Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sellars, Soames and a little Frege

Sellars holds that candid meaningful linguistic utterances express thoughts.

But the term "express" and the related phrase "express a thought" is 'radically ambiguous'.

1. If candid meaningful linguistic utterances express thoughts, then (A) or (B) is true.

(A) To say of an utterance that it expresses a thought is to say, roughly, that a thought episode causes the utterance.

(B) To say of an utterance that it expresses a thought is to say that the utterance expresses a proposition (i.e., a thought in Frege's sense (Gedanke)—an "abstract entity" rather than a mental episode).

2. Candid meaningful linguistic utterances express thoughts.
3. So (A) or (B) is true. (1, 2 MP)

Sellars is motivated to say (A) is true.

If we distinguish between these two sense of "express" as the "causal" and the "logical", we should distinguish between two sense of "thought" by referring to thinkings and propositions.

So we can draw a diagram thusly:

````````````````````✸ proposition that-p
Thinking that-p ✸ ➝ ✸ speaking that-p

This picture has a mental episode which causes a verbal episode, which expresses an abstract entity.

But something seems to be funny here. What is the relation between thinking that-p and the proposition that-p? Maybe we should treat the relation between speaking and the proposition as the logical produce of the causal relation between the speaking and the thinking and a relation between the thinking and the proposition, thus:

``````````````✸ proposition that-p
Thinking that-p ✸ ➝ ✸ speaking that-p

This roughly means that for a speaking to mean that-p is for it to be caused by a thinking that-p.

Or the first diagram could be used to show that to be a thinking that-p is to be an episode of a sort which causes speakings which express the proposition that-p.

These considerations are based in our trying to make sense of (B).

Sellars would rather work with a more complex framework in which the idea that thinkings belong to "inner speech" is taken seriously, and combined with the idea that expressions in different languages can stand for (express in the logical sense) the same proposition. So we can roughly make the following diagram:

```````````````````````````✸ proposition that-p
`````````````````````❘`````_______❘_______ overt proposition
Mental sentence (type) ✸````✸ sentence in L1 (type) ✸ sentence in L2
`````````````````````⇡````⇡`````````````````````` (type)
```````Thinking that-p ✸ ➝ ✸ speaking that-p

On this account, neither the relation of the speaking to the proposition nor the relation of the thinking to the proposition is to be analyzed as a logical product along the lines of the other diagrams. Sellars intends this claim to be compatible with the idea that there is an internal relation between the idea of a speaking expressing a certain proposition and the speaking being caused, ceteris paribus, by a thinking which expresses the same proposition.

And a footnote to this says that there are two senses of "meaningless utterance": (1) Those utterances which are meaningless if they do not token a properly formed expression in a language. (2) Those utterances which are uttered parrotingly by one who does not know the language.

So what of meaningless mental utterances? We might not call it a thinking, but it would stand to thinkings as meaningless utterances stand to "saying something."

It seems that one could in some sense "say" while "saying nothing" or "think" while "thinking nothing", but then this isn't really saying or thinking in the full-blooded sense. This is what I take Sellars to be hinting at.

Now what Sellars is hinting at here is that intentionality is the mark of the mental but also of language. So thoughts and speech instantiate propositions; but not all brain states or utterances instantiate propositions. So maybe in some sense animals think or speak, but this isn't the intentional stuff that instantiates propositions; non-propositional and non-intentional brain states and utterances can be explained on Sellars' view.

Now it seems to me that Soames has objections to (B) as well, and accepts something roughly like (A). Soames probably would not like Sellars' modeling of thoughts on language, etc. Maybe he'd see what Sellars is hinting at and he'd agree. I don't know.

An important similarity I see is that for both, human beings have to get into the representing game for their thoughts our utterances to encode propositions. It is not that thoughts are intrinsically intentional and later get linked up with language; or that propositions are intrinsically intentional and later get linked up with language.

Instead, thoughts and utterances happen. Sure, so in some sense 'thoughts' and 'language' emerges at some point. Let us call these 'proto-propositional' events. Then at some point, due to human representational activity, 'proto-propositional' events are taken to be propositional. That is, certain things, like thoughts and speech, become taken to be representational.

I just find this interesting and thought I'd share. If what I have said is vague or shady, it is simply because this isn't for marks!

No comments: