Monday, June 09, 2008

Norman Malcolm, "Defending Common Sense"

Moore's reply to the skeptic, to simply claim that he knows that this is a hand, or that he knows he is a human being, is mistaken because it assumes that saying "I know this is a hand" or "I know I am a human being" makes more sense than "I don't know this is a hand" or "I don't know I'm a human being". The proper response to the skeptic is to say that neither the assertion nor the denial that one knows that this is a hand makes sense (in a philosophical context).

Friday, June 06, 2008

John R. Searle, "Austin on Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts"

The distinction between locutionary acts (or, more specifically, rhetic acts) and illocutionary acts cannot be sustained. There are locutionary acts like "I hereby promise to come", which in virtue of meaning what they do, perform an illocutionary act. The locutionary act should be replaced with the propositional act, which is the expression of a certain proposition.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Howard Wettstein, "Has Semantics Rested on a Mistake?"

Frege's criterion of adequacy for semantic theory is that it register differences of cognitive significance. New theories of reference do not meet Frege's criterion of adequacy, and attempts by new theorists like Kaplan and Perry to satisfy the criterion by employing "character" or "role" fail to do justice to Frege's data. The proper response for new theorists of reference is to reject Frege's criterion of adequacy. Belief reports do not favor either Fregeans or new theorists.

Jerry A. Fodor, "On Knowing What We Would Say"

Speaker intuitions in cases where they are asked to imagine cases radically different from what we know to be the case are systematically unreliable, because it isn't possible to predict what other beliefs would change given change in some of our basic beliefs. That means it isn't possible to cite speakers' intuitions to isolate a difference between a mere empirical feature of the meaning of an expression (a "symptom") and a "logical" feature of the meaning of an expression (one the absence of which would entail a change in the meaning of the expression--a "criterion").

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Warren Goldfarb, "I Want You to Bring Me A Slab: Remarks on the Opening Sections of the Philosophical Investigations"

The opening sections of the Investigations aim to reveal a groundless and usually unnoticed move from commonplace observations about meaning to the beginning of philosophical debates about theories of meaning. "Wittgenstein wishes to snap such debates off before they begin by showing at the start that we have misread the facts" (p. 280).

Monday, July 16, 2007

Peter Ludlow, "Referential Semantics for I-Languages?"

Ludlow presents three different conceptions of referential semantics and argues that two of them (one according to which reference is a relation that holds between expressions and mental representations, and the other according to which reference is a complex relation holding between expressions, speakers, context, and the world) are compatible with Chomsky's conception of I-language. He also suggests that, on the assumption that we think of the structure of language and the structure of the world as isomorphic (LWI, or Language-World Isomorphism), doing semantics and doing metaphysics might illuminate one another.

(In Chomsky and His Critics, Blackwell, 2003)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Noam Chomsky, "Language and Interpretation"

Chomsky criticizes central philosophical accounts of what constraints should apply to the study of language: Quine's behaviorism, Davidson's demand that we explain communication, and Dummett's claims about public language. None of these notions are compatible with the actual scientific investigation of language.

Akeel Bilgrami and Carol Rovane, "Mind, Language and the Limits of Inquiry"

Summarizes Chomsky's reasons to think that the study of reference and intentionality fall outside the scope of legitimate scientific inquiry. Also treats Chomsky's attitude towards the mind-body problem and explains his reasons for thinking that the problem cannot be coherently formulated.

Monday, April 02, 2007

R.M. Sainsbury, "Two Ways to Smoke a Cigarette"

Most cases of purported hidden ambiguity can be handled by recognizing that meaning is "unspecific"--that the meaning of a sentence is compatible with a wide range of different states of affairs making it true. In a case like Travis's "The leaves are green", the leaves are green so long as there is some surface that is green; the feeling that one of the utterances is false is the result of our normal expectations about the way the sentence is made true being subverted.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Avashai Margalit, "Open Texture"

The intension of a sentence should be a function only from those worlds that are compatible with our "hard core" beliefs to truth values, not from all possible worlds. Open texture is the fact that the set of hard core beliefs is "fuzzy", so it won't be obvious whether certain worlds are compatible with them or not, and so there will be situations where we can grasp the meaning of a sentence and still not know whether or not it applies in a particular world.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Mark Lance and Margaret Little, "Defeasibility and the Normative Grasp of Context"

Defeasible generalizations like "normally, the appearance that p justifies that p" should not be understood as merely statistical generalizations, or as enthymemes (with a supressed exceptionless premise). They are genuinely explanatory, even though exception-laden.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

G.A. Cohen, "Deeper into Bullshit"

Frankfurt's account of bullshit is only a partial account; he characterizes the essence of bullshit that comes from an intentional indifference to truth, whereas there is another kind of bullshit that needn't be intentionally produced. This other kind of bullshit is that which is unclarifiable. A rough test for this kind of bullshit is if affixing (or removing) a negation sign to the text under scrutiny does not affect "its level of plausibility".

Monday, March 19, 2007

Friedrich Nietzsche, "On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense"

Truth, when not tautological, is an illusion. We pursue truth not for its own sake, but for its "agreeable, life-preserving consequences".

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit

The essence of bullshit is indifference to the truth.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Friedrich Waismann, "How I See Philosophy"

Philosophy doesn't provide answers to questions, it finds sense for the questions to have, or shows how they lack sense. Philosophers don't explain anything, because to try to explain something would only push the demand for further explanation back a step. Figures of speech present in ordinary language (like "the flow of time") contribute to philosophical perplexity.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Stanley Cavell, "The Ordinary as the Uneventful"

The Annales historians oppose a traditional history focused on great events, focusing instead on long term social change. Paul Ricoeur claims that the Annales historians think they can do history without reference to events, but that they are mistaken, because all forms of narrative presuppose some conception of events. But a better way to understand what the Annales historians are up to is to see them as not trying to avoid events altogether, but as interested in the uneventful, the ordinary.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sören Stenlund, Language and Philosophical Problems, Chapter 2: "Notions of Language and Theories of Meaning"

There are two approaches to the study of meaning: an a priori approach, concerned with the "conceptual" conditions for the possibility of meaning (exemplified by Frege and the early Wittgenstein), and an empirical, naturalistic, approach, which dominates contemporary discussions of meaning. The naturalistic approach, while suitable for certain kinds of limited clarifications, when applied to fundamental questions about the nature of language and meaning, produces confusions. The basic mistake of the empirical approach is to assume that expressions of ordinary language have sense independently of the practices in which they are used. And the practices in which expressions are used are fundamental; they can't be explained in more basic terms. Any attempted explanation will presuppose what it tries to explain.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sören Stenlund, Language and Philosophical Problems, Chapter 1: "Language, Mind and Machines"

There are a number of conceptual confusions involved in standard formal approaches to the study of mind and language, including a tendency to assume that a formal calculus is actually present (in some sense) in ordinary practice, or somehow explains that practice. Formal calculi are valuable for particular activities, but they are no help in understanding language or mind as a whole.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Rush Rhees, "Wittgenstein's Builders"

Speaking a language involves more than participating in language games; speaking a language involves having something to say, which requires an ability to see connections between language games.

Pär Segerdahl, Language Use, Chapter 16, "Presuppositions and Methods of Linguistics"

Explaining failures of use by way of presupposition failure is to mistake a linguistic form of description for actual use. Talk of presuppositions makes sense only against a background of normal use. We should aim for a careful description of linguistic practice, not an explanation of it.

Pär Segerdahl, Language Use, Chapter 14, "The Semantic Reading and Indirect Speech"

The notion of the "literal meaning" of a sentence is dependent on applying a particular semantic theory of language to language use. It is a mistake to think that the system of representation that we have for language (a semantic theory, e.g.) is actually in the language itself.

Pär Segerdahl, Language Use, Chapter 13, "Intentions and Beliefs as Conditions for Use"

The picture of language according to which external, lifeless signs need to be supplemented by inner processes, like belief or intention, is a misleading picture. Words have significance in use, and the need for a theory of speaker intentions is occasioned by nothing more than the misleading picture of external, lifeless marks and sounds.

Pär Segerdahl, Language Use, Chapter 12, "Language vs. Languages and Philosophy vs. Linguistics"

The activity of language use cannot be reconstructed using the formal techniques of linguistics and philosophy of language; words only have significance in that they are used in particular activities.

Charles Travis, Thought's Footing, Chapter 1

The truth conditional content of a sentence is determined by the role of the sentence in a language game (this can be put as the slogan: "content is inseparable from point").

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Avner Baz, "Who Knows"

Contextualism fails to appreciate the insights of ordinary language philosophy and so does not advance our understanding of what knowledge is.

Witold Rybczynski, Looking Around: A Journey Through Architecture

Essays on the changing structure of the American house and on the need for high quality but non-monumental "background" architecture that emphasize eclecticism and attention to how people actually live.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Timothy Schroeder, "Donald Davidson's Theory of Mind Is Non-Normative"

Normativity requires (1) a categorization scheme, and (2) a force-maker. Davidson's interpretationist theory of mind has (1), but doesn't have (2). So Davidson's theory of mind is non-normative.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Bernard Williams, "The Self and the Future"

The idea of persons "switching bodies" is not straightforward. It is plausible to think that what is typically regarded as a case of a person switching bodies is actually a case of two persons undergoing massive psychological change.

Donald Davidson, "Representation and Interpretation"

Interpretation of thought and action involves normative concepts; normative concepts "have no role in the understanding of a syntactically specified program"; so a syntactically specified program cannot be interpreted as thinking or acting.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Pär Segerdahl, Language Use, Ch.10, "The Speaker-Hearer Scheme of Communication"

Both the formal semantic approach and the communication-intention (speech-act) approach to the study of language find a distinction between conventional meaning and speaker meaning; that distinction is rejected by Segerdahl. And both approaches involve abstracting away from details fo concrete use. Segerdahl says that a proper appreciation of Wittgensein's notion of family resemblance can serve as a corrective to the dominant approaches to the study of language.

Pär Segerdahl, Language Use, Ch.9, "Formal Pragmatics"

Language can be represented by a formal system, but that doesn't mean "that actual language use is based on tacit calculations" in the formal system. The meanings of the parts of a sentence play no role in the actual process of the determination of meaning.

Pär Segerdahl, Language Use, Ch.8, "Rationality as a Basis for Language Use"

Grice's cooperative maxims and conception of the rational norms governing conversation are meant to explain our ordinary practices of understanding sentences; but the maxims and conversational norms themselves depend on those very practices for their intelligibility. For example, the notion of cooperation requires some particular, concrete practice (like work in a repair shop) in order to have any content. It doesn't make sense to say that there is some general, practice-independent notion of cooperativeness that governs our understanding of speakers' utterances.

Pär Segerdahl, Language Use, Ch.6, "Literal Meaning"

Literal meaning is a function of use. Use is fundamental and cannot itself be explained. Semantic approaches to the explanation of meaning presuppose what they are trying to explain, because the paraphrases given by the semantic theory themselves, if they are to be meaningful, have their meanings determined by particular uses.

Pär Segerdahl, Language Use, Ch.3, "Context Dependence"

The meaning of a sentence is not determined by the meanings of its component words, it is determined by how it is used. Systemaic variations in the meanings of sentences should be explained in terms of variation in use, not in variation in their component parts. It is wrong to think that there are isolable linguistic items like words and sentences; a demonstrative like "this book", for example, includes the book as part of the symbol. The question of what must be added to a linguistic item, like "this book", to deliver a unique reference is confused. It is confused because it treats language as separated from the world.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Pär Segerdahl, Language Use, "Deixis" (Ch2)

An essential feature of the pragmatic approach to studying linguistic phenomena is the treatment of linguistic meaning as "general directions" (Strawson) for use. These general directions are supposed not to require any contextual features for their use (otherwise they wouldn't do any explanatory work[?]). But the general directions do require contextual features for their use, no less than words like "I" and "you". So giving the meaning of "I" as "the speaker of the context of utterance" is in fact no explanation at all. And it is only the conception of language as an autonomous system that makes the meaning of words like "I" and "you" seem problematic and in need of explanation in the first place.

Pär Segerdahl, Language Use, "Language and Context" (Ch1)

Pragmatics incorrectly assumes that only the meaning of special sentences (like those containing indexicals) must be explained in terms of the context of use. Instead, every sentence (for example, those including expressions like '9:45am') has a meaning only as a result of our linguistic and non-linguistic practices involving the sentence. Meaning is not primarily a property of linguistic expressions, but of our practices.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Pär Segerdahl, Language Use, "Introduction"

The "pragmatic approach" to language is an attempt to defend the autonomous "calculus conception" of language against apparent problems. The pragmatic approach attempts to handle those problems in the following ways: (1) Indexicality, (2) Speaker meaning; (3) Speech Acts; (4) Presupposition. The basic problem with the pragmatic approach is that it is circular--its application depends on those facts it attempts to explain.