Monday, January 10, 2011

Menary on the Harbour Bridge

I will now take it that Adams and Aizawa ought to concede that there is no difference in content between my thought that ‘the harbour Bridge looks beautiful in the sunlight this morning’ and my utterance to you that ‘the Harbour Bridge looks beautiful in the sunlight this morning.’ Indeed I might think that very sentence to myself in my head before uttering it to you. If Adams and Aizawa are happy to accept this conclusion, then we really have no disagreement, because we have an example of thinking in natural language (English in this instance). Similarly it seems obvious to me that a Venn diagram that I am imagining now has the same meaning as the Venn diagram that I am drawing on the page now.

Yes, A&A agree that there is no difference in content as outlined in the first sentence here.  We note this here:
The first thing to observe about the derived/non-derived distinction is that it concerns the conditions in virtue of which an object bears a particular content. A thought might bear the content that the cat is hungry in virtue of satisfying some conditions on non-derived content, whereas a particular inscription on a piece of paper might bear that same content by satisfying some other conditions on derived content.
Menary thinks this concession, however, cooks our goose.  He observes that the first thought is an instance of thinking in English and that we have mental imagery.  And, of course, there is thinking in English and there is mental imagery.

But, this apparently depends on a particular interpretation of "thinking in English" and there being mental imagery.  To a first approximation, this only shows that there are instances of derived representations occurring in thought if there is a token of an English sentence in the head or a picture in the head, rather than merely a mentalese representation of an English sentence in the head or a mentalese representation of an image.  It looks as though this is a problem for A&A only if thinking in English and mental imagery are cases of non-derived representations occurring in thought.  But, Menary gives no reason to think this.  He takes it as obvious.  But, of course, there is a vast literature on these issues, a literature that A&A think does not bode well for Menary.

1 comment:

  1. Your non-acceptance of the PLA drove me back to Scruton's discussion of it in "Modern Phil". And although I stick with the conclusion I remembered (no PL), I discovered that I had missed the more important (and, I think, relevant here) conclusions. Plus, I now see possible connections between EPM, PLA, and DD's triangulation, connections I have felt all along had to be there.

    First, the PLA conclusions:

    C1, There can be no private language.
    C2. A public language can't refer (Fregean sense) to a private object.
    C3. A word mistakenly taken to be a name for a private object can nonetheless have use in a public language.

    The connections:

    W's argument for C1 is essentially the inability to triangulate ala DD.

    C2 is captured in W's quote about the "beetles" in their boxes: "A nothing would do as well as a something about which nothing can be said".

    Sellars' mythical genius Jones teaches the Ryleans (via his overt speech model) how to augment their language ala C3 to enable speech about "thoughts" while not suggesting that the words have referents other than in the model.

    So, I recant my previous take on the meaning of thoughts and now submit that:

    1. Whatever a "thought" is (or isn't), it's currently private, hence can't be a referent in contemporary speech.
    2. Nonetheless,"thought words" are used in our public language, so we are Post-Jonesians who have taken his teaching to heart.
    3. Predicating "thought" does not currently produce a truth bearing sentence, eg, "Thought has content X" or "My thought is Y."

    So, one can say "My thought is that Harbor Bridge is beautiful this AM", but that doesn't define the content of an entity named "thought" as being the sentence following "that", since "thought" has no referent which could be a vehicle for content.

    Of course, any or all of this could be wrong (or worse!), but if it happens to hang together, you still appear to be OK.

    My position du jour on unvocalized sentences is:

    The verbal mental image of a sentence is a "virtual activation" (an undefined concept) of a neural entity that can be activated to effect vocalization of the sentence. To whatever extent (if any) an unvocalized but vocalizable sentence has "meaning", it's meaning is the same as that of the vocalized sentence per the relevant community. But this no longer seems to me relevant to the issue at hand.