Archive for the ‘philosophy of language’ Category
“Is the Speed of Light Knowable A priori?”
İlhan İnan (Boğaziçi University)
Abstract: Given the current “definition” of the concept of meter a simple argument appears to show that some scientists could come to know the answer to the question “how many meters does light travel in a vacuum in one second?” without having to do any observations or calculations. It would then seem that their knowledge of the speed of light would have some unusual epistemic properties such as being certain, infallible and indubitable, and perhaps also analytic. What is more shocking is that we may also be able to conclude that these scientists know the speed of light a priori. This appears to be a new version of the puzzle about how long the “standard meter bar” is, which Wittgenstein discusses in his Philosophical Investigations, later taken up by Saul Kripke in Naming and Necessity yielding the puzzling conclusion that certain contingent truths are knowable a priori. In this talk I discuss how the new version of the puzzle differs from the old one, why Nathan Salmon’s and Keith Donnellan’s “solutions” to the old puzzle are really not solutions, how the current literature on mental files can be employed to approach the puzzle. I then argue the notion of apriority employed in the argument requires further elaboration so that we may conclude, following Nenad Miscevic, that “interesting a priori knowledge cannot be gotten for cheap.”
Date: Wednesday 7 December, 2016
Peter Hagoort (Radboud) will give a talk at Koc University on Monday December 23rd from 5-7pm. on:
“On Speaking Terms with the Social Brain”
Details can be found here.
ABSTRACT: Despite a large amount of genetic overlap between humans and other primates, the expansion of the human brain is both substantial and remarkable. Two interrelated evolutionary developments might have provided the selectional pressures that resulted in our enlarged brains. One is the increased complexity of the social organization in human tribes. The other is the emergence of an intricate and open-ended communication system: language. I will discuss recent evidence from brain imaging that provides insights into the psychological and neurobiological infrastructure for our social behaviour and for human communication. I will show that social conformity in humans is regulated by dopamine in the reward system. I will also show that inferences about the intentions behind the exchange of linguistic utterances depend on the Theory of Mind network in the brain. Moreover, the brain measures indicate substantial individual differences, explaining why not all humans are equally equipped with social and communicative skills.
ABSTRACT: Throughout the 20th century it was a common idea in philosophy of language that for an expression to be meaningful is for it to be governed by a rule of use. For example, it was mentioned by Peter Strawson, David Kaplan, John Perry, and Scott Soames. However, nobody went past very general remarks in discussing it. Even worse, it came to be widely seen as inconsistent with “truth-conditional semantics” and subject to the so-called Frege-Geach problem. This led other philosophers to view the idea as vague and mystical, too radical and obviously problematic, and think of it as ultimately not really worth our time because of there being clear and tractable formal substitutes like characters. For example, here’s Jason Stanley’s summary assessment of it in his survey article “Philosophy of Language in the Twentieth Century” (my emphasis):
“Whereas the notion of a rule of use is vague and mystical, Kaplan’s notion of the character of an expression is not only clear, but set theoretically explicable in terms of fundamental semantic notions. (Stanley 2008)”
My aim in this paper is to take this idea and first make it precise and demystify it. I then want to show that it’s consistent with “truth-conditional semantics” and thus not radical and that it’s not subject to the Frege-Geach problem and thus not obviously problematic. Finally, I will argue that it is very much worth our time because it can explainwhy doing descriptive semantics in terms of characters works in the first place, and because it enables us to provide a semantics for expressions which we can’t give one in terms of characters.