How Is Language Possible? Philosophical Reflections on the Evolution of Language and Knowledge

How Is Language Possible? Philosophical Reflections on the Evolution of Language and Knowledge

How Is Language Possible? Philosophical Reflections on the Evolution of Language and Knowledge

How Is Language Possible? Philosophical Reflections on the Evolution of Language and Knowledge

Synopsis

In this revolutionary study of the philosophical problems of language, J. N. Hattiangadi offers a new approach which simultaneously solves several venerable conundrums in the origin and development of language and thought. His argument includes acute criticisms of the later Wittgenstein's theory of language use, Quine's approach to subjunctive conditionals, Kripke's analysis of proper names, and Chomsky's conjecture of an innate universal grammar.

Excerpt

The title of this book might well remind the reader of Kant, who is best known for asking questions of this form. Such is Kant's influence that I would be naive to deny it. But it is nevertheless my belief that my answer is quite unlike those given by Kant to similar questions.

Kant described questions of this form as proper to philosophy, whereas science asks more factual questions. Philosophy therefore establishes possibilities and conceivabilities (and impossibilities and inconceivabilities, too). In contrast to this, science describes what is the case, by strict attention to fact.

The idea of a philosophy which need concern itself with no factual detail was a liberating influence on philosophy. But the philosophy it let loose turned out to be far from liberal, and prompted Kant, who was an Enlightened philosopher, to say that with friends such as those who spoke for him he did not need enemies.

So powerful was Kant's idea of a prior subject, freed from any need to address factual detail, that it continues to flourish long after philosophers have ceased to invoke Kant. While philosophers are disagreed on everything else, most are agreed that in philosophy one studies the framework of knowledge, and not any body of facts, which are left to the different natural and social sciences, the arts, and the technologies.

How is empirical knowledge possible? Kant thought that if a mind must know something in the world by or through sense perception, then that which is known must be similar to our idea of it. This thought is Berkeley's, but it was given a profound new twist by Kant, who suggested that certain features of the objects known to us are features not of the objects in themselves, apart from our knowledge of them, but of the objects as they appear to us. Eddington explicated this thought with the elegant metaphor of the mind as a fishing net--we cast the net into the sea; the scientist studies the fish picked up, and notices a minimum size--a fact, about those fish, no doubt. But the size of the mesh in the net determines this, and not what is out there in the ocean.

Kant's method is to establish the only possible way in which objects can be seen, thought of, and spoken about, to establish the transcendental truths, as the philosophical truths are called.

Scientists, and particularly mathematicians, discovered many intriguing ways of showing how the mind can think in manners not dreamt of in Kant's . . .

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