Thesis done–morals to draw


Yes, my thesis is done (at least for all intents and purposes) Here are the relevant ‘conclusions’ I feel comfortable in asserting:

1) language is neither intelligible nor unified in the strict logical sense. This basically means: sure, you can go ahead and carve out a nice logical system with which to interpret various kinds of linguistic expressions, but realize when you do that you are ‘creating another language’ and not providing a ‘more primitive form of Language’–there is no Language of languages, just as there is no language of thought: all we have are different languages, different grammars, which we tend to think of as somehow ‘in the background’ when we make assertions

2) because of that, a theory of meaning is impossible if by ‘theory of meaning’ we mean: a theory able to provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for ‘what it makes sense to say’ or ‘what is meaningful’

3) the introduction of grammatical distinctions does little to resolve paradoxes we tend to face in philosophizing about language and meaning: (e.g. introducing the grammatical concept of transitivity does not stop one from saying: “When I said I was scared, I mean it in the transitive sense even though I wasn’t, at the time, aware of what I was scared of”)

4) Grammitcal operators like the so-called ‘d-that’ operator introduced by Kaplan and used by David Chalmers, among others, NEED NOT specify intentional content. In fact the very distinction between ‘intentional content’ and ‘intentional state’ (e.g. the distinction between the propositional attitude ‘thinking that…’ vs. ‘what the thought is about/what is ‘being thought of’) is problematic once we realize that we do not usually express our beliefs via that-clauses!

We can just as easily express the intentional state of ‘wanting to buy a lunch’ with an act of pointing, nodding our head when going up to the cashier, saying merely “meal!” to the cashier (and not ‘I want that meal’ or ‘I intend to buy that meal’)

The upshot is this: language and meaning are not reducible to grammatical forms, we can signify ‘something as something else’ independent of saying or thinking something in its ‘correct grammatical form’. Think: when YOU are entertaining a belief about unicorns, do you THINK to yourself: “I believe that unicorns do not exist”—isn’t it possible to describe the meaning of ‘entertaining a belief about unicorns’ by describing an experience you had of ‘seeing a unicorn in my mind’s eye’ without also claiming that ‘the picture in my head of a unicorn corresponded to the linguistic expression: “I believe that unicorns do not exist”

In what sense can the meaning of ‘thinking about unicorns’ also mean something like “imagining a unicorn”–also, isn’t the description “I was thinking about unicorns” incomplete in the following sense: that my picturing of the unicorn did not consist in some sort of void/blackness, that “my thinking about the unicorn really consisted in picturing the unicorn flying around a castle”

Don’t we also say that there is a difference between ‘picturing something’ and ‘thinking something’? Of course we do, but the difference can be explained in a different social context, whereas in the above, the meaning of ‘to think’ was expressed in virtue of the explanation of its use as ‘the imagining of a unicorn’

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3 thoughts on “Thesis done–morals to draw

  1. This looks like it will be an interesting blog. What are some of the arguments and considerations in support of (1)? I’m curious about why language isn’t intelligible in the”strict logical sense.” This would probably clarify something I was kind of confused by, namely the claim that there is no Language of languages.

  2. I forget how confusing Wittgenstein can be. The claim that “there is no Language of languages” is a claim made by Wittgenstein in The Blue Book (I believe)–I was using it in exactly the same sense.

    The first claim, that “language isn’t intelligible in the strict logical sense [of intelligible]” is another point Wittgenstein makes in his critique of Russell’s theory of the mind.

    Let me get back to you for a more detailed explanation-I need to get some lunch now. Luckily, I address both concerns (in a more articulate way) in my thesis, so I’ll copy/paste and revise where necessary so as to answer your points.

    Thank you for the provoking questions. I’ll be looking for more commentary from you ; )

  3. Shawn-

    It’s possible that a few of your questions regarding this post were answered (at least implicitly) in my latest post regarding Wittgenstein’s attack on Russell’s philosophy of mind.

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