Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

An Analysis of Linguistic Normativity and Communication as a Response to Objections to a Biopsychological Foundation for Linguistics

Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

An Analysis of Linguistic Normativity and Communication as a Response to Objections to a Biopsychological Foundation for Linguistics

Article excerpt

1.The Objection from Linguistic Norms

The Scientific and Manifest Images of Language

This paper considers how a scientific understanding of language fits together with our everyday, commonsense understanding of language, according to which language is used for communication between persons, and follows or fails to follow certain essentially normative constraints.

The scientific view of the world poses a theoretical threat to our commonsense understanding of our place in it as persons. As Sellars writes in "Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man:"

Does the manifest image of man-in-the-world survive the attempt to unite this image in one field of intellectual vision with man as conceived in terms of the postulated objects of scientific theory? The bite to this question lies, we have seen, in the fact that man is that being which conceives of itself in terms of the manifest image. To the extent that the manifest does not survive in the synoptic view, to that extent man himself would not survive (18).

Something similar could be said regarding the manifest image of human language. The image of language as normative (as opposed to merely descriptive), personal (as opposed to merely sub-personal), social (as opposed to merely individual), and serving communication (as opposed to merely serving thought) would be lost if not shown consistent, somehow, with its scientific counterpart.

Because the use of language is important to the commonsense understanding of human beings as persons, consideration of Sellars' analysis of the scientific and manifest images of human beings is relevant to the apparent conflicts between the scientific and manifest images of language.

Humans appear in different ways to different sciences. We have images in social science, psychology, physiology, biochemistry, and all the way down to physics, in which we appear as "a swirl of physical particles, forces, and fields" (Sellars, "Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man," 20). "The" scientific image of humans is an idealization of the bringing together of these various special images. All of them, and thus "the" scientific image itself, Sellars writes "are to be contrasted with man as he appears to himself in sophisticated common sense, the manifest image which even today contains most of what he knows about himself at the properly human level" (20).

Though, historically, the scientific image of human beings and of the world in general grows out of a basis in their manifest image, once generated and developed, the scientific image presents itself as a rival, conflicting with the theory and ontology of the manifest image. Though the scientific image of the world stems from the manifest image as an historical basis, it also views the manifest image itself as an object in the world and, from the lens of the scientific image, this manifest image is at best a pragmatically useful approximation of ultimate scientific reality (Sellars, 20).

The conflict of the scientific and manifest images of human beings, Sellars notes, leave us with a seemingly inescapable trilemma. We are apparently forced to choose between: "(a) a dualism in which men as scientific objects are contrasted with the 'minds' which are the source and principle of their existence as persons; (b) abandoning the reality of persons as well as manifest physical objects in favor of the exclusive reality of scientific objects; (c) returning once and for all to the thesis of the merely 'calculational' or 'auxiliary' status of theoretical frameworks and to the affirmation of the primacy of the manifest image" (38-9).

To accept (a) means resorting to an outdated, Cartesian conception of the human mind, at best rendering the scientific image incomplete, and at worst leaving our fundamental conception of personhood a mere epiphenomenon. To accept (b) is simply to eliminate our fundamental conception of personhood altogether. And to accept (c) is to rob the scientific enterprise of its claim to legitimately pursuing truth. …

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