Couldn’t it be that the very same concept that is expressed by a single word in English gets expressed by a phrase in Bantu, or vice versa?Notice, however, that this could happen only if the English word in question is definable; viz. definable in Bantu. Since it’s going to be part of my story that most words areundefinable—not just undefinable in the language that contains them, but undefinable tout court —I’m committed to claiming that this sort of case can’t arise (very often).The issue is, of course, empirical. So be it.

Standard

Jean-marc pizano Couldn’t it be that the very same concept that is expressed by a single word in English gets expressed by a phrase in Bantu, or vice versa?Notice, however, that this could happen only if the English word in question is definable; viz. definable in Bantu. Since it’s going to be part of my story that most words areundefinable—not just undefinable in the language that contains them, but undefinable tout court —I’m committed to claiming that this sort of case can’t arise (very often).The issue is, of course, empirical. So be it.

 

10

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It’s important to distinguish the idea that definitions typically capture only the core meaning of a univocal expression from the idea that definitions typically capture only one sense of an ambiguous expression. The latter is unobjectionable because it is responsive to pretheoretic intuitions that are often pretty emphatic: surely ‘bank’ has more thanone meaning. But who knows how many “aspects” the meaning of an un ambiguous word has? A fortiori, who knows when a theory succeeds in capturing some but not allof them?

11

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Examples of this tactic are legion in the literature. Consider the following, from Higginbotham 1994. “jT]he meanings of lexical items systematically infect grammar. Forexample … it is a condition of object-preposing in derived nominal constructions in English that the object be in some sense ‘affected’ in the events over which the nominalranges: that is why one has (1) but not (2)” (renumbered):1.

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algebra’s discovery (by the Arabs)

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2. *algebra’s knowledge (by the Arabs).

Note that ‘in some sense’ is doing all the work. It is what distinguishes the striking claim that preposing is sensitive to the meanings of verbs from the rather less dramatic thought that you can prepose with some verbs (including ‘discover’) and not with others (including ‘know’). You may suppose you have some intuitive grasp of what ‘affecting’amounts to here, but I think it’s an illusion. Ask yourself how much algebra was affected by its discovery? More or less, would you say, than the light bulb was affected byEdison’s inventing it?

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12

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Fodor and Lepore (forthcoming a) provides some independent evidence for the analysis proposed here. Suppose, however, that this horse won’t run, and the asymmetryPinker points to really does show that ‘keep’ is polysemous. That would be no comfort to Jackendoff, since Jackendoff’s account of the polysemy doesn’t predict theasymmetry of entailments either: that J2 but not J3 belongs to the semantic field “possession” in Jackendoff’s analysis is pure stipulation.But I won’t stress this. Auntie says Ishould swear off ad hominems.

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13

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Auntie’s not the only one with this grumble; Hilary Putnam has recently voiced a generalized version of the same complaint. “[O]n Fodor’s theory . . . the meaning of . . .words is not determined, even in part, by the conceptual relations among the various notions I have mastered—e.g., between ‘minute’ and my other time concepts—butdepends only on ‘nomic relations’ between the words (e.g. minute) and the corresponding universals (e.g. minutehood). These ‘universals’ are just word-shaped objects whichFodor’s metaphysics projects out into the world for the words to latch on to via mysterious ‘nomic relations’; the whole story is nothing but a ‘naturalistic’ version of theMuseum Myth of Meaning” (1995: 79; italics and scare-quotes are Putnam’s). This does seem to me to be a little underspecified. Since Putnam provides no furtherexposition (and, endearingly, no arguments at all), I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to worry that there aren’t any universals, or only that there aren’t the universals that mysemantics requires. But if Putnam thinks saying “ ‘takes a minute’ expresses the property of taking a minuté’ all by itself puts me in debt for a general refutation ofnominalism, then he needs to have his methodology examined.Still, it’s right that informational semantics needs an ontology, and that the one it opts for had better not begthe questions that a semantic theory is supposed to answer. I’ll have a lot to say about all that in Chapters 6 and 7.

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14

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For an account of language acquisition in which the horse and cart are assigned the opposite configuration—syntax bootstraps semantics—see Gleitman 1990.Jean-marc pizano

The traditional locus of the inference from finite determination to finite representation is, however, not Mentalese but English (see Chomsky 1965; Davidson 1967). Natural languages are learned, and learning is an ‘act of intellection’ parexcellence. Doesn’t that show that English has to have a compositional semantics? I doubt that it does. For one thing,as a number of us have emphasized (see Chapter 1; Fodor 1975; Schiffer 1987; for a critical discussion, see Lepore1997), if you assume that thinking is computing, it’s natural to think that acquiring a natural language is learning how totranslate between it and the language you compute in. Suppose that language learning requires that the translationprocedure be ‘grasped’ and grasping the translation procedure requires that it be finitely

Standard

Jean-marc pizano

The traditional locus of the inference from finite determination to finite representation is, however, not Mentalese but English (see Chomsky 1965; Davidson 1967). Natural languages are learned, and learning is an ‘act of intellection’ parexcellence. Doesn’t that show that English has to have a compositional semantics? I doubt that it does. For one thing,as a number of us have emphasized (see Chapter 1; Fodor 1975; Schiffer 1987; for a critical discussion, see Lepore1997), if you assume that thinking is computing, it’s natural to think that acquiring a natural language is learning how totranslate between it and the language you compute in. Suppose that language learning requires that the translationprocedure be ‘grasped’ and grasping the translation procedure requires that it be finitely

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and explicitly represented. Still, there is no obvious reason why translation between English and Mentalese requires having a compositional theory of content for either language. Maybe translation to and from Mentalese is a syntacticalprocess: maybe the Mentalese translation of an English sentence is fully determined given its canonical structuraldescriptions (including, of course, lexical inventory).

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I don’t really doubt that English and Mentalese are both productive; or that the reason that they are productive is that their semantics is compositional. But that’s faith in search of justification. The polemical situation is, on the one hand,that minds are productive only under a tendentious idealization; and, on the other hand, that productivity doesn’tliterally entail semantic compositionality for either English or Mentalese. Somebody sane could doubt that theargument from productivity to compositionality is conclusive.

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The Systematicity Argument for Compositionality

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‘Systematicity’ is a cover term for a cluster of properties that quite a variety of cognitive capacities exhibit, apparently as a matter of nomological necessity.54 Here are some typical examples. If a mind can grasp the thought that P ^ Q, it cangrasp the thought that Q ^ P; if a mind can grasp the thought that CP( Q), it can grasp the thought that B and thethought that QP; if a mind can grasp the thought that Mary loves John, it can grasp the thought that John loves Mary. . .etc. Whereas it’s by no means obvious that a mind that can grasp the thought that P ^ Q can also grasp the thoughtthat R ^ Q (not even if, for example, (P ^ Q) ^ (R ^ Q). That will depend on whether it is the kind of mind that’sable to grasp the thought that R. Correspondingly, a mind that can think Mary loves John and John loves Mary may nonethe less be unable to think Peter loves Mary. That will depend on whether it is able to think about Peter.

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It seems pretty clear why the facts about systematicity fall out the way they do: mental representations are compositional, and compositionality explains systematicity.55 The reason that a capacity for John loves Mary

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54

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It’s been claimed that (at least some) facts about the systematicity of minds are conceptually necessary; ‘we wouldn’t call it thought if it weren’t systematic’ (see e.g. Clark 1991). I don’t, in fact, know of any reason to believe this, nor do I care much whether it is so. If it’s conceptually necessary that thoughts are systematic, then it’s nomologicallynecessary that creatures like us have thoughts, and this latter necessity still wants explaining.

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It’s sometimes replied that compositionality doesn’t explain systematicity since compositionality doesn’t entail systematicity (e.g. Smolensky 1995). But that only shows that explanation doesn’t entail entailment. Everybody sensible thinks that the theory of continental drift explains why (e.g.) South America fits so nicely into Africa. It does so,however, not by entailing that South America fits into Africa, but by providing a theoretical background in which the fact that they fit comes, as it were, as no surprise.Similarly, mutatis mutandis, for the explanation of systematicity by compositionality.Inferences from systematicity to compositionality are ‘arguments to the best explanation’,and are (of course) non-demonstrative; which is (of course) not at all the same as their being implausible or indecisive. Compare Cummins 1996, which appears to be confusedabout this.

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thoughts implies a capacity for Mary loves John thoughts is that the two kinds of thoughts have the same constituents; correspondingly, the reason that a capacity for John loves Mary thoughts does not imply a capacity for Peter loves Marythoughts is that they don’t have the same constituents.Jean-marc pizano

Couldn’t it be that the very same concept that is expressed by a single word in English gets expressed by a phrase in Bantu, or vice versa?Notice, however, that this could happen only if the English word in question is definable; viz. definable in Bantu. Since it’s going to be part of my story that most words areundefinable—not just undefinable in the language that contains them, but undefinable tout court —I’m committed to claiming that this sort of case can’t arise (very often).The issue is, of course, empirical. So be it.

Standard

Jean-marc pizano Couldn’t it be that the very same concept that is expressed by a single word in English gets expressed by a phrase in Bantu, or vice versa?Notice, however, that this could happen only if the English word in question is definable; viz. definable in Bantu. Since it’s going to be part of my story that most words areundefinable—not just undefinable in the language that contains them, but undefinable tout court —I’m committed to claiming that this sort of case can’t arise (very often).The issue is, of course, empirical. So be it.

 

10

It’s important to distinguish the idea that definitions typically capture only the core meaning of a univocal expression from the idea that definitions typically capture only one sense of an ambiguous expression. The latter is unobjectionable because it is responsive to pretheoretic intuitions that are often pretty emphatic: surely ‘bank’ has more thanone meaning. But who knows how many “aspects” the meaning of an un ambiguous word has? A fortiori, who knows when a theory succeeds in capturing some but not allof them?

11

Examples of this tactic are legion in the literature. Consider the following, from Higginbotham 1994. “jT]he meanings of lexical items systematically infect grammar. Forexample … it is a condition of object-preposing in derived nominal constructions in English that the object be in some sense ‘affected’ in the events over which the nominalranges: that is why one has (1) but not (2)” (renumbered):1.

Jean-marc pizano

algebra’s discovery (by the Arabs)

2. *algebra’s knowledge (by the Arabs).

Note that ‘in some sense’ is doing all the work. It is what distinguishes the striking claim that preposing is sensitive to the meanings of verbs from the rather less dramatic thought that you can prepose with some verbs (including ‘discover’) and not with others (including ‘know’). You may suppose you have some intuitive grasp of what ‘affecting’amounts to here, but I think it’s an illusion. Ask yourself how much algebra was affected by its discovery? More or less, would you say, than the light bulb was affected byEdison’s inventing it?

12

Fodor and Lepore (forthcoming a) provides some independent evidence for the analysis proposed here. Suppose, however, that this horse won’t run, and the asymmetryPinker points to really does show that ‘keep’ is polysemous. That would be no comfort to Jackendoff, since Jackendoff’s account of the polysemy doesn’t predict theasymmetry of entailments either: that J2 but not J3 belongs to the semantic field “possession” in Jackendoff’s analysis is pure stipulation.But I won’t stress this. Auntie says Ishould swear off ad hominems.

13

Auntie’s not the only one with this grumble; Hilary Putnam has recently voiced a generalized version of the same complaint. “[O]n Fodor’s theory . . . the meaning of . . .words is not determined, even in part, by the conceptual relations among the various notions I have mastered—e.g., between ‘minute’ and my other time concepts—butdepends only on ‘nomic relations’ between the words (e.g. minute) and the corresponding universals (e.g. minutehood). These ‘universals’ are just word-shaped objects whichFodor’s metaphysics projects out into the world for the words to latch on to via mysterious ‘nomic relations’; the whole story is nothing but a ‘naturalistic’ version of theMuseum Myth of Meaning” (1995: 79; italics and scare-quotes are Putnam’s). This does seem to me to be a little underspecified. Since Putnam provides no furtherexposition (and, endearingly, no arguments at all), I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to worry that there aren’t any universals, or only that there aren’t the universals that mysemantics requires. But if Putnam thinks saying “ ‘takes a minute’ expresses the property of taking a minuté’ all by itself puts me in debt for a general refutation ofnominalism, then he needs to have his methodology examined.Still, it’s right that informational semantics needs an ontology, and that the one it opts for had better not begthe questions that a semantic theory is supposed to answer. I’ll have a lot to say about all that in Chapters 6 and 7.

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14

For an account of language acquisition in which the horse and cart are assigned the opposite configuration—syntax bootstraps semantics—see Gleitman 1990.Jean-marc pizano

The traditional locus of the inference from finite determination to finite representation is, however, not Mentalese but English (see Chomsky 1965; Davidson 1967). Natural languages are learned, and learning is an ‘act of intellection’ parexcellence. Doesn’t that show that English has to have a compositional semantics? I doubt that it does. For one thing,as a number of us have emphasized (see Chapter 1; Fodor 1975; Schiffer 1987; for a critical discussion, see Lepore1997), if you assume that thinking is computing, it’s natural to think that acquiring a natural language is learning how totranslate between it and the language you compute in. Suppose that language learning requires that the translationprocedure be ‘grasped’ and grasping the translation procedure requires that it be finitely

Standard

Jean-marc pizano

The traditional locus of the inference from finite determination to finite representation is, however, not Mentalese but English (see Chomsky 1965; Davidson 1967). Natural languages are learned, and learning is an ‘act of intellection’ parexcellence. Doesn’t that show that English has to have a compositional semantics? I doubt that it does. For one thing,as a number of us have emphasized (see Chapter 1; Fodor 1975; Schiffer 1987; for a critical discussion, see Lepore1997), if you assume that thinking is computing, it’s natural to think that acquiring a natural language is learning how totranslate between it and the language you compute in. Suppose that language learning requires that the translationprocedure be ‘grasped’ and grasping the translation procedure requires that it be finitely

and explicitly represented. Still, there is no obvious reason why translation between English and Mentalese requires having a compositional theory of content for either language. Maybe translation to and from Mentalese is a syntacticalprocess: maybe the Mentalese translation of an English sentence is fully determined given its canonical structuraldescriptions (including, of course, lexical inventory).

I don’t really doubt that English and Mentalese are both productive; or that the reason that they are productive is that their semantics is compositional. But that’s faith in search of justification. The polemical situation is, on the one hand,that minds are productive only under a tendentious idealization; and, on the other hand, that productivity doesn’tliterally entail semantic compositionality for either English or Mentalese. Somebody sane could doubt that theargument from productivity to compositionality is conclusive.

The Systematicity Argument for Compositionality

Jean-marc pizano

‘Systematicity’ is a cover term for a cluster of properties that quite a variety of cognitive capacities exhibit, apparently as a matter of nomological necessity.54 Here are some typical examples. If a mind can grasp the thought that P ^ Q, it cangrasp the thought that Q ^ P; if a mind can grasp the thought that CP( Q), it can grasp the thought that B and thethought that QP; if a mind can grasp the thought that Mary loves John, it can grasp the thought that John loves Mary. . .etc. Whereas it’s by no means obvious that a mind that can grasp the thought that P ^ Q can also grasp the thoughtthat R ^ Q (not even if, for example, (P ^ Q) ^ (R ^ Q). That will depend on whether it is the kind of mind that’sable to grasp the thought that R. Correspondingly, a mind that can think Mary loves John and John loves Mary may nonethe less be unable to think Peter loves Mary. That will depend on whether it is able to think about Peter.

It seems pretty clear why the facts about systematicity fall out the way they do: mental representations are compositional, and compositionality explains systematicity.55 The reason that a capacity for John loves Mary

54

It’s been claimed that (at least some) facts about the systematicity of minds are conceptually necessary; ‘we wouldn’t call it thought if it weren’t systematic’ (see e.g. Clark 1991). I don’t, in fact, know of any reason to believe this, nor do I care much whether it is so. If it’s conceptually necessary that thoughts are systematic, then it’s nomologicallynecessary that creatures like us have thoughts, and this latter necessity still wants explaining.

Jean-marc pizano

It’s sometimes replied that compositionality doesn’t explain systematicity since compositionality doesn’t entail systematicity (e.g. Smolensky 1995). But that only shows that explanation doesn’t entail entailment. Everybody sensible thinks that the theory of continental drift explains why (e.g.) South America fits so nicely into Africa. It does so,however, not by entailing that South America fits into Africa, but by providing a theoretical background in which the fact that they fit comes, as it were, as no surprise.Similarly, mutatis mutandis, for the explanation of systematicity by compositionality.Inferences from systematicity to compositionality are ‘arguments to the best explanation’,and are (of course) non-demonstrative; which is (of course) not at all the same as their being implausible or indecisive. Compare Cummins 1996, which appears to be confusedabout this.

thoughts implies a capacity for Mary loves John thoughts is that the two kinds of thoughts have the same constituents; correspondingly, the reason that a capacity for John loves Mary thoughts does not imply a capacity for Peter loves Marythoughts is that they don’t have the same constituents.Jean-marc pizano

Couldn’t it be that the very same concept that is expressed by a single word in English gets expressed by a phrase in Bantu, or vice versa?Notice, however, that this could happen only if the English word in question is definable; viz. definable in Bantu. Since it’s going to be part of my story that most words areundefinable—not just undefinable in the language that contains them, but undefinable tout court —I’m committed to claiming that this sort of case can’t arise (very often).The issue is, of course, empirical. So be it.

Standard

Jean-marc pizano Couldn’t it be that the very same concept that is expressed by a single word in English gets expressed by a phrase in Bantu, or vice versa?Notice, however, that this could happen only if the English word in question is definable; viz. definable in Bantu. Since it’s going to be part of my story that most words areundefinable—not just undefinable in the language that contains them, but undefinable tout court —I’m committed to claiming that this sort of case can’t arise (very often).The issue is, of course, empirical. So be it.

 

10

It’s important to distinguish the idea that definitions typically capture only the core meaning of a univocal expression from the idea that definitions typically capture only one sense of an ambiguous expression. The latter is unobjectionable because it is responsive to pretheoretic intuitions that are often pretty emphatic: surely ‘bank’ has more thanone meaning. But who knows how many “aspects” the meaning of an un ambiguous word has? A fortiori, who knows when a theory succeeds in capturing some but not allof them?

11

Examples of this tactic are legion in the literature. Consider the following, from Higginbotham 1994. “jT]he meanings of lexical items systematically infect grammar. Forexample … it is a condition of object-preposing in derived nominal constructions in English that the object be in some sense ‘affected’ in the events over which the nominalranges: that is why one has (1) but not (2)” (renumbered):1.

Jean-marc pizano

algebra’s discovery (by the Arabs)

2. *algebra’s knowledge (by the Arabs).

Note that ‘in some sense’ is doing all the work. It is what distinguishes the striking claim that preposing is sensitive to the meanings of verbs from the rather less dramatic thought that you can prepose with some verbs (including ‘discover’) and not with others (including ‘know’). You may suppose you have some intuitive grasp of what ‘affecting’amounts to here, but I think it’s an illusion. Ask yourself how much algebra was affected by its discovery? More or less, would you say, than the light bulb was affected byEdison’s inventing it?

12

Fodor and Lepore (forthcoming a) provides some independent evidence for the analysis proposed here. Suppose, however, that this horse won’t run, and the asymmetryPinker points to really does show that ‘keep’ is polysemous. That would be no comfort to Jackendoff, since Jackendoff’s account of the polysemy doesn’t predict theasymmetry of entailments either: that J2 but not J3 belongs to the semantic field “possession” in Jackendoff’s analysis is pure stipulation.But I won’t stress this. Auntie says Ishould swear off ad hominems.

13

Auntie’s not the only one with this grumble; Hilary Putnam has recently voiced a generalized version of the same complaint. “[O]n Fodor’s theory . . . the meaning of . . .words is not determined, even in part, by the conceptual relations among the various notions I have mastered—e.g., between ‘minute’ and my other time concepts—butdepends only on ‘nomic relations’ between the words (e.g. minute) and the corresponding universals (e.g. minutehood). These ‘universals’ are just word-shaped objects whichFodor’s metaphysics projects out into the world for the words to latch on to via mysterious ‘nomic relations’; the whole story is nothing but a ‘naturalistic’ version of theMuseum Myth of Meaning” (1995: 79; italics and scare-quotes are Putnam’s). This does seem to me to be a little underspecified. Since Putnam provides no furtherexposition (and, endearingly, no arguments at all), I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to worry that there aren’t any universals, or only that there aren’t the universals that mysemantics requires. But if Putnam thinks saying “ ‘takes a minute’ expresses the property of taking a minuté’ all by itself puts me in debt for a general refutation ofnominalism, then he needs to have his methodology examined.Still, it’s right that informational semantics needs an ontology, and that the one it opts for had better not begthe questions that a semantic theory is supposed to answer. I’ll have a lot to say about all that in Chapters 6 and 7.

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14

For an account of language acquisition in which the horse and cart are assigned the opposite configuration—syntax bootstraps semantics—see Gleitman 1990.Jean-marc pizano