Academic journal article Philosophy Today

From Kant's Monogram to Conceptual Blending

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

From Kant's Monogram to Conceptual Blending

Article excerpt

In evolutionary terms, natural language hovers precariously between perception and mathematization. As it emerged from human perceptual and gestural being between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago, a fundamental transformation took place. Sign systems dominated by iconicity or resemblance relations were challenged by the emergence of languages in which iconicity appears hidden. In the face of a devastating critique of evolutionary language theory offered by Rudolf Botha, I restrict my observations here to this broad brush picture.1

In many ways language looks like our more recently invented symbolic systems but differs from them in one crucial respect: it is not entirely arbitrary. While its signifiers are arbitrary, its conceptually structured signifieds are motivated. To think that deep down a natural language is very much like formal logic remains a logician's dream. To think that the linguistic sign is arbitrary in its totality is the result of a structuralist pars pro toto fallacy. That natural language yields to formalization to a certain extent is not in doubt. Indeed, we have come a fair way on the route of formal description and will proceed further in the future on this path, but at a price. Our descriptions in the end will take on a character of complexity that rivals the complexities of language itself, which defeats the very purpose of formalization: explanatory economy.

This was in part the reason why the Polish logician Alfred Tarski warned his colleagues not to apply Convention-T and similar formulae to natural language. He was certain that in doing so they would violate the "naturalness" of language.2 In his view, none of the components of an expression, including the copula, could be regarded as strictly formal. Frege's collapse of natural language sense into formal sense and Davidson's truth-conditional theory of meaning by way of Convention-T are both violations in Tarski's sense. 3 That in the end Davidson himself appears to have begun to have doubts about this kind of venture testifies to his integrity as a philosopher.4 Language, it would seem, cannot be identified with either a symbolic system or a system like perception. Language appears to act as a bridge between perception and formalization. With neither the full iconic character of the former, nor the reduced features of the latter, natural language occupies a third space, a space in which both iconicity and abstraction must play some role. I suggest that they do so by way of schematization.

One of the more difficult tasks in the description of natural language has been its very "naturalness," the result, it would seem, of many processes. One is the way language has absorbed and elaborated the contents and "protosyntax" of perception; another, the continuing evolution of idiomatic re-combinations. Yet another is the manifold of kinds of schematization which are at work in language, without which it could not fulfill its function of economization. Such difficulties, I suggest, are exacerbated by the role that Vorstellungen - understood here as neurally based, culturally guided, mental transformations of perception - play in language. For that Vorstellung do play a role is not in doubt, even if that role has been declared to be incidental to linguistic meaning.5 On the other hand, if Vorstellung is an important component of natural language, then, given my definition, it would have to be in the form of some kind of transformation of perceptual resemblance relations, or iconicity. In light of this assumption I ask two questions: How does the schematization of iconic mental material relate to linguistic meaning? And how do shades of meaning relate to kinds and degrees of schematization? Before attempting any answers to such questions, I want to sketch a rough conceptual trajectory of the notion of schematization.

Conceptual Blending

In the wake of an emphasis on embodiment since the work by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, philosophers and linguists have embarked on a project of cognitive semantics in which perception and mental acts have been recognized as essential ingrethents. …

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