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Table of contents
- The Ontology of Meinongianism
- Departament of Ontology and Theory of Knowledge - Units and Staff - Main page
- Philosophy of language
- Varieties of philosophical realism
Reductionist models attempt to explain higher-level mental processes in terms of the basic low-level neurophysiological activity of the brain. An important problem which touches both philosophy of language and philosophy of mind is to what extent language influences thought and vice versa. There have been a number of different perspectives on this issue, each offering a number of insights and suggestions.
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Linguists Sapir and Whorf suggested that language limited the extent to which members of a "linguistic community" can think about certain subjects a hypothesis paralleled in George Orwell 's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Philosopher Michael Dummett is also a proponent of the "language-first" viewpoint. The stark opposite to the Sapir—Whorf position is the notion that thought or, more broadly, mental content has priority over language. The "knowledge-first" position can be found, for instance, in the work of Paul Grice. According to his argument, spoken and written language derive their intentionality and meaning from an internal language encoded in the mind.
Another argument is that it is difficult to explain how signs and symbols on paper can represent anything meaningful unless some sort of meaning is infused into them by the contents of the mind. One of the main arguments against is that such levels of language can lead to an infinite regress. Another tradition of philosophers has attempted to show that language and thought are coextensive — that there is no way of explaining one without the other. Donald Davidson, in his essay "Thought and Talk", argued that the notion of belief could only arise as a product of public linguistic interaction.
Daniel Dennett holds a similar interpretationist view of propositional attitudes. Some thinkers, like the ancient sophist Gorgias , have questioned whether or not language was capable of capturing thought at all.
The Ontology of Meinongianism
There are studies that prove that languages shape how people understand causality. Some of them were performed by Lera Boroditsky. For example, English speakers tend to say things like "John broke the vase" even for accidents. However, Spanish or Japanese speakers would be more likely to say "the vase broke itself. Later everyone was asked whether they could remember who did what. Spanish and Japanese speakers did not remember the agents of accidental events as well as did English speakers.
Russian speakers, who make an extra distinction between light and dark blue in their language, are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue. The Piraha , a tribe in Brazil , whose language has only terms like few and many instead of numerals, are not able to keep track of exact quantities. In one study German and Spanish speakers were asked to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages.
The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a "key"—a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish—the German speakers were more likely to use words like "hard," "heavy," "jagged," "metal," "serrated," and "useful," whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say "golden," "intricate," "little," "lovely," "shiny," and "tiny. In a series of studies conducted by Gary Lupyan, people were asked to look at a series of images of imaginary aliens.
They had to guess whether each alien was friendly or hostile, and after each response they were told if they were correct or not, helping them learn the subtle cues that distinguished friend from foe. A quarter of the participants were told in advance that the friendly aliens were called "leebish" and the hostile ones "grecious", while another quarter were told the opposite. For the rest, the aliens remained nameless.
It was found that participants who were given names for the aliens learned to categorize the aliens far more quickly, reaching 80 per cent accuracy in less than half the time taken by those not told the names. By the end of the test, those told the names could correctly categorize 88 per cent of aliens, compared to just 80 per cent for the rest.
Departament of Ontology and Theory of Knowledge - Units and Staff - Main page
It was concluded that naming objects helps us categorize and memorize them. In another series of experiments  a group of people was asked to view furniture from an IKEA catalog. Half the time they were asked to label the object — whether it was a chair or lamp, for example — while the rest of the time they had to say whether or not they liked it.
It was found that when asked to label items, people were later less likely to recall the specific details of products, such as whether a chair had arms or not. It was concluded that labeling objects helps our minds build a prototype of the typical object in the group at the expense of individual features. The topic that has received the most attention in the philosophy of language has been the nature of meaning, to explain what "meaning" is, and what we mean when we talk about meaning.
Philosophy of language
Within this area, issues include: the nature of synonymy , the origins of meaning itself, our apprehension of meaning, and the nature of composition the question of how meaningful units of language are composed of smaller meaningful parts, and how the meaning of the whole is derived from the meaning of its parts. There have been several distinctive explanations of what a linguistic "meaning" is. Each has been associated with its own body of literature.
Other theories exist to discuss non-linguistic meaning i. Investigations into how language interacts with the world are called theories of reference. Gottlob Frege was an advocate of a mediated reference theory. Frege divided the semantic content of every expression, including sentences, into two components: sense and reference. The sense of a sentence is the thought that it expresses.
Such a thought is abstract, universal and objective. The sense of any sub-sentential expression consists in its contribution to the thought that its embedding sentence expresses. Senses determine reference and are also the modes of presentation of the objects to which expressions refer.
Varieties of philosophical realism
Referents are the objects in the world that words pick out. The senses of sentences are thoughts, while their referents are truth values true or false. The referents of sentences embedded in propositional attitude ascriptions and other opaque contexts are their usual senses.
Bertrand Russell , in his later writings and for reasons related to his theory of acquaintance in epistemology , held that the only directly referential expressions are, what he called, "logically proper names". Logically proper names are such terms as I , now , here and other indexicals. Hence Donald J. Trump may be an abbreviation for "the current President of the United States and husband of Melania Trump. Such phrases denote in the sense that there is an object that satisfies the description. However, such objects are not to be considered meaningful on their own, but have meaning only in the proposition expressed by the sentences of which they are a part.
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Hence, they are not directly referential in the same way as logically proper names, for Russell. On Frege's account, any referring expression has a sense as well as a referent. Such a "mediated reference" view has certain theoretical advantages over Mill's view. For example, co-referential names, such as Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain , cause problems for a directly referential view because it is possible for someone to hear "Mark Twain is Samuel Clemens" and be surprised — thus, their cognitive content seems different.
Despite the differences between the views of Frege and Russell, they are generally lumped together as descriptivists about proper names. Such descriptivism was criticized in Saul Kripke 's Naming and Necessity.
Kripke put forth what has come to be known as "the modal argument" or "argument from rigidity". Consider the name Aristotle and the descriptions "the greatest student of Plato", "the founder of logic" and "the teacher of Alexander". Aristotle obviously satisfies all of the descriptions and many of the others we commonly associate with him , but it is not necessarily true that if Aristotle existed then Aristotle was any one, or all, of these descriptions.
Aristotle may well have existed without doing any single one of the things for which he is known to posterity. He may have existed and not have become known to posterity at all or he may have died in infancy. Suppose that Aristotle is associated by Mary with the description "the last great philosopher of antiquity" and the actual Aristotle died in infancy. Then Mary's description would seem to refer to Plato.
But this is deeply counterintuitive. Hence, names are rigid designators , according to Kripke. That is, they refer to the same individual in every possible world in which that individual exists. In the same work, Kripke articulated several other arguments against " Frege—Russell " descriptivism  see also Kripke's causal theory of reference. It is worth noting that the whole philosophical enterprise of studying reference has been critiqued by linguist Noam Chomsky in various works. A common claim is that language is governed by social conventions.
Questions inevitably arise on surrounding topics. One question is, "What exactly is a convention, and how do we study it? However, this view seems to compete to some extent with the Gricean view of speaker's meaning, requiring either one or both to be weakened if both are to be taken as true. Some have questioned whether or not conventions are relevant to the study of meaning at all.
Noam Chomsky proposed that the study of language could be done in terms of the I-Language, or internal language of persons. If this is so, then it undermines the pursuit of explanations in terms of conventions, and relegates such explanations to the domain of "meta-semantics". Metasemantics is a term used by philosopher of language Robert Stainton to describe all those fields that attempt to explain how semantic facts arise.
Etymology the study of the origins of words and stylistics philosophical argumentation over what makes "good grammar", relative to a particular language are two other examples of fields that are taken to be meta-semantic. Not surprisingly, many separate but related fields have investigated the topic of linguistic convention within their own research paradigms.