there will be many such manuals, no one of which is more correct than the others. For Quine, as for Wittgenstein and Austin, meaning is not something that is associated with a single word or sentence, but is rather something that, if it can be attributed at all, can only be attribued to a whole language. The resulting view is called "
Quine's disciple, Donald Davidson, extended the idea of radical translation to the interpretation of utterences and behavior within a single linguistic community. He dubbed this notion "radical interpretation". He suggested that the meaning that any individual ascribed to a sentence could only be determined by attributing meanings to many, perhaps all, of the individual's assertions as well as his mental states and attitudes.
* The [http://www.ucl.ac.uk/philosophy/LPSG/ London Philosophy Study Guide] offers many suggestions on what to read, depending on the student's familiarity with the subject: [http://www.ucl.ac.uk/philosophy/LPSG/Language.htm Philosophy of Language]
* Carnap, R., (1956). Meaning and Necessity: a Study in Semantics and Modal Logic. University of Chicago Press.
* Collins, John. (2001). http://www.sorites.org/Issue_13/collins.htm
* Devitt, Michael and Hanley, Richard, eds. (2006) The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Language. Oxford: Blackwell.
* Greenberg, Mark and Harman, Gilbert. (2005). Conceptual Role Semantics. http://www.princeton.edu/~harman/Papers/CRS.pdf
* Hale, B. and Crispin Wright, Ed. (1999). Blackwell Companions To Philosophy. Malden, Massachusetts, Blackwell Publishers.
* Lepore, Ernest and Barry C. Smith (eds). (2006). [http://www.oup.co.uk/isbn/0-19-925941-0 The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language] . Oxford University Press.
* Lycan, W. G. (2000). Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction. New York, Routledge.
* Miller, James. (1999). http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/pen-l/1999m12.1/msg00185.htm
* Stainton, Robert J. (1996). Philosophical perspectives on language. Peterborough, Ont., Broadview Press.
* Tarski, Alfred. (1944). "The Semantical Conception of Truth". http://www.ditext.com/tarski/tarski.html
* [http://www.iep.utm.edu/l/lang-phi.htm Philosophy of Language] , from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
* [http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/contents.htm Glossary of Linguistic terms]
* [http://linguistics.concordia.ca/i-language/ What is I-language?] - Chapter 1 of I-language: An Introduction to Linguistics as Cognitive Science.
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# Aglo, John (2003), 'La Vie et le Vivre-ensemble. Le Principe organisateur de la vie dans le système adanu, L'Harmattan, Paris.
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