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I have heard philosophers propose that thought is dependent upon language: that

I have heard philosophers propose that thought is dependent upon language: that without language one cannot have thoughts, that we can think of thoughts as sentences, etc. There seems to be a strong correlation, in many philosophers' writings, between thoughts and sentences of a language. In some limited sense, this makes sense to me. Creatures that clearly do not have language (platypuses, say) do not seem to have thoughts; whatever goes through their heads, they do not seem to do what we do when we think. And for those of us who do have language skills, thoughts take the form of sentences in whatever language(s) we speak. But philosophers often assume that thoughts just ARE those sentences, that it is nonsensical even to say that "thoughts take the form of sentences in a language". But how can the ability to think depend on the possession of language skills? If a human baby were never taught to speak or to understand a language, and thus arrived at the age of 30 with no language skills, would...

The question what the relation is between thought and language is, to my mind, one of the most fundamental issues in contemporary philosophy. That is to say, what one's view is about this matter will profoundly shape one's views on many other topics. What one's impression is of the current state of play will, however, depend upon what one has read. There are, as you say, many philosophers would suppose that thought is somehow dependent upon language. One famous example is Donald Davidson, who argues explicitly for this conclusion in "Thought and Talk". On the current scene, John McDowell is perhaps the most visible proponent of the view. Hilary Putnam has held a version of this view in the last several years, and it can be found as well in the writings of Michael Dummett. I could easily continue.

On the other hand, however, there are plenty of philosophers who reject this view and hold, as you suggest, that the ability to think does not depend upon the possession of language skills. Jerry Fodor, for example, would certainly suppose that pre-linguistic children and many non-human animals are capable of thought. Christopher Peacocke holds a simlar view (see his paper "Concepts without Words", for example). In fact, it's probably fair to say that most philosophers of mind would be in this camp.

More interesting to me, however, is the fact that most linguists, I think, and the overwhelming majority of psychologists would also be in this camp. There is a lot of very interesting work being done in psychology nowadays on infant cognition and conceptual development: At the moment, one hot topic is acquisition of numerical concepts, for exmaple. This work simply presumes that infants are cognitive agents, and the success psychologists have had operating on that assumption gives us good reason to believe it. Moreover, much work in psycholinguistics proceeds on the assumption that word-acquisition at the earliest stages is, for the most part, a matter of associating words with concepts one already has.

It's important to be clear here what one means by "have thoughts". You speak, in part of your post, about "whatever goes through the[] heads" of platypi. That's one sort of thing one can mean. But you will note that I have tended to speak of whether a creature is a "cognitive agent", by which I mean: Should we really think of the creature as having beliefs, desires, intentions, and the like, that explain (or rationalize) its behavior the way our beliefs, desires, and the like explain (or rationalize) ours? The "should really" here is important, because we do of course explain animals' behavior in pyschological terms all the time. The issue is whether we should take such explanations fully seriously or should instead explain infants or animals' behavior in some quite different terms. The question what infants or animals have "going through their heads" and how similar it is to what goes through normal adult humans' heads is of less interest. As far as the status of animals is concerned, then, the place to look would be e.g. at ethnographic work on the great apes. Such work as with which I am familiar makes an impressive case that apes are cognitive agents in the relevant sense.

Note that this is not to say that the possession of language does not make some important difference to cognition. It pretty plainly does, and it's a nice question exactly what kind of difference that is.

A friend and I were debating recently the proper classification of the word

A friend and I were debating recently the proper classification of the word "nearly" in the following sentence: "I was studying until nearly dawn." We both thought it was an adverb modifying "until," which was modifying "studying." But he was more convinced than I was, and I'm still not sure. Rearranging the syntax makes the word's adverbial qualities more clear, but it also changes the meaning of the sentence (if only subtly). Could somebody clarify exactly what the word is doing in the sentence above?

To my ear, your sentence means "I was studying almost until dawn". So Itake "nearly" to be an adverb that modifies the adjectival phrase"until dawn", to create a new adjectival phrase, "nearly until dawn", which in turn applies to your studying. Thus, I take thesentence to be structurally parallel to "I was running very fast",where "fast" plays the role of "until dawn" and "very" that of "nearly".

(1) What is a question? (2) Are there sentences that have the grammatical form

(1) What is a question? (2) Are there sentences that have the grammatical form of a legitimate question, yet nevertheless fail to be legitimate questions? (3) Does this sentence (i.e., (3)) have the grammatical form of a legitimate question, yet fail to be a real question?

The word 'question' has several senses. In one sense it is a grammatical term referring to sentences of interrogative form. In another sense it is a semantic term, referring to the sort of thing that could be the content of an interrogative sentence - as in "The question that 'What is the meaning of life' is really asking". In the latter sense there can be sentences that have the form of a legitimate question yet nevertheless fail to pose legitimate questions - e.g. "Why has no dog ever barked?" or "Why have more people been to Berlin?". The answer to (3) is 'no', so the answer to (3) is 'no'.

This is a question about Hilary Putnam's twin earth thought experiment.

This is a question about Hilary Putnam's twin earth thought experiment. After I read this thought experiment I was not convinced that Oscar's and twin-Oscar's "water" concept have different meanings. But most of the philosophers' intuitions are similar to Putnam (i.e., they think that Oscar's and twin-Oscar's "water" concept have different meanings). I thought that there might be something wrong with me. So I told this thought experiment to different people with different origins but without exception all of them responded that both Oscar's and twin-Oscar's "water" concept have the same meaning. So I still do not understand, why do so many philosophers' intuitions work like Putnam's? Thank you, Deniz

The intuitions about the 'water' example that philosophers focus on are, as explained above, about reference. They are also about truth. It takes a little work to connect reference and truth to meaning. One line of thought goes as follows. Suppose that Oscar lands on Twin Earth. Both Oscar and Twin Oscar point to a sample of XYZ and say 'That is water'. What Twin Oscar says is true - he is speaking Twin English and Twin English speakers standardly call XYZ 'water'. But what Oscar says is false. He thinks that the stuff in front of him is water, the same kind of stuff he was familiar with on Earth. And that is the thought he is expressing when he says 'that's water'. But if what Twin Oscar says is true and what Oscar says is false, then their words must mean something different.

I concur with Deniz that non-philosophers often don't respond to the example in the way that many philosophers do - although as yet no seroious data on this have been gathered. Often they either don't share the intuitions about reference and truth or they do, but they remain convinced that what the Twins mean by their words is the same.

As Richard says (thanks for the mention, Richard), I am with the non-philosophers. I think that in 1750 the English word 'water' would have been true of XYZ as well as H2O.

For some discussion of how lay intuitions differ from those of philosophers' in respect of these matters, see my 'Reference, Causal Powers, Externalist Intutions and Unicorns' on my web page.

My question is a little bit technical. As you know, from Heidegger to

My question is a little bit technical. As you know, from Heidegger to Structuralism, there is always a theme of an "iron cage". In other words, we are always bound by language, structure, or something else. This word "iron cage" was as far as I find used by Weber first. But, I wonder, who is the first western philosopher who used such an idea of being bounded by a surrounding system. For example, can we count Hegel as an "iron cage" philosopher as for him no one can go beyond the volksgeist ? Kind Regards, Nyouri Oezturk

Well, you'd have to include Kant, who argues that our knowledge is bounded by our perceptual and cognitive structures.

I am a postgraduate linguistics student engaged in a programme of research in

I am a postgraduate linguistics student engaged in a programme of research in which much of the theoretical apparatus proposed by the majority of language scientists ("Words and Rules" - à la Pinker) is dismissed as epiphenomena of exemplar-based cultural learning. Lately, however, I have been struggling with the definition of the word "epiphenomenon". Any thoughts?

An epiphenomenon is something that is real and has a cause, but does not in turn go on to cause other things. A common simile is that it is like the smoke coming out of the locomotive. Thus in the philosophy of mind epiphenomenalism is the view that experiences are caused by physical states of the brain, but do not in turn cause anything: they are just the smoke the brain gives off while it is working.

What are the limits of language in determining the truth of things?

What are the limits of language in determining the truth of things? Is Philosophy going to be reduced to equations and answering questions no one cares about? Thanks for your time, Frank

Often when people talk about the "limits of language" they have in mindthe claim that there are some truths that cannot be articulated intheir language, or perhaps even in any language at all. There aretruths, some contend, that transcend the expressive capacity of some,or even of all, languages. This is a hotly contested claim. I am notsympathetic to it. If you claimed to have got hold of such aninexpressible truth, how would I know? You certainly couldn't convey itto me (if you could, it wouldn't be inexpressible). It seems like the world would look just the same whether youhad actually got hold of such a truth or whether you were under themistaken belief that you had. And that shakes my confidence that I evenknow what's being claimed when you say you have got hold of aninexpressible truth. Imagine that a friend of yours tells you that hehas a parrot on his shoulder with the special property of beingcompletely and forever undetectable. How would you respond to such aclaim? Two rather recent books that explore this subject are A.W.Moore's Points of View and Graham Priest's Beyond the Limits of Thought.

I'mnot quite sure what you mean when you ask whether philosophy will be"reduced to equations". Nobody could confuse philosophy andmathematics. Also, it bears saying that equations are not meaninglessscribbles: they express thoughts, sometimes very important thoughts.

Itcan't be that philosophers answer questions "no one cares about" assurely the philosopher doing the work does care! And many other peopledo too — it's not for nothing that philosophy has been a thrivingbusiness for thousands of years. But the more important point is thateven if philosophical work led to the clarification of, and possiblyeven to the truth about, some important issues that aren't at theforefront of most people's minds, it would still be worthwhile. Thereare more things in heaven and earth than are cared about in men's dailylives.

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