segunda-feira, 13 de fevereiro de 2017

INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK 'PHILOSOPHICAL SEMANTICS'

 Draft for the book PHILOSOPHICAL SEMANTICS to be published by CSP



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INTRODUCTION


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

A philosophical tradition which suffers from the vice of horror mundi in an endemic way is condemned to futility.
Kevin Mulligan, Peter Simons, Barry Smith

Could the old orthodoxy of the philosophy of language that prevailed in the first half of the twentieth century, with its insistence on the centrality of meaning, its eroded semantic principle of verifiability, its naïve correspondentialism, its elementary distinction between analytic and synthetic, its crude descriptivist-internalist theories of proper names and general terms, its monolithic dichotomy between the necessary a priori and the contingent a posteriori… be nearer to the truth than the now still dominant causal-externalist orthodoxy?
This book was written in the conviction that this question should be answered affirmatively. I am convinced that the philosophy of language of the first half of the twentieth century was more profound, comprehensive and closer to the truth than the approaches of the new orthodoxy, and its insights were often more powerful. The reason seems to lie in the socio-cultural background. Cultural revolutions are products of great conflicts. And the period between the end of the nineteenth century and the Second World War was one of increasing social turmoil. This cast doubt on all established cultural values, providing the right atmosphere for intellectuals and artists disposed to develop sweepingly original innovations. This could be witnessed not only in philosophy and the arts, but also in the human and natural sciences.
   However, in saying this I am not necessarily dismissing the more institutionalized philosophy that came later. In the philosophy of language I don’t, for instance, reject the philosophical interest of anti-verificationist arguments like those of W. V-O. Quine. Nor do I reject the deep philosophical originality and relevance of the new causal-externalist mainstream founded mainly by Saul Kripke and Keith Donnellan in the early seventies and later elaborated by Hilary Putnam, David Kaplan and many others. These and other accomplishments are relevant and in a sense even indispensable for reaching my goals.
   However, the value of their labors is in my judgment predominantly negative, since I think their conclusions fall short of the truth. In other words, their significance consists mostly in being dialectically relevant challenges, which if adequately met would be followed by an enriching reformulation of old primarily descriptivist-internalist-cognitivist views of meaning and reference. These views could become increasingly complex in very positive and productive ways.
   The aim of the present book is to contribute to moving in the proposed direction. My approach to the topics considered here consists in gradually developing and defending a primarily internalist, cognitivist and neo-descriptivist analysis of the nature of the cognitive meaning of our expressions and their mechanisms of reference. But this approach will be indirect, since the analysis will usually be supported by a critical examination of some central views of traditional analytic philosophy, particularly those of Wittgenstein and Frege. Furthermore, such explanations will be complemented by a renewed reading and defense of the idea that existence is a higher-order property, a detailed reconsideration of the verificationist view of meaning, and a reassess­ment of the correspondence theory of truth, which I see as complementary to the suggested form of verificationism and dependent on a renewed treatment of the old problem of perception.
   The obvious assumption that makes my project prima facie plausible is the idea that language is a system of rules, some of which are more proper sources of meaning. The most central meaning-rules are those responsible for what Aristotle called apophantic speech – representational discourse, whose meaning-rules I call 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. Our knowledge of these rules or conventions is – as will be defended – usually tacit, implicit, non-reflexive, that is, we are able to use them correctly but are very often unable to develop them in a linguistically explicit way.
   My ultimate aim should be to investigate the structure of semantic-cognitive rules by examining our basic referential expressions, which are singular terms, general terms and in a sense declarative sentences, in order to furnish an appropriate explanation of their reference mechanisms. In the present book, I do this only very partially, often in the appendices, summarizing ideas already presented in my last book which still require development (see 2014, Ch. 2, 3, 4). I do this because in the main text of the present work my central aim is rather to justify and clarify my own assumptions on the philosophy of meaning and reference.
   In developing these views, I realized in retrospect that my main goal was essentially to revive a program already speculatively developed by Ernst Tugendhat in his classical work Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die sprachanalytische Philosophie.[1] This book, published in 1976, can be considered the swansong of the old orthodoxy, defending a non-externalist and non-causalist program that was gradually abandoned during the next decade under the ever-growing influence of the new causal-externalist orthodoxy. Tugendhat’s strategy in developing this program can be understood in its core as a semantic analysis of the fundamental singular predicative statement. This statement is not only epistemically fundamental, it is also the indispensable basis for building our first-order truth-functional language.[2] In summary, offering a statement of the form Fa, he suggested that:[3]

1)            the meaning of the singular term a should be given by its identification rule (Identifikationsregel),
2)            the meaning of the general term F should be given by its application rule (Verwendungsregel), which I also call a characterization or (preferably) ascription rule,
3)            the meaning of the complete singular predicative statement Fa should be given by its verifiability rule (Verifikationsregel), which results from the combined application of the first two rules.
(cf. Tugendhat & Wolf 1983: 235-6; Tugendhat 1976: 259, 484, 487-8).

The verifiability rule is in this case obtained by jointly applying the first two rules in such a way that the identification rule of the singular term must be applied first, in order to then use the general term’s ascription rule. Thus, for instance, Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit the Earth from beyond its atmosphere, gazed out of his space capsule and exclaimed: ‘The Earth is blue!’ In order to make this a true statement, he should first have identified the Earth by applying the identification rule of the proper name ‘Earth’; then, based on the result of this application, he would have been able to apply the ascription rule of the predicative expression ‘…is blue.’ In this combined application, these two rules work as a kind of verifiability rule for the statement ‘The Earth is blue.’ That is: if these rules can be conjunctively applied, then the statement is true, otherwise, it is false. Tugendhat saw this not only as a form of verificationism, but also as a kind of correspondence theory of truth – a conclusion contested by some readers.
   In order to test Tugendhat’s view, we can critically ask if it is not possible that we really first apply the ascription rule of a predicative expression. For example, suppose that one night you see something burning at a distance without knowing what is on fire. Only after approaching it do you see that it is an old, abandoned factory. It may seem that in this example you first applied the ascription rule and later the identification rule. However, in suggesting this we forget that to see the fire one must first direct one’s eyes at a certain spatio-temporal spot, thereby localizing the place where something is on fire. Hence, a primitive identification rule for a place was first applied. Hence, initially the statement will not be; ‘That old building is on fire,’ but simply ‘There is a fire… over there.’ Later, when you are closer to the building, you can make a more precise statement. Thus, in this same way while looking out of his space capsule’s window Gagarin could think, ‘There is blue color down below me’, before saying ‘The Earth is blue’. Even in this case, the ascription rule cannot be applied without the earlier application of some identification rule, even if it is one that is only able to identify a vague spatio-temporal region from the window. To expand on the objection, we could consider a statement like ‘It is all a white fog.’ Notwithstanding, even here, ‘It is all…’ expresses an identification rule (of the whole visual field here and now) for the singular term, while ‘…a white fog’ expresses the ascription rule for the general term.
   Tugendhat came to his conclusions as a result of purely speculative considerations, without analyzing the structure of these rules and without answering the many obvious external criticisms of the program, like the numerous well-known objections already made against verificationism. But what is extraordinary is that he was arguably right, since I believe the present book will make it hard to contest his main views.
   My methodological strategies, as will be seen, are also different from those used in the more formally oriented approaches opposed by this book, which are mostly inherited from the philosophy of ideal language in its positivistic developments. My approach is primarily oriented by the communicative and social roles of language, which I use as the fundamental units of analysis. This means that I am more influenced by the so-called ordinary language tradition than by the ideal language tradition.[4] I believe a comprehensive understanding of language must emphasize its unavoidable involvement in overall societal life. Consequently, I assign a heuristic value to common sense and ordinary language intuitions, often seeking support in a more careful examination of concrete examples of how our linguistic expressions are effectively employed.
   Finally, my approach is systematic. The chapters of this book are interconnected so that the plausibility of each is better supported when regarded in its relation to arguments developed in the preceding chapters and their often critical appendices. Even if complementary, these appendices are placed as counterpoints to the chapters, aiming to justify the expressed views, if not to add something to them.






[1] English translation: Traditional and Analytical Philosophy: Lectures on the Philosophy of Language (2016).
[2] In this book I use the word ‘statement’ in most cases as referring to the speech act of making an assertion.
[3] An antecedent of this is J. L. Austin’s correspondence view, according to which an indexical statement (e.g. ‘This rose is red’) is said to be true when the historical fact correlated with its demonstrative convention (here represented by the demonstrative ‘this’) is of the type established by the sentence’s descriptive convention (the red rose type) (Austin 1950: 122). This is a first approximation of conventionalist strategies later employed by Dummett in his interpretation of Frege (cf. 1981: 194, 229) and still later more cogently explored by Tugendhat under some Husserlian influence.
[4] The ideal language tradition (inspired by the logical analysis of language) and the ordinary language tradition (inspired by the real workings of natural language) represent opposed (though arguably complementary) views. The first was founded by Frege, Russell and the early Wittgenstein. It was also strongly associated with philosophers of logical positivism, particularly Rudolf Carnap. With the rise of Nazism in Europe, most philosophers associated with logical positivism fled to the USA, where they strongly influenced American analytical philosophy. The philosophies of W. V-O. Quine, Donald Davidson, and later Kripke, Putnam and David Kaplan, along with the present mainstream philosophy of language with its metaphysics of reference, are in indirect ways later products of ideal language philosophy. The ordinary language tradition, in its turn, was represented after the Second World War by the Oxford School. It was inspired by the analysis of what Austin called ‘the whole speech act in the total speech situation’. Its main theorists were J. L. Austin, Gilbert Ryle and P. F. Strawson, although it had an antecedent in the later philosophy of Wittgenstein and still earlier in G. E. Moore’s commonsense approach. Ordinary language philosophy also affected American philosophy through relatively isolated figures like Paul Grice and John Searle, whose academic influence was foreseeably not as great. For the historical background, see J. O. Urmson (1956).

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