John Locke. Of Words

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1 John Locke Of Words

2 overall thesis The meanings of words are mental entities, not concreta or abstracta. In Locke s terminology: words primarily signify ideas. Words in their primary or immediate Signification, stand for nothing, but the Ideas in the Mind of him that uses them. (III.ii.2) Words, as they are used by Men, can properly and immediately signify nothing but Ideas, that are in the Mind of the Speaker (III.ii.4)

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4 argument 1: function Language is for remembering and communicating, and the things we communicate are mental.

5 argument 1: function Language is for remembering and communicating, and the things we communicate are mental. Problem: we use language for other stuff too.

6 argument 1: function Language is for remembering and communicating, and the things we communicate are mental. Problem: contemporary linguists couldn t disagree more about the function of language. (see Chomsky readings)

7 argument 1: function Language is for remembering and communicating, and the things we communicate are mental. Problem: Mill agrees with the premise but not the conclusion.

8 argument 2: variation Different people mean different things by words, and so meanings must be in their minds.

9 argument 2: variation Different people mean different things by words, and so meanings must be in their minds. But this could just show that meanings are determined, or partly determined, by properties of their minds.

10 argument 3: access The only way that my words could have access to things or other people s ideas is by way of my ideas.

11 argument 3: access The only way that my words could have access to things or other people s ideas is by way of my ideas. Perhaps words get access to referents through a social process of triangulation, or in some other way?

12 argument 4: no spooky stuff If we say that meanings are mental, then we don t need to posit abstract universals. Properties, essences, etc., are just abstract ideas.

13 argument 4: no spooky stuff If we say that meanings are mental, then we don t need to posit abstract universals. Properties, essences, etc., are just abstract ideas. Problem: doesn t this mean that none of us means the same thing by water?

14 argument 4: no spooky stuff If we say that meanings are mental, then we don t need to posit abstract universals. Properties, essences, etc., are just abstract ideas. Then how can we disagree about water?

15 argument 4: no spooky stuff If we say that meanings are mental, then we don t need to posit abstract universals. Properties, essences, etc., are just abstract ideas. Then how can we communicate?

16 argument 4: no spooky stuff If we say that meanings are mental, then we don t need to posit abstract universals. Properties, essences, etc., are just abstract ideas. What about sentences like this: Fred and Mary both think there s water in the tap.

17 argument 4: no spooky stuff If we say that meanings are mental, then we don t need to posit abstract universals. Properties, essences, etc., are just abstract ideas. Then we can t even say that two thoughts are similar: that means being the same type.

18 objection 1: sociality Locke can t account for the social character of meaning. Words have shared meanings. We defer to experts about their meanings.

19 objection 2: normativity Locke can t account for the normativity of meaning for the fact that there are right and wrong ways of saying things.

20 objection 3: shared content Without saying that our words share meanings, we can t explain communication, propositional anaphora ( that s what I said ), etc.

21 objection 4: problem words Which ideas do these expressions stand for? sentences: Dogs bark quantifiers: some dogs, most dogs, a dog determiners: the, a, some, most connectives: and, or, if then

22 further reading: Walter Ott, Locke s Philosophy of Language (CUP, 2004)

23 John Stuart Mill Of Names

24 This simple definition of a name, as a word (or set of words) serving the double purpose of a mark to recall to ourselves the likeness of a former thought, and a sign to make it known to others, appears unexceptionable. ( 1)

25 against psychologism If it be merely meant that the conception alone, and not the thing itself, is recalled by the name, or imparted to the hearer, this of course can not be denied. ( 1)

26 against psychologism Nevertheless, there seems good reason for adhering to the common usage, and calling (as indeed Hobbes himself does in other places) the word sun the name of the sun, and not the name of our idea of the sun. ( 1)

27 against psychologism names are not intended only to make the hearer conceive what we conceive, but also to inform him what we believe. ( 1)

28 against psychologism When I say, the sun is the cause of day, I do not mean that my idea of the sun causes or excites in me the idea of day; or in other words, that thinking of the sun makes me think of day. ( 1)

29 How does Mill define name?

30 a syntactic proposal particles, as of, to, truly, often; the inflected cases of nouns substantive, as me, him, John s; and even adjectives, as large, heavy. These words do not express things of which any thing can be affirmed or denied. We can not say, Heavy fell, or A heavy fell; Truly, or A truly, was asserted; Of, or An of, was in the room. ( 2)

31 grammar vs. logic We may say, The earth is round; but we can not say, Round is easily moved; we must say, A round object. This distinction, however, is rather grammatical than logical. Since there is no difference of meaning between round, and a round object, it is only custom which prescribes that on any given occasion one shall be used, and not the other. ( 2)

32 grammar vs. logic We shall, therefore, without scruple, speak of adjectives as names, whether in their own right, or as representative of the more circuitous forms of expression above exemplified. ( 2)

33 grammar vs. logic The other classes of subsidiary words have no title whatever to be considered as names. An adverb, or an accusative case, can not under any circumstances (except when their mere letters and syllables are spoken of) figure as one of the terms of a proposition. ( 2)

34 expressions names syncategorematic terms sentences? singular names John the king of England that that man general names man a man blue a the is

35 concrete denotes subjects (particular objects) abstract denotes attributes specific stands for one specific thing John Stuart Mill the president of the United States equality * squareness * general stands for more than one thing white old a man color whiteness magnitude

36 why white isn t abstract When we say snow is white, milk is white, linen is white, we do not mean it to be understood that snow, or linen, or milk, is a color. 4

37 connotative vs. nonconnotative: A non-connotative term is one which signifies a subject only, or an attribute only. A connotative term is one which denotes a subject, and implies an attribute. 5

38 denotation vs. connotation The word white, denotes all white things, as snow, paper, the foam of the sea, etc., and connotes, the attribute whiteness. 5

39 denotation vs. connotation The name [man], therefore, is said to signify the subjects directly, the attributes indirectly; it denotes the subjects, and implies, or involves, or indicates, or as we shall say henceforth connotes, the attributes. It is a connotative name. 5

40 connotation determines denotation The word man, for example, denotes Peter, Jane, John, and an indefinite number of other individuals, of whom, taken as a class, it is the name. But it is applied to them, because they possess, and to signify that they possess, certain attributes. 5

41 proper names don t connote Proper names are not connotative: they denote the individuals who are called by them; but they do not indicate or imply any attributes as belonging to those individuals. 5

42 proper names don t connote A man may have been named John, because that was the name of his father; a town may have been named Dartmouth, because it is situated at the mouth of the Dart. But it is no part of the signification of the word John, that the father of the person so called bore the same name; nor even of the word Dartmouth, to be situated at the mouth of the Dart. 5

43 proper names don t connote If sand should choke up the mouth of the river, or an earthquake change its course, and remove it to a distance from the town, the name of the town would not necessarily be changed. 5

44 proper names denote directly Proper names are attached to the objects themselves, and are not dependent on the continuance of any attribute of the object. 5

45 non-connotative signifies a subject only, or an attribute only connotative denotes a subject, and implies an attribute white concrete denotes a subject (i.e., a particular) John Stuart Mill long virtuous the president of the United States abstract denotes an attribute whiteness length virtue fault

46 kinds of concrete singular names non-connotative proper names or, in contemporary parlance, just names connotative now called definite descriptions John Stuart Mill the first emperor of Rome the only son of John stiles

47 denotation, connotation, meaning, significance whenever the names given to objects convey any information that is, whenever they have properly any meaning the meaning resides not in what they denote, but in what they connote. The only names of objects which connote nothing are proper names; and these have, strictly speaking, no signification. 5

48 negative names Thus, not-white denotes all things whatever except white things; and connotes the attribute of not possessing whiteness. 6

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