Thinking and Meaning: Inaugural Lecture

Thinking and Meaning: Inaugural Lecture

Thinking and Meaning: Inaugural Lecture

Thinking and Meaning: Inaugural Lecture

Excerpt

The student of philosophy encounters many paradoxes; and one of them is the fact that it is possible to be in doubt, and even to be mistaken, about the analysis of a proposition, without being in the least doubtful, or mistaken, about its truth. A simple example of this is to be found in the proposition that human beings think. This proposition is not, indeed, logically certain. It relates to a matter of fact and can therefore be denied without self-contradiction, even in the special case in which it is applied to oneself. Admittedly, as Descartes saw, if someone believes that he does not think, he thereby refutes himself; if he says that he does not think, his saying it shows that what he says is false. But it does not follow that what he says is in itself a contradiction. It is not logically necessary that he should be thinking: it is not logically necessary that he, or any other human being, should exist at all. Nevertheless that he does exist, and that he thinks, are propositions for which each one of us has very strong empirical evidence; and he also has good evidence that other human beings are in the same case. To evaluate this evidence, especially in its application to others, is indeed a philosophical problem; but while it may be difficult to show how one can know that other people think, that one does . . .

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