How to Understand Language: A Philosophical Inquiry

Overview

Why are philosophers - as opposed to, say, linguists and psychologists - puzzled by language? How should we attempt to shed philosophical light on the phenomenon of language? How to Understand Language frames its discussion of the philosophy of language with these two central questions. Bernhard Weiss first explores the reasons why language is so hard to understand from a philosophical point of view and then begins the search for a productive approach to the philosophical task of understanding language. After ...

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Overview

Why are philosophers - as opposed to, say, linguists and psychologists - puzzled by language? How should we attempt to shed philosophical light on the phenomenon of language? How to Understand Language frames its discussion of the philosophy of language with these two central questions. Bernhard Weiss first explores the reasons why language is so hard to understand from a philosophical point of view and then begins the search for a productive approach to the philosophical task of understanding language. After finding fault with approaches based on philosophical analysis or translation, Weiss undertakes an extended investigation of the programme of constructing a theory of meaning. Weiss endorses Donald Davidson's advocacy of that approach, which is pivotal to the discussion, but he argues strongly against the roles of both truth theory and radical interpretation. In doing so, he offers novel arguments for a number of distinctive claims about some key issues in philosophy of language, centrally, those of the normativity and publicity of meaning. How to Understand Language presents a fresh approach to many issues of abiding interest in the philosophy of language.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780773537354
  • Publisher: McGill-Queens University Press
  • Publication date: 2/10/2010
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Bernhard Weiss is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Cape Town.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

1 The puzzles of language 1

1.1 The uses of language 2

1.2 Words and meanings 9

1.3 Compositionality 10

1.4 The normativity of meaning 12

2 The starting-point for analysis 13

2.1 Knowledge 13

2.2 Linguistic meaning 14

2.3 Frege's distinction between sense and reference 16

2.4 Russell's theory of descriptions 21

2.5 Kripke's attack on descriptivism about names 25

2.6 Analysis and singular terms 31

3 Analysing sentence-meaning 33

3.1 Specifying sentence-meaning 33

3.2 Natural and non-natural meaning 34

3.3 Speaker-meaning 34

3.4 Sentence-meaning 37

3.5 Problems for Grice's account 40

4 Analysing synonymy 57

4.1 The analytic-synthetic distinction 58

4.2 Holism 62

5 Radical translation 65

5.1 The indeterminacy of translation (the argument from below) 66

5.2 Methodological considerations 66

5.3 The indeterminacy of translation 69

5.4 Quine's conclusions on meaning 72

5.5 Evans's response 72

6 The structure of a theory of meaning 81

6.1 What is a theory of meaning? 81

6.2 Systematicity 82

6.3 The distinction between sense and force 84

6.4 The centrality of assertion 85

6.5 Use-conditions versus truth-conditions 88

6.6 Use-conditional theories of understanding 92

7 Radical interpretation 95

7.1 Constraints on an adequate theory of truth 95

7.2 The Principle of Charity 101

7.3 An application: saying that 112

7.4 Compositionality and extensionality 114

7.5 Davidson and Foster 115

7.6 Dummett on Davidson 118

8 Linguistic norms, communication and radical interpretation 125

8.1 Davidson on communication 126

8.2 A non-normative conception of meaning? 131

8.3 Norms and mistakes 138

8.4 A generalization of the argument? 140

9 Linguistic normativity 143

9.1 Norms and prescriptions 143

9.2 Correctness-conditions, practical reasoning and norms 147

9.3 Non-literal uses of language 151

9.4 Are the norms substantial? 152

10 Radical or robust? 155

10.1 The mysteriousness of language 155

10.2 Doing away with radical interpretation 158

10.3 Indeterminacy of reference 160

10.4 Arguments for robust publicity 168

10.5 Rejecting indeterminacy of reference 171

11 Language and community 173

11.1 Natural language is essentially communal: semantic externalism 173

11.2 Communication requires publicity of meaning 177

12 Rules and privacy: the problem 181

12.1 The problem of rule-following 181

12.2 Kripke's sceptical solution 189

12.3 Problems for the sceptical solution 191

13 Rules and privacy: the solution? 201

13.1 Can there be a private language? 201

13.2 Platonism about rules 202

13.3 Consensualism 204

13.4 Finding a way forward 204

13.5 Back to the theory of meaning 218

13.6 Privacy and first-personal authority 221

14 Truth-conditions versus use-conditions 231

14.1 Dummett's attack on truth-conditional theories 231

14.2 Brandom on inferentialism versus representationalism 235

14.3 Use-conditional accounts of meaning 237

14.4 The problematic pairs 244

14.5 The analytic-synthetic distinction 248

Notes 251

Bibliography 261

Index 267

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