Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

SOAMES, Scott. Rethinking Language, Mind, and Meaning

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

SOAMES, Scott. Rethinking Language, Mind, and Meaning

Article excerpt

SOAMES, Scott. Rethinking Language, Mind, and Meaning. Carl G. Hempel Lecture Series. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2015. xv + 241 pp. Cloth, $37.50--In his book, Rethinking Language, Mind, and Meaning, Scott Soames says that the traditional linguistic framework (from Frege and Russell, through and beyond Tarski) has severe limitations. If we are to establish a "truly scientific study of language and information," says Soames, this tradition must be "reconceptualized." Chief among these limitations is a narrow, restricted view of what propositions are and what they are capable of doing. While the tradition correctly asserts that propositions are representational, Soames believes it has failed to pay close enough attention to "the demands that using and understanding language place on agents." The truth conditions we apply to sentences or the contents of our beliefs are a direct result of whether the sentence or belief accurately depicts (represents) the world. What has been overlooked, says Soames, is the fact that a proposition may also impress conditions upon us (the agents who entertain it). Rethinking our traditional framework means we must recognize that propositions have contents of two sorts--one directed at the world, the other directed at the mind. Because they have these two types of contents, Soames argues that propositions can be "representationally identical but cognitively distinct." Traditionally, we incorporate cognition into propositions in an effort to identify targets of direct predication. This is what Frege (and philosophers since) have called "modes of presentation." Soames, however, introduces what he calls, "Millian modes of presentation." In addition to their designation, Millian modes of presentation are cognized by actually entertaining the proposition. Consider, for instance, Soames's example:

(a) Logicism is (the proposition) that arithmetic is reducible to logic.

(b) Logicism is logicism.

(c) That arithmetic is reducible to logic is (the proposition) that arithmetic is reducible to logic.

Each proposition, while representationally identical to the other two, is, says Soames, cognitively different. "Whereas the second, argument of the identity relation in proposition (a) is identified via a Millian mode of presentation requiring it to be entertained (by one who entertains proposition (a)), proposition (b) contains no such Millian mode, while in proposition (c) both arguments of identity are identified via that mode. …

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