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Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga Peregrin: P & F of Meaning1 THE PAST & FUTURE OF MEANING Jaroslav Peregrin Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague & University of Hradec Králové Czech Republic http://jarda.peregrin.cz
Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga Peregrin: P & F of Meaning2 The past of meaning: res cogitans infiltrated into the world of res extensa Locke: "The meaning of words being only the ideas they are made to stand for by him that uses them, the meaning of any term is then showed, or the word is defined, when by other words the idea it is made the sign of, and annexed to, in the mind of the speaker, is as it were represented, or set before the view of another; and thus its signification ascertained." meaning = a chunk of a mind-stuff glued to a word and animating it Cartesian idea that it is only some otherwordly stuff, res cogitans, which is capable of animating the mechanical, spiritless res extensa of the world through which we steer our bodies.
Peregrin: P & F of Meaning3 Intentionality as an unexplained explainer? "We must attach some meaning to the words we use, if we are to speak significantly and not utter mere noise; and the meaning we attach to our words must be something with which we are acquainted." Russell (1912, Chapter V) "Meaning exists only where there is a distinction between Intentional content and the form of its externalization and to ask for the meaning is to ask for an Intentional content that goes with the form of externalization." Searle (1983, 28) "The philosophy of language is a branch of the philosophy of mind. In its most general form it amounts to the view that certain fundamental semantic notions such as meaning are analyzable in terms of more fundamental psychological notions such as belief, desire, and intention." (ibid., 160-1) Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga
Peregrin: P & F of Meaning4 Wittgenstein’s beetle Wittgenstein (1953, §293): "Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a 'beetle'. No one can look into anyone else's box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle. – Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing. – But suppose the word 'beetle' had a use in these people's language? – If so it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a something: for the box might even be empty. – No, one can 'divide through' by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is." (However, what, if not our minds, animates our signs??) Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga Fregean – intermediary - solution: meanings are ideal objects of a "third realm"
Peregrin: P & F of Meaning5 What animates our signs? Wittgenstein (1958, 4) : "Frege ridiculed the formalist conception of mathematics by saying that the formalists confused the unimportant thing, the sign, with the important, the meaning. Surely, one wishes to say, mathematics does not treat of dashes on a bit of paper. Frege's idea could be expressed thus: the propositions of mathematics, if they were just complexes of dashes, would be dead and utterly uninteresting, whereas they obviously have a kind of life.... And further it seems clear that no adding of inorganic signs can make the proposition live. And the conclusion which one draws from this is that what must be added to the dead signs in order to make a live proposition is something immaterial, with properties different from all mere signs. But, if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use.... The mistake we are liable to make could be expressed thus: We are looking for the use of a sign, but we look for it as though it were an object co-existing with the sign." Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga
Peregrin: P & F of Meaning6 That people attach something to a word within their minds is a fact of their individual psychologies not capable of establishing the fact that the word means something within their language – in order for it to mean something, it is not enough that each of them individually makes the association, he/she must also know that the others do the same, that he/she can use the word to intelligibly express it in various public circumstances etc. Hence what is needed aside of the private associations are some public practices that make the link public and shared. (And given the public practices, the private associations become the idle beetle in the box.) From revealing meaning to describing language games "[For Wittgenstein,] the ultimate explanatory level in semantics is not given by references to unsaturation or to the form of objects or meanings, but by reference to the meaning-giving activity of human beings, of activity embodied in their endorsement of rules." (Coffa, 1991, 267) Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga
Peregrin: P & F of Meaning7 'Nothing in meaning that was not in behavior before' Quine (1960, p. 221): "One may accept the Brentano thesis [of the irreducibility of intentional idioms] either as showing the indispensability of intentional idioms and the importance of an autonomous science of intention, or as showing the baselessness of intentional idioms and the emptiness of the science of intention. My attitude, unlike Brentano’s, is the second. To accept intentional usage at face value is, we saw, to postulate translation relations as somehow objectively valid though indeterminate in principle relative to the totality of speech dispositions. Such postulation promises little gain in scientific insight if there is no better ground for it than that the supposed translation relations are presupposed by the vernacular of semantics and intention." Quine (1969, p. 28): "each of us, as he learns his language, is a student of his neighbor's behavior" and "the learner has no data to work with, but the overt behavior of other speakers". Quine (ibid., p. 29): "There are no meanings, nor likenesses or distinctions in meaning beyond what are implicit in people's dispositions to overt behavior". Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga
Peregrin: P & F of Meaning8 Wither meanings? Devitt (1994, 545): “Semantics is an empirical science like any other.” Quine (1992, 56): “I would not seek a scientific rehabilitation of something like the old notion of separate and distinct meanings; that notion is better seen as a stumbling block cleared away.” Chomsky (1993, 21), “comunication does not require shared 'public meanings'... Nor need we assume that the 'meanings' of one participant be discoverable by the other." natural sciences do sucessfully describe a great deal of 'what there is'. It seems reasonable to be very careful in deviating from them and engaging any 'supernatural' concepts behaviorism, abolishment of meanings? Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga
Peregrin: P & F of Meaning9 Our linguistic practices Do our, human language games characteristically differ from the games of our non-human pals or from the clatter of inanimate things? Do we need some specific irreducible concepts to acount for them (such as that of intension of Searle, that of truth of Davidson, etc.)? Wittgenstein (1953): Our language games are characteristically governed by rules, moreover by rules which are mostly implicit. (Why implicit? The rules of language cannot be all explicit – in pain of a vicious circle. We do have explicit rules of chess; we can take a book and read them there. However, to do this, we must know how to interpret the signs in the book – we must know the rules of their interpretation. Perhaps also these rules are somewhere written, but it is clear that the regress must come to an end and at some point we must be able to follow the rules of interpretation without their being explicit.) Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga Moral: If we want to study meanings, we must see language as an institution.
Peregrin: P & F of Meaning10 Rules vs. naturalism (How would we explain to somebody what football is? Would we dream to do it without speaking about the rules of footbal, i.e. what the players ought to and ought not to do? And would this make our explanation somehow 'supernatural'?) To account for rules and rule-governed practices we do not need any concepts over and above those employed by natural sciences; we need a specific mode of speech, not merely the indicative one, but also the normative one: 'this ought to be done thus and so' The concept of rule makes it possible to account for the specificity of human language, meaning, and reason, without invoking any 'supernatural' concepts Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga Sellars (1949, 311): "To say that man is a rational animal is to say that man is a creature not of habits, but of rules."
What kind of rules? Is meaning of and the truth function we learn in elementary logic courses? Not in the sense that this function would be something which would have baptized by the word. Yes in the sense that the function recapitulates the rules governing the word. To understand and (with a certain oversimplification) is to know that A and B is correctly assertible if both A and B are; hence to master the rules A and B ├─ A A and B ├─ B A, B ├─ A and B it is rules of inference that play semantically crucial role
Perhaps and; but dog? Does not the empirical vocabulary, to become meaningful, have to represent something? What makes the difference between a person looking into the sky and saying The sky is blue and a parrot repeating the same sounds? Is it that the former is thinking and hence can furnish his sounds with a chunk of mental stuff? Rather than explain language in terms of thinking, we go the other way around. To talk meaningfully is to be able to take part within certain language games; especially within what Brandom (1994) calls the game of giving and asking for reasons. there is no meaning without inference (see Peregrin, 2008; to appear)
Peregrin: P & F of Meaning13 Pattern-governed behavior Sellars (1954): besides the "merely conforming to rules" and "rule obeying" there is a specific kind of behavior, characteristic of language games, which he called pattern governed: "an organism may come to play a language game – that is to move from position to position in a system of moves and positions and to do it 'because of the system' without having to obey rules and hence without having to be playing a metalanguage game" The pattern is something we were taught by our tutors ought to be, and hence we take it that we ought to do what would bring this ought-to-be about. Thus we reinforce the kind of behavior of others, and especially of our tutees, which conforms to the ought-to-be and we disapprove of that which does not conform to it. This creates a circle which tends to promulgate the pattern of behavior from generation to generation. Human linguistic behavior requires a society with the mutual 'pressure' of its members on each other. The relevant patterns are forced on us not (directly) by natural selection, but by the ongoing demands of our peers. A rule is a lever needed to put the exclusively human kind of forming and maintaining patterns to work. Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga
Peregrin: P & F of Meaning14 The future of meaning (as I see it): our means of representing rule-governed practices Meanings are reasonably seen as creatures of our activity of setting up certain systems of rules, thus opening up new kinds of spaces which we can "enter". (Think about the exciting and inexhaustible space of football games which opens up for us when we agree to follow the rules of football.) Meaning is what emerges within the intricately orchestrated (arch)space that we have somehow managed to bring into being by means of accepting the rules which are in charge of our language games (especially the game of giving and asking for reasons). To study meanings is – ultimately – to study inferential (and other) rules implicit to our linguistic practices. Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga
Peregrin: P & F of Meaning15 The future of formal semantics? Formal semantics has been often understood as revealing the meanings which our expressions stand for – be they mental or other kinds of entities. From this viewpoint, the future I foresee for the theory of meaning may seem to lead to its decline. But this is wrong. What we need is not an abolishment of formal semantics, but rather a more appropriate way of understanding it. As I see it, we need to see the set-theoretical (or other) explications of meanings it brings about as encapsulations of the expressions' inferential roles (see Peregrin, 2001; 2004). In fact, in this way, as I believe, we only return to the roots of formal semantics. Frege, who introduced functions as the principal tool of explicating meanings, did so on the basis of considering functioning of corresponding expressions: the fact that he accounts for the word blue as denoting the function mapping blue objects on T and non-blue on F is not a result of an attempt at portraying its pre-formal meaning, but rather of considering with which names it forms true sentences. Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga
Peregrin: P & F of Meaning16 References Brandom, R. (1994): Making It Explicit, Cambridge (Mass.). Chomsky, N. (1993): Language and Thought, Wakefield. Coffa, A. (1991): The Semantic Tradition from Kant to Carnap, Cambridge. Devitt, M. (1994): 'The Methodology of Naturalistic Semantics', J Phil 91, 545-572. Peregrin, J. (2001): Meaning and Structure, Aldershot. Peregrin, J. (2004): 'Pragmatismus und Semantik', in A. Fuhrmann and E. J. Olsson (eds.): Pragmatisch denken, Frankfurt a M., 89-108. Peregrin, J. (2008): 'Inferentialist Approach to Semantics', Phil Compass 3, 1208-1223. Peregrin, J. (to appear): 'The Normative Dimension of Discourse', in K. Allan and K. Jasczolt (eds.): Cambridge Handbook of Pragmatics, Cambridge. Quine, V.W.O. (1992): Pursuit of Truth, Cambridge. Quine, W.V.O. (1969): Ontological Relativity and Other Essays, New York. Russell, B. (1912): The Problems of Philosophy, Home University Library. Searle, J. (1983): Intentionality, Cambridge. Sellars, W. (1949): ‘Language, Rules and Behavior,’ in S. Hook (ed.): John Dewey: Philosopher of Science and Freedom, New York, 289-315. Sellars, W. (1954): 'Some Reflections on Language Games', Phil of Sci 21, 204-228. Wittgenstein, L. (1958): The Blue and Brown Books, Oxford. Wittgenstein, L. (1953): Philosophische Untersuchungen, Oxford. Formal Semantics & Pragmatics 19.-21.11.2010, Riga