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

jean-marc pizano

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

jean-marc pizano

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)

jean-marc pizano

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?

jean-marc pizano

12

jean-marc pizano

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.

jean-marc pizano

13

jean-marc pizano

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.

Jean-marc pizano

14

jean-marc pizano

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

3 The Demise of Definitions, Part I: The Linguist’sTale

Standard

Jean-marc pizano

3 The Demise of Definitions, Part I: The Linguist’s

Tale

Certain matters would appear to get carried certain distances whether one wishes them to or not, unfortunately. —David Markham, Wittgenstein’s Mistress

Introduction

I want to consider the question whether concepts are definitions. And let’s, just for the novelty, start with some propositions that are clearly true:

1. You can’t utter the expression ‘brown cow’ without uttering the word ‘brown’.

2. You can utter the word ‘bachelor’ without uttering the word ‘unmarried’.

jean-marc pizano

The asymmetry between 1 and 2 will be granted even by those who believe that the “semantic representation” of ‘bachelor’ (its representation, as linguists say, “at the semantic level”) is a complex object which contains, inter alia, thesemantic representation of ‘unmarried’.

jean-marc pizano

Now for something that’s a little less obvious:

jean-marc pizano

3. You can’t entertain the M(ental) R(epresentation) BROWN COW without entertaining the MR BROWN.

jean-marc pizano

4. You can‘t entertain the M(ental) R(epresentation) BACHELOR without entertaining the MR UNMARRIED.

I’m going to take it for granted that 3 is true. I have my reasons; they’ll emerge in Chapter 5. Suffice it, for now, that anybody who thinks that 3 and the like are false will certainly think that 4 and the like are false; and that 4 and the likeare indeed false is the main conclusion this chapter aims at. I pause, however, to remark that 3 is meant to betendentious. It claims not just what everyone admits, viz. that anything that satisfies BROWN COW inter alia satisfiesBROWN, viz. that brow cows are ipso facto brown.

jean-marc pizano

Jean-marc pizano

Proposition 3 says, moreover, that to think the content brown cow is, inter alia, to think the concept BROWN, and that would be false if the mental representation that expresses brown cow is atomic; like, for example, BROWNCOW.

What about 4? Here again there is a way of reading what’s being claimed that makes it merely truistic: viz. by not distinguishing concept identity from content identity. It’s not, I suppose, unreasonable (for the present illustrativepurposes, I don’t care whether it’s true) to claim that the content bachelor and the content unmarried man are one and thesame. For example, if concepts express properties, then it‘s not unreasonable to suppose that BACHELOR andUNMARRIED MAN express the same property. If so, and if one doesn’t distinguish between content identity andconcept identity, then of course it follows that you can’t think BACHELOR without thinking UNMARRIED (unlessyou can think UNMARRIED MAN without thinking UNMARRIED. Which let’s just concede that you can’t).1

jean-marc pizano

However, since we are distinguishing content identity from concept identity, we’re not going to read 4 that way. Remember that RTM is in force, and RTM says that to each tokening of a mental state with the contentso-and-so therecorresponds a tokening of a mental representation with the content so-and-so. In saying this, RTM explicitly means toleave open the possibility that different (that is, type distinct) mental representations might correspond to the samecontent; hence the analogy between mental representations and modes of presentation that I stressed in Chapter 2. Inthe present case, the concession that being a bachelor and being an unmarried man are the same thing is meant toleave open the question whether BACHELOR and UNMARRIED MAN are the same concept.

Jean-marc pizano

RTM also says that (infinitely many, but not all) mental representations have constituent structure; in particular that there are both complex

jean-marc pizano

mental representations and primitive mental representations, and that the former have the latter as proper parts. We are now in a position to make expository hay out of this assumption; we can rephrase the claim that is currently beforethe house as:

jean-marc pizano

5. The M(ental) R(epresentation) UNMARRIED, which is a constituent of the MR UNMARRIED MAN, islikewise a constituent of the MR BACHELOR.

jean-marc pizano

Here’s a standard view: the concept BACHELOR is expressed by the word “bachelor”, and the word “bachelor” is definable; it means the same as the phrase “unmarried man”. In the usual case, the mental representation thatcorresponds to a concept that corresponds to a definable word is complex: in particular, the mental representation thatcorresponds to a definable word usually has the same constituent structure as the mental representation thatcorresponds to its definition.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.

Jean-marc pizano

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

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.

Jean-marc pizano

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