Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition

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Overview

How do we know a cat is a cat? And why do we call it a cat? How much of our perception of things is based on cognitive ability, and how much on linguistic resources? Here, in six remarkable essays, Umberto Eco explores in depth questions of reality, perception, and experience. Basing his ideas on common sense, Eco shares a vast wealth of literary and historical knowledge, touching on issues that affect us every day. At once philosophical and amusing, Kant and the Platypus is a tour of the world of our senses, ...

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Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition

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Overview

How do we know a cat is a cat? And why do we call it a cat? How much of our perception of things is based on cognitive ability, and how much on linguistic resources? Here, in six remarkable essays, Umberto Eco explores in depth questions of reality, perception, and experience. Basing his ideas on common sense, Eco shares a vast wealth of literary and historical knowledge, touching on issues that affect us every day. At once philosophical and amusing, Kant and the Platypus is a tour of the world of our senses, told by a master of knowing what is real and what is not.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Presented with mock solemnity and written with grace and wit, the book is a genuine work of scholarship that is also a pleasure to read.-Newsweek
"Witty and stylish."-The New York Times
"A book no self-respecting dreamer should be without."-The Economist
San Francisco Review of Books
Umberto Eco's essays read like letters from a friend, trying to share something he loves with someone he likes.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Consider the platypus. With its famous molelike body carrying a beaver's tail and a duck's beak, the beast confounded the first Western scientists who studied it in 1798. Was it a mammal or a reptile? Did it lay eggs? Was it just a taxonomic hoax? The platypus eventually found its rightful place in the animal kingdom, but as Eco (Travels in Hyperreality, etc.) shows in these challenging essays, the questions it raised about language and perception still animate some sharply contested semiotic debates. Writing with his customary keenness of intellect, Eco ranges widely over metaphysical terrain, drawing on Aristotle, Heidegger and C.S. Peirce to inform his discussions. Revising aspects of Kant's philosophy in terms of cognitive studies, Eco ponders how we identify the things around us and argues that meaning in the world is ultimately contractual and negotiable. When Aztecs first saw horses ridden by Spanish conquistadors, for example, they used their previous knowledge to surmise that the invaders were riding deer. In another example, Eco investigates how we can recognize a Bach suite for solo cello, even when played by different soloists or transcribed for the recorder. Throughout, Eco gamely reconsiders his 1976 work, A Theory of Semiotics, over which many a gauntlet was testily thrown, and revisits other key moments in the history of semiotic research. This collection will certainly appeal to specialists. But Eco's ability to balance technical subject matter with broadly intelligible anecdotes and illustrations should make it valuable and pleasurable for anyone seeking a gallant introduction to the philosophy of language. (Nov.) FYI: Also in November Harvest will release Eco's Serendipities in paperback ($12, ISBN 0-15-600751-7) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This book is an erudite, detailed inquiry into the philosophy of mind. Eco's concern here is the Kantian question, How is it that the manifold of sense perceptions becomes transformed by the mind into knowledge? As Eco (semiotics, Univ. of Bologna) puts the question, What would Kant have done had he come upon a platypus?-using the animal to represent something initially unrecognizable. To answer the question, Eco lets his playful, encyclopedic mind roam freely throughout these (recent) essays. The often highly abstract discussion--larded with expressions in Greek, German, French, and Italian--is interlaced with deeply inventive thought experiments and imaginative dialogs. Philosophic thinking from ancient to contemporary philosophers (with an emphasis on the thought of Charles Sanders Peirce) is weighed and evaluated. Here, Eco is continental philosopher, analytic philosopher, linguistic philosopher, semiotician, and cognitive scientist all rolled into one. Philosophers will love this; others will be mystified. Highly recommended for all academic philosophy collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/99.]--Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Lib., Washington, DC Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156011594
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 536,729
  • Product dimensions: 5.36 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Umberto Eco

UMBERTO ECO is a professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna and the best-selling author of numerous novels and essays. He lives in Italy.

Biography

Back in the 1970s, long before the cyberpunk era or the Internet boom, an Italian academic was dissecting the elements of codes, information exchange and mass communication. Umberto Eco, chair of semiotics at the University of Bologna, developed a widely influential theory that continues to inform studies in linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, cultural studies and critical theory.

Most readers, however, had never heard of him before the 1980 publication of The Name of the Rose, a mystery novel set in medieval Italy. Dense with historical and literary allusions, the book was a surprise international hit, selling millions of copies in dozens of languages. Its popularity got an additional boost when it was made into a Hollywood movie starring Sean Connery. Eco followed his first bestseller with another, Foucault's Pendulum, an intellectual thriller that interweaves semiotic theory with a twisty tale of occult texts and world conspiracy.

Since then, Eco has shifted topics and genres with protean agility, producing fiction, academic texts, criticism, humor columns and children's books. As a culture critic, his interests encompass everything from comic books to computer operating systems, and he punctures avant-garde elitism and mass-media vacuity with equal glee.

More recently, Eco has ventured into a new field: ethics. Belief or Nonbelief? is a thoughtful exchange of letters on religion and ethics between Eco and Carlo Maria Martini, the Roman Catholic cardinal of Milan; Five Moral Pieces is a timely exploration of the concept of justice in an increasingly borderless world.

Eco also continues to write books on language, literature and semiotics for both popular and academic audiences. His efforts have netted him a pile of honorary degrees, the French Legion of Honor, and a place among the most widely read and discussed thinkers of our time.

Good To Know

Eco is a professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna, though in 2002 he was at Oxford University as a visiting lecturer. He has also taught at several top universities in the U.S., including Columbia, Harvard, Yale, and Northwestern.

Pressured by his father to become a lawyer, Eco studied law at the University of Turn before abandoning that course (against his father's wishes) and pursuing medieval philosophy and literature.

His studies led naturally to the setting of The Name of the Rose in the medieval period. The original tentative title was Murder in the Abbey.

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    1. Hometown:
      Bologna, Italy
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 5, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Alessandria, Italy
    1. Education:
      Ph.D., University of Turin, 1954

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2002

    Points of Light

    There are small, incandescent points of brilliance in this book, surrounded (and usually buried) by pages of offal. A patient reader will spend hours wading through muck for the occasional gem. Will you?

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