continuing reflections

12. If we define (as is most frequently done in contemporary Western philosophy of language) language as being in the business of communication of meaning, then the decision is already made to only examine those aspects of language that can be identified as meaningful, i.e., as carriers of meaning. It also then makes those aspects of language that are not employed in communicating explicit meaning (propositional meaning) irrelevant or incomprehensible.

13. This definition of language as communication then entails a theory of meaning, whether explicitly articulated or not.

14. It also entails a theory of mind, again, whether explicitly articulated or not.

15. The combination of these—theory of meaning and theory of mind—most commonly encountered is the encoding-decoding model of language. Thoughts are encoded in language inside one person’s mind, conveyed in speech, and then received as language (speech elements not meaningful filtered out as “noise”), decoded from language to thought and thereby understood. This is similar to what John Sutton (following the terminology of Christopher Gauker: calls “expressivism”— the “thesis that (to put it strongly) the primary function of natural language is (merely) to express or communicate thoughts” (“Cognitive conceptions of language and the development of autobiographical memory” in Language and Communication, 22 [2002], 375–90: 381).

16. As elegant as this model may seem, I believe it is not descriptive, but rather an analytic artifice.

17. It implies that meaning exists solely in the mind, and prelinguistically—both problematic. This is not, however, to opt for the other conception of mind and language identified by Sutton, that is “lingualism”—the idea that thought is inherently linguistic in nature (Sutton, 380).

18. One of the problems with such an analytic arifice is that it is uncritically adopted, and being taken as explanatory becomes the way in which experience is experienced—it prestructures experience without reflection, autonomically.

19. Allegory of the Pizza: once upon a time, I went to a pizza restaurant (House of Pizza, still there, I just checked), located just west of downtown San José. The pizza came to the table cut in squares (I don’t know if they still do it this way). Having only seen pizza cut in “pie” shaped pieces, you can imagine my puzzlement at this novelty. The shape of pieces of pizza is conventional.

20. The point of the allegory is that the divisions we make between things are in some cases reflective of “natural” divisions, while in other cases they are conventional. This where language exists in the mental process of communication may be a conventional division, reflecting the analysis—and not a natural division. Does analysis, in other words, identify or create? Because of the power of “self-models” to structure experience, this question is very difficult to answer for aspects of mind. They can come to be experienced as “natural” despite having been learned.

21. Disappearing Metaphors: models of the mind seem to have always employed technological metaphors (think of Plato’s metaphor of the chariot with its two horses), and such metaphors are therefore limited to the technology of the time. For examples, Freud’s hydrodynamics, and the idea of “psychic energy.”

22. Modern theories of language and mind arise out of technologies of secrecy of communication in WWII. Consider Turing having been a cryptologist for the British. Hence the “encoding–decoding” model of communication.

23. Similarly for the theory of mind—the feedback loop as a form of self-regulating mechanism, as with cybernetics (Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, et al.). The metaphors become concealed, disappear into the mists of history, leaving only the unnuanced outlines as literal. This is not the same, at least as far as I recall, as what Ricoeur calls “dead” metaphors.


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