Wittgenstein on Language and Thought: The Philosophy of Content

Wittgenstein on Language and Thought: The Philosophy of Content

Wittgenstein on Language and Thought: The Philosophy of Content

Wittgenstein on Language and Thought: The Philosophy of Content

Synopsis

Tim Thornton defends and outlines the key issues of the philosophy of content found in Wittgenstein's influential work Philosophical Investigations. He provides a systematic demonstration of Wittgen-stein's views on linguistic meaning and mental content providing an understanding of how Wittgenstein's work relates to modern debates in the philosophy of content. Only this book explains in detail Wittgenstein's views on content in the context of contemporary work, including that of Davidson, Rorty, and MacDowell among others.

Excerpt

This is a book about Wittgenstein's philosophy of content. The philosophy of content forms part of the philosophy of thought and language. It is not concerned with the development of a formal semantic theory, nor is it concerned with the qualitative character of thought. It deals instead with the intentionality of thought and language: how thoughts or utterances can be about something, can be true or false. This is the central theme ofWittgenstein Philosophical Investigations.

Wittgenstein himself does not give a formal theory of meaning. Indeed, he offers principled arguments against explanatory philosophical theories. Nevertheless, my intention here is to draw out of the later writings a systematic account of the philosophy of content for two reasons. Firstly, organising Wittgenstein's arguments into a coherent account of content provides a map for navigating through the remarks that, by his own admission, run 'criss-cross in every direction'. Secondly, it helps locate his account of content in the contemporary debate. Because Wittgenstein scholarship has tended to concentrate on narrow internal matters of exegesis, his relevance to current discussion in the philosophy of mind and language has often been missed. This is a mistake. One of the key claims in this book is that Wittgenstein's arguments refute the current representationalist orthodoxy in the philosophy of content. Linguistic meaning cannot be explained as the result of the animation of otherwise dead signs by acts of understanding. Mental content cannot be explained as a result of freestanding internal mental representations.

The structure of the book is as follows. Chapter 1 sets the scene. It sets out six characteristics of content with which any philosophical account must deal. It then sets out strategic choices. Can linguistic meaning be explained as resulting from mental content or vice versa? Or is there no explanatory priority? Can content be explained in independent, causal terms! It then characterises the orthodox representationalist answer to these questions. Representationalism attempts to explain linguistic content as resulting from mental content and then to give a reductionist account of the latter. Mental content is 'naturalised' through the provision of a causal explanation of content. This takes the form of . . .

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