sábado, 2 de agosto de 2014


First draft of introduction and first chapter of a book on philosophical semantics to be published in 2016.

Draft D, 2015/2






Chapter 1: Against the Metaphysics of Reference: Aims and Assumptions
Appendix to chapter 1: How do Proper Names Really Work? (Cutting the Gordian Knot)

Chapter 2: Wittgensteinian Semantics
Appendix to chapter 2: Trope Theory and the Unbeareable Lightness of Being

Chapter 3: An Extravagant Reading of the Fregean Semantics
Appendix to chapter 3: Identities without Necessity

Chapter 4: Verificationism Redeemed
Appendix to chapter 4: Frege, Russell, and the Puzzles of Reference

Chapter 5: Sketch of a Unified Theory of Truth
Appendix to chapter 5: The Discovery of Wine

Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer questions in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

We have first raised a dust and then complain we cannot see.
George Berkeley

Once one absurdity is accepted, the rest follows.

Making empty is the result of making small.
Malcolm Bull

The name of poet was almost forgotten; that of orator was usurped by the sophists. A cloud of critics, of compilers, of commentators, darkened the face of learning, and the decline of genius was soon followed by the corruption of taste.
Edward Gibbon

This world is dying in order to give birth to a new and more beautiful one.
Alexandro Jodorowsky


Indem die Besinnung auf das Destruktive des Fortschrits seinen Feinden überlassen bleibt, verlieht das blindlings pragmatizierter Denken seinen aufhebenden Charakter, und darum auch die Beziehung auf Wahrheit.
[By leaving consideration of the destructive side of progress to its enemies, thought in its headlong rush into pragmatism is forfeiting its sublating character, and therefore its relation to truth.]
Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer

Science (mainly applied science) goes up while culture (artistic, philosophical) goes down. Whereas culture was once a source of values, today science and technology seem to have made cultural values superfluous.
   The critical theory of society had some explanations for this. Drawing on Max Weber’s basic concept of ‘disenchantment of the world,’ it shows that in our modern capitalist society instrumental reason prevails over valuating reason, promoting mass culture and furthering science and technology at the expense of the old mystical-humanistic culture.
   In this framework, it is not surprising that a kind of philosophy prevails that in some ways may serve the interests of particular sciences in a technological world. Philosophy is no longer, as traditionally, an independent undertaking making balanced use of new scientific information. More often it is an ideologically motivated endeavor appropriating new knowledge from particular sciences – formal and empirical. The results of this endeavor are what Daniel Dennett correctly labeled expansionist scientism: an effort to assimilate the procedures and proper domains of philosophy into the domains of some established science, thereby expanding some particular (formal or empirical) scientific field to replace some old domain of philosophy by using a reductionist strategy. To make this possible, resilient and distinctive philosophical difficulties that cannot be accommodated within the new particularizing model must be quietly swept under the carpet.
   The chief inconsistency in scientism comes from the fact that philosophy is in its own right ‘holistic’: As Wittgenstein once claimed, the funda­mental problems of philosophy are so interconnected that it is impossible to solve any philosophical problem without having solved all the others; and this is what makes philosophy so complex and multifaceted. This is also what the great systems of classical philosophy – such as those of Aristotle, Kant and Hegel – attempted to do, even if paying for it what we are now more able to see as a high price in terms of aporetic speculation and artificiality. Nonetheless, it may be too easy to conclude that true comprehensiveness isn’t a fundamental feature of philosophy anymore (Wittgenstein was well aware of this when he called for more ‘Übersichtlichkeit’).
   The main reason for the lack of comprehensiveness of much of our present linguistic-analytic philosophy is the following: Anglo-American philosophy, from W. V-O. Quine to Saul Kripke and Timothy Williamson, has challenged all kinds of commonsensical parti-pris, and challenged them in undeniably smart and imaginative ways, although in my view with ultimately unsustainable results. Because of this, much of our theoretical philosophy has lost touch with its intuitive commonsensical grounds in the way things prima facie seem to be and in fact really are. Take, for example, the concept of meaning: the word ‘meaning’ was challenged by Quine as having too vague a noise to be reasonably investigated. But it is too vague only from a reductionist-scientistic perspective that denies or ignores commonsense certainties, like the undeniable fact that meanings exist.
   However, using this strategy of skeptically questioning all kinds of deep, profound truisms, scientistic philosophers have sawed off the branch they were sitting on, because the result of the adopted strategy couldn’t be other than the replacement of true comprehensiveness (which depends on true deepness) by a positivist and superficializing fragmentation of the philosophical field in the so-called ‘age of specialization’ (Scott Soames). This fragmentation may be not only one of dividing to conquer, but also of dividing to subjugate; and the philosophical intellect is what is here to be subjugated. Without the branch of deep commonsensical truisms, the only path left to originality, after a rigorous training in techniques of argumentation, used to be the invention of metaphysical formalist pyrotechnics. Now, this all blocks the way of inquiry, preventing an adequate philosophical analysis, what increasis the risc of transforming the philosophical enterprise into a kind of implausible, if not vacuous intellectual glass bead game.
   It is true that the practitioners of fragmented philosophy sense the problem, but they have found good excuses for this. Some have suggested that any attempt to do comprehensive philosophy would not suffice for the present standards of scholarly adequacy. But in saying this they forget that philosophy cannot be treated like science. Philosophy is a cultural enterprise: it always contains irreducible metaphorical elements, and the aim of comprehensiveness is intrinsic to it. Philosophy is a broad cultural enterprise with the right to controlled speculation, experimentation and even transgression, as much as a place for an uncommitted search of truth.
   Others have written that it is impossible to achieve an ambitious, comprehensive philosophy today: this kind of philosophy cannot succeed because of the overpowering amount of necessary information required, putting the task far beyond the cognitive capacity of our individual minds. We are (to use Colin McGinn’s metaphor) cognitively closed to the achievement of decisive solutions for the great problems of philosophy: in our efforts to do ambitious comprehensive philosophy, we are like chimps attempting to develop the theory of relativity; we will never succeed! So, if we wish to remain reasonable, we should concentrate our efforts on easier tasks. This, of course, looks suspiciously like escapism. As Wittgenstein also noted, if we are able to pose a question it is because we are also be able to find its answer; chimps would never develop relativity theory, but they would also never ask themselves what would occur if they could move at the speed of light. Even if the amount of information is daunting, it could be that the amount of crucial information remains limited enough. And the science usually needed to comprehensive philosophy concerns only its general results. The main difficulty may reside in the circumstances, strategies and real aims behind these attempts – in limits imposed on the context of discovery – more than in its sheer impossibility. Comprehensiveness has nearly disappeared in the philosophy of linguistic analysis in recent years. The main reason is a different one: we are losing the cultural soil in which comprehensive philosophy could grow.
   In this book I will argue that a more fruitful soil can be produced if we begin with a better reasoned and more affirmative acceptance of our commonsense truisms combined with a more pluralistic approach that does not reject science. For it seems that it is precisely against the threatening return to something in some way closer to an ordinary language and pluralist approach that the mainstream of our present philosophy of language struggles, so that it is often obscured by a dense scientistic, nearly scholastic atmosphere, so thick that its practitioners barely perceive that they are surrounded by it. The intellectual climate sometimes recalls the Middle Ages, when one was not allowed to argue against religious dogmas, and to such a degree that I suspect that today advancing a plausible comprehensive philosophy against the institutional power of expansionist scientism runs a risk of being ideologically discouraged as a project and silenced as a fact.
   Ernst Tugendhat, who (together with Jürgen Habermas) attempted with relative success to develop comprehensive philosophy in the seventies, recently seemed to give up declaring that the best days of philosophy were past. The problem is in my view simply that we are living in a time of widespread cultural indifference, where the development of applied science, though impressive, has in itself an alienating dimension that strives against more comprehensive attempts to apprehend reality.
   In the current volume, I insist on swimming against the current. To argue against a reductionist-scientistic approach, which is my task here, is to help restore to the philosophy of language its deserved integrity, without contradicting either commonsense or science. It is an attempt to give a balanced, systematic and plausible overview of the mechanisms of reference, using bridges laboriously constructed between some summits of philosophical thought, trying in this way to achieve the old philosophical ambition of a comprehensive synthesis, insofar as it still sounds like a reasonable enterprise.


In such theories, it seems to me, there is a failure of that feeling for reality which ought to be preserved even in the most abstract studies. Logic, I should maintain, must no more admit a unicorn than zoology can; for logic is concerned with the real world just as truly as zoology, though with its more abstract and general features.
Bertrand Russell

Would the old orthodoxy of the philosophy of language that prevailed in the first half of the Twentieth Century, with its eroded principle of verifiability, with its sharp distinction between analytic and empirical, with its crude descriptivist-internalist theories of proper names and general terms, with its naive monolithic dichotomy between the necessary a priori and the contingent a posteriori, be nearer to the truth than the now dominant causal-externalist orthodoxy?
   I wrote this book in the conviction that the question above should be answered in the affirmative. In my view, the philosophy of language of the first half of the Twentieth Century was indeed much profounder and nearer to the truth, and its insights were often more powerful than those of the current orthodoxy. This does not mean, for example, that I reject the interest of anti-verificationist arguments like those of W. V-O. Quine; nor do I reject the philosophical relevance of the new causal-externalist orthodoxy founded by Saul Kripke and Keith Donnellan in the early seventies and later expanded by Hilary Putnam, David Kaplan and others. They are indeed relevant and in a sense even indispensable to what I intend to do. However, the relevance of these views is predominantly negative, since I think that they are simply not true. Their relevance consists mostly in being dialectically useful challenges, typical of philosophy, which if adequately answered would bring us to an enriching reformulation of the old descriptivist-internalist views. The result could be so much more complex that the previous forms of these traditional views would become almost unrecognizable.[1]
   The aim of the present volume is to contribute in the proposed direction, though in an indirect way. My approach to the issue here consists in gradually developing – aided by a critical examination of some central views of traditional analytic philosophy, particularly those of Wittgenstein and Frege – the defense of a purely internalist, cognitivist and neo-descriptivist view of our expressions’ meaning and mechanisms of reference. This will be complemented by a renewed reading of the concept of existence as a higher-order property, by a re-evaluation of the verificationist view of the meaning in which the main objections to it are answered and, finally, by a thoroughgoing reassessment of the correspondence theory of truth, seen as complementary to the proposed verificationism.
   The obvious assumption that makes my project plausible is the idea that language is a system of rules, some of them directly accountable for meanings. The most central meaning-rules are those responsible for what Aristotle called apophantic discourse – representational discourse, whose meaning-rules could be generally called semantic-cognitive rules. Indeed, it is prima facie highly plausible to think that the cognitive meaning (i.e., informative content and not mere linguistic meaning) of our representational language cannot be given by anything other than semantic-cognitive rules or combinations of such rules, even if our knowledge of them is usually tacit, implicit, non-reflexive, that is, even if we are usually unable to reveal them by verbal means.
   My ultimate aim should be to investigate the structure of semantic-cognitive rules by means of a careful examination of basic referential expressions like singular terms (proper names, definite descriptions, indexicals), general terms and even declarative sentences, in order to furnish an appropriate explanation of their reference mechanisms. This will be done in the present volume only very partially, in the appendices, often summarizing ideas already presented in my previous work.[2] These are ideas that should be elaborated in a more systematic work on the semantics of terms. In the body of the present volume, however, my central tenet is to clarify my own assumptions on the philosophy of meaning.
   When writing this book I realized, in retrospect, that what I wanted to do could in its core be understood as reviving a program speculatively developed by Ernst Tugendhat in his major work Lectures Introducing Linguistic-Analytical Philosophy.[3] This book, published in 1976, can be seen as the swansong of the old orthodoxy, defending an internalist program that was practically abandoned some years later under the ever-growing influence of the new causal-externalist orthodoxy. This program could in its core be conceived of as a semantic analysis of the singular predicative statement.[4] Thus, giving a statement of the form Fa, we can say that:

1)     the meaning of the singular term a would be given by its identification rule (Identifikationsregel),
2)     the meaning of its general term F would be given by its application rule (Verwendungsregel), and
3)     the meaning of the complete singular predicative assertoric sentence Fa would be given by its verifiability rule (Verifikationsregel).[5]

   This last rule is obtained by jointly applying the first two rules in such a way that application of the identifying rule must be assumed in order to make possible the employment of the general term’s application rule. Thus, for example, Yuri Gagarin, the first person to orbit the earth from outside its atmosphere, gazed out of the small window of his space capsule and claimed: ‘The earth is blue’. In order to make this into a true statement, he should first have identified the earth by applying the identification rule of the proper name ‘Earth’, and then, based on its application, used the application (also called characterizing or conceptual) rule of the predicative expression ‘…is blue’. In combination, these rules work as a kind of verification rule for the statement ‘The earth is blue’. If this rule can be effectively applied, then the statement is true.
   Tugendhat came to this conclusion as a result of purely speculative considerations, without analyzing these rules and without answering external criticism of the program, like the many objections that have already been made against verificationism. But what is extraordinary is that he was arguably right. Or at least I believe I can make his view compelling, on the one hand, by refuting the main arguments that could be stated against verificationism, and, on the other hand, by analyzing in some detail the nature of these semantic-cognitive rules, explaining the structure of their subdivisions and relationships, and, finally, explaining some important attributes related to them, particularly existence and truth, in a more satisfactory way.
   My methodological approach, as will be seen, is also different from that used in the more formally oriented views opposed in this book, inherited from the philosophy of ideal language in its positivist manifestation. It is primarily oriented by the communicational and social roles of language, which are seen as our real units of analysis, being inherited much more from the so called ordinary language tradition than from the ideal language tradition.[6]
   Since I consider the real understanding of language to be unavoidably involved in our overall societal life, I will always begin with commonsense and ordinary language, often seeking support in a more careful examination of concrete examples of how our linguistic expressions are really used.
   Finally, my approach is systematic. The chapters are so interconnected that the plausibility of each is better supported when regarded in its relation to arguments developed in the preceding chapters and their appendices. The appendices are complementary; but they were placed as a counterpoint to the chapters, aiming to justify and reinforce the expressed views.

[1] I believe I have given a glimpse of it in the neo-descriptivist theory of proper names developed in chapter 2 of my book Lines of Thought: Rethinking Philosophical Assumptions (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014).
[2] Claudio Costa: Lines of Thought: Rethinking Philosophical Assumptions (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), chapters 2, 3 and 4.
[3] Ernst Tugendhat: Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Sprachanalytische Philosophie (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1976).
[4] In this book I will use the word ‘statement’ in most cases as referring to the speech act of making an assertion.
[5] E. Tugendhat: Logisch-Semantische Propädeutik (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1983), pp. 235-6, Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die sprachanalytische Philosophie (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1976), pp. 259, 484, 487-8. For similar distinctions, see Michael Dummett, Frege: Philosophy of Language (London: Duckworth, 1981), p. 229.
[6] The ideal language tradition (inspired by the logical analysis of language) was founded by Frege, Russell and the earlier Wittgenstein, and was strongly associated with the philosophers of logical positivism, mainly Rudolf Carnap. With the rise of Nazism, many philosophers associated with logical positivism fled to the USA, deeply influencing American philosophy of language. The philosophies of W. V-O. Quine, Donald Davidson, and later Kripke and Hilary Putnam, along with the present mainstream philosophy of language with its metaphysics of reference, are in this way a later product of ideal language philosophy. Ordinary language philosophy (inspired by analysis of the whole speech act in the total speech situation) was represented by the Oxford School, with philosophers like J. L. Austin, Gilbert Ryle and P. F. Strawson, although it had antecedents in the later philosophy of Wittgenstein and still earlier in G. E. Moore’s commonsensical approach. Ordinary language philosophy also affected American philosophy through relatively isolated figures like Paul Grice and John Searle, whose academic influence was foreseeably less. For history, see J. O. Urmson, Philosophical Analysis: Its Development Between the Two Wars (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956).