FREE ELECTRONIC LIBRARY - Dissertations, online materials

Pages:   || 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |   ...   | 8 |

«It is a familiar philosophical idea, one that undoubtedly contains much truth, that experience makes an essential contribution to contents of ...»

-- [ Page 1 ] --

The Relationship of Experience to Thought

Anil Gupta

University of Pittsburgh

It is a familiar philosophical idea, one that undoubtedly contains much truth, that experience

makes an essential contribution to contents of thoughts—that without a proper relationship to

experience, thought is empty. To isolate the truth contained in this idea we need to become

clearer on contents of thoughts and on the precise relationship of experience to these contents.

These are the goals of the present essay. The goals are large and distant, and I shall be satisfied if I manage to take a few steps in the right direction.

We need to address a preliminary question before we embark on our project: how should we conceive of thoughts? I suggest we follow the lead of Plato and Sellars and model thoughts as inner speech (or inner writing or inner typing—it does not matter which). Let us take thoughts to have logical structure analogous to that of out-loud sayings, and let us use the same logical vocabulary for thinkings and sayings. So, we can classify certain thinkings and sayings as suppositions; we can call their constituents terms; we can speak of these constituents as expressing concepts and as denoting particulars or universals; and so on. We can move back and forth between sayings and thinkings, and between constituents of sayings and constituents of thinking. Points made for one will hold, mutatis mutandis, for the other.

It may be objected that the Plato-Sellars model is too intellectual, that it denies thought to mute animals. Response: May be so, but my present project is intellectual. I am concerned to understand the logic of empirical inquiry, an inquiry that is discursive. I want to understand such things as what sorts of challenges are proper, what demands for justification are legitimate, and what connections to experience are necessary for content. For this logical inquiry, the Plato- Sellars model of thinking is, prima facie, a good starting point. By adopting the model, I am not denying the possibility of a broader conception of thought, one not so closely tied to language.

Such a conception may well be desirable, even necessary, for certain inquiries. The present inquiry The Relationship of Experience to Thought — Page 2 provides, however, no immediate reason to seek such a conception. We should not fritter away our limited resources chasing a new model of thought when an older one will serve us just as well.

We can always revisit the old model if we encounter problems and we suspect the model to be a contributing factor.

A. Conceptual Criticism

1. Men often, John Locke tells us, “set their Thoughts more on Words than Things” and “speak several Words, no otherwise than Parrots do” (Essay, III.ii.7). This parroting of meaningless words is, if not excusable, at least understandable. Words being superficially all similar, it is easy to suppose that they must be meaningful simply because we use them in familiar constructions in familiar ways.1 Superficial impressions can be misleading, however. Just as we critically assess assertions and beliefs for truth and rationality, similarly we can (and should) critically examine words and concepts for meaningfulness and rational legitimacy. This critical inquiry can be expected to issue injunctions. Locke’s own injunction was this: “A Man should take care to use no word without a signification, no Name without an Idea for which he makes it stand” (Essay, III.xi.8).

2. David Hume follows Locke in his own pursuit of the critical inquiry, and he offers us a crisp

methodological maxim:

When we entertain, therefore, any suspicion, that a philosophical term is employed without any meaning or idea (as is but too frequent), we need but enquire, from what impression is that supposed idea derived? And if it be impossible to assign any, this will serve to confirm our suspicion. (Enquiry, §2) 1 A terminological note. Philosophers associate a variety of items with words and concepts: reference, signification, sense, character, idea, and so on. Some of these associations I shall acknowledge and explain below. I reserve ‘meaning’ and ‘content’ to talk generally, and sometimes intedeterminately, about these different associations.

The Relationship of Experience to Thought — Page 3 Hume’s maxim rests on a particular conception of thought and experience. “All the materials of thinking,” Hume tells us, “are derived either from our outward or inward sentiment,” from what Hume calls ‘impressions’. Thoughts and ideas are “copies of our impressions”; they are “less forcible and lively” (Enquiry, §2). Hence, if we cannot find an original impression from which the supposed meaning of a term is derived then we have reason to suspect that the term lacks any meaning.

Hume’s conception of experience and thought is undoubtedly erroneous. Experience does not acquaint us with, nor even necessarily presents us with, impressions. “Less forcible and lively” copies of impressions may exist, but these are neither thoughts nor the primary concern of our thoughts. Still, Hume is correct in the general shape in which he casts his critical maxim.

Experience is a foundation of meaning; thoughts and words gain content, in part at least, through their relationship to experience; and a lack of proper relationship is ground for conceptual criticism. The question before us is this: what are the mechanisms through which experience endows language and thought with meaning?

3. Bertrand Russell’s views on experience and thought underwent large shifts through his long philosophical career. Nevertheless, he remained firm on a principle that links the two. In his 1912 book, Problems of Philosophy, Russell formulated the principle thus: “every proposition which we can understand must be composed wholly of constituents with which we are acquainted” (p.

58). Almost a half-century later, Russell reaffirmed his principle, but with some interesting

changes in formulation:

I have maintained a principle, which still seems to me completely valid, to the effect that, if we understand what a sentence means, it must be composed entirely of words denoting things with which we are acquainted or definable in terms of such words. It is perhaps necessary to place some limitation upon this principle as regards logical words—e.g. or, not, some, all.2 The new formulation speaks of sentences whereas the earlier one spoke of propositions. This

–  –  –

change is inessential in light of the background assumption (which I shall accept) that we understand a sentence iff we understand the proposition the sentence expresses.3 The new formulation is a little incautious, however. It neglects the possibility that the sentence may contain context-sensitive words such as ‘I’ and ‘you’. But the problem is easily fixed: we should understand the principle not to be about sentences but to be about particular uses of sentences.

The other change in formulation is in the qualification, tentatively put forward in the extract above, concerning logical words. In 1912, Russell was happy to countenance acquaintance with the meanings of logical words and to regard this acquaintance as a source of substantive knowledge. Later, under the influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein, he abandoned this idea. He came to believe that “logic consists wholly of tautologies.”4 If we bracket the issue of our knowledge of logic, then we can formulate Russell’s principle as follows. Russell would have accepted this formulation in 1912, I think, and also a half-century later.

Russell’s Principle. We understand what a sentence means (on an occasion of use) only if all the words composing it either are logical words or are words denoting things with which we are acquainted or are definable in terms of such words.5 Russell offered in 1912 an argument for his principle that too, I think, he would have accepted a

half-century later:

It is scarcely conceivable that we can make a judgement or entertain a supposition without knowing what it is that we are judging or supposing about. We must attach some meaning to the words we use, if we are to speak significantly and not utter mere noise; and the meaning we attach to our words must be something with which we are acquainted.6

–  –  –

Consider a word that is neither logical nor definable in terms of other words. If we use it meaningfully, if we are not uttering “mere noise,” we must attach a meaning to it. This meaning, Russell tells us, must be “something with which we are acquainted.” Russell had a foundationalist theory of meaning. According to this theory, certain words are basic—namely, some logical words and words that denote things with which we are acquainted. The meanings of the rest of the words, and of expressions, can be reduced to the meanings of basic words. A meaningful sentence, in particular, denotes a proposition which, apart from logical items, is “composed wholly of constituents with which we are acquainted.” Note also that Russell had a monistic theory of meaning. Russell recognized only one semantical relation: denotation. Meaning at the basic level, according to Russell, is to be identified with denotation; and understanding meaning is to be identified with acquaintance with the denotation. A basic non-logical word that denotes nothing is meaningless; it is “mere noise.”

4. Russell’s Principle is in the right form to serve as a foundation for conceptual criticism. We can use it to show that an expression is meaningless if we can show that one of the non-logical words composing it neither denotes anything with which we are acquainted nor is definable in terms of such words. The crucial question for applying the principle is this: what precisely are the items with which we are acquainted? Now, Russell held, early and late, that experience acquaints us with some items. The Russell of 1912 also held that we have a Platonic, non-experiential acquaintance with universals. The scope of this non-experiential acquaintance is plainly crucial for applications of the principle. So, what is its scope? How do we tell whether we have acquaintance with a purported universal or not? Russell’s answer here blunts completely the critical force of his principle: “among universals, there seems to be no principle by which we can decide which can be known by acquaintance.”7 It follows that no principled criticism is possible that an expression is meaningless. In a debate over the meaningfulness of a term, it would always be open for the defenders of the term to invoke Platonic acquaintance with a universal, and thus bring the debate to an impasse.

5. The scope of Russellian acquaintance was sharply narrowed in the theories of the early Logical

–  –  –

Positivists. Through definitions, Rudolf Carnap tells us, “every word of the language is reduced to other words and finally to the words which occur in the so-called ‘observation sentences’ and ‘protocol sentences’. It is through this reduction that the word acquires its meaning.”8 We have here a transformation of Russell’s Principle into a powerful critical tool. Basic non-logical words to which all other words are reducible extend no further than those that occur in observation sentences. The meanings of these words we learn through experience; in effect, experience acquaints us with their denotations.

Now, Carnap acknowledges that the scope of observation sentences is debatable.

Nevertheless, logical analysis of meaning, he argues, “pronounces the verdict of meaninglessness on any alleged knowledge that pretends to reach above or behind experience” (76). What falls in

this realm of meaninglessness? Carnap’s response is bold:

In the domain of metaphysics, including all philosophy of value and normative theory, logical analysis yields the negative result that the alleged statements in this domain are entirely meaningless. Therewith a radical elimination of metaphysics is attained. (61) Russell’s Principle is, thus, deployed to excise a large body of our discourse as meaningless. I should stress that the discourse excised is held to lack only descriptive or cognitive meaning.

Carnap allows that it may possess some other kind of meaning, say, expressive meaning. It may, in Carnap’s words, “serve for the expression of the general attitude of a person towards life” (78). But, even here, Carnap is scathing about metaphysics: “metaphysicians are musicians without musical ability” (80).

6. Conceptual criticism reached its zenith in the early Positivists. Its subsequent decline was steep and swift. The critique that delivered the verdict of meaninglessness for metaphysics was applicable also to science, an enterprise the Positivists revered. Scientific terms, like metaphysical ones, could not be reduced to observation terms; if metaphysics was meaningless, so also was science.

–  –  –

Pages:   || 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |   ...   | 8 |

Similar works:

«Externalizing Behavior in Post-Institutionalized Children: An Examination of Parent Emotion Socialization Practices, Respiratory-Sinus Arrhythmia, and Skin Conductance A Dissertation SUBMITTED TO THE FACULTY OF UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA BY Adriana Marie Herrera IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY Megan R. Gunnar Bonnie Klimes-Dougan May 2014 © Adriana Marie Herrera 2014 Acknowledgements I would like to acknowledge those people who provided invaluable...»

«Simulating the Effect of Microclimate on Human Behavior in Small Urban Spaces By Fung Ki LAM A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Department of Architecture in the Graduate Division of the University of California, Berkeley Committee in charge: Prof. Yehuda Kalay, Chair Prof. Ed Arens Prof. Peter Bosselmann Fall 2011 Abstract Simulating the Effect of Microclimate on Human Behavior in Small Urban Spaces, by Fung Ki Lam...»

«Instructions for use Numerical Simulation of Gas Flow with Electrochemical Reaction in a Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cell by K. M. Salah Uddin A dissertation presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in the Division of Mechanical and Space Engineering Hokkaido University, Japan September 2013 ABSTRACT The aim of this dissertation was to investigate the performance of Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cell (PEFC). The investigation involved...»

«Grief Primer Compiled by J. Block, 2011 Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak Whispers the o’erfraught heart, and bids it break. ~ William Shakespeare Definitions of Grief 2 Types of Grief 2 Realistic Expectations 3 Common Grief Reactions 4 The Mourner’s Bill of Rights 5 A Soulful Philosophy of Grief Care 7 Possible Goals for the Grief Process 8 Coping with Grief 9 Special Days & Anniversaries 11 Loss & the Family 12 Books about Grief 14 Poems about Grief 15 1...»

«Media Tables: An extensible method for developing multi-user media interaction platforms for shared spaces Alexandra Mazalek Bachelor of Science, University of Toronto, 1999 Master of Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001 Submitted to the Program in Media Arts and Sciences, School of Architecture and Planning in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology September 2005 © Massachusetts Institute of...»


«Natural Language Processing Tools for Reading Level Assessment and Text Simplification for Bilingual Education Sarah E. Petersen A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy University of Washington 2007 Program Authorized to Offer Degree: Computer Science & Engineering University of Washington Graduate School This is to certify that I have examined this copy of a doctoral dissertation by Sarah E. Petersen and have found that it...»

«On (Non)Factivity, Clausal Complementation and the CP-Field A Dissertation Presented by Carlos Francisco de Cuba to The Graduate School in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics Stony Brook University August 2007 Stony Brook University The Graduate School Carlos Francisco de Cuba We, the dissertation committee for the above candidate for the Doctor of Philosophy degree, Hereby recommend acceptance of this dissertation Daniel L. Finer...»

«Ultra-thin highly absorbing medium-based optical nanocavity for photonic and optoelectronic devices by Kyu-Tae Lee A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Electrical Engineering) in the University of Michigan 2015 Doctoral Committee: Professor L. Jay Guo, Chair Associate Professor Jinsang Kim Professor Jamie D. Phillips Associate Professor Zhaohui Zhong © Kyu-Tae Lee All Rights Reserved 2015 TO MY FAMILY AND DEAR MY WIFE ii...»

«THE WORD MADE CINEMATIC: THE REPRESENTATION OF JESUS IN CINEMA by Gregory Kahlil Kareem Allen B.A. Film Studies, University of Pittsburgh, 1997 M.A. English Literature, University of Pittsburgh, 2002 Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy University of Pittsburgh 2008 UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH ARTS AND SCIENCES This dissertation was presented by Gregory Kahlil Kareem Allen It was defended on April...»

«Development of a Neurostimulation Method Using Pulsed Ultrasound by Yusuf Zahid Tufail A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy Approved March 2011 by the Graduate Supervisory Committee: William Tyler, Chair Carsten Duch Jitendran Muthuswamy Marco Santello Stephen Tillery ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY May 2011 UMI Number: 3453551 All rights reserved INFORMATION TO ALL USERS The quality of this reproduction is dependent upon the quality...»

«    Koliba  CV  Updated:  December  2012       Christopher J. Koliba Work Address: Home Address: 103 Morrill Hall, Burlington, VT 05405 379 Marshall Rd., Duxbury, VT 05676 ckoliba@uvm.edu; 802-656-3772 802-244-4927 EDUCATION 1998. Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Interdisciplinary Social Science Program. Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs. Syracuse University. 1992. Master of Public Administration (MPA). Public Administration Department. Maxwell School of Citizenship...»

<<  HOME   |    CONTACTS
2016 www.dissertation.xlibx.info - Dissertations, online materials

Materials of this site are available for review, all rights belong to their respective owners.
If you do not agree with the fact that your material is placed on this site, please, email us, we will within 1-2 business days delete him.