Author(s)Pettit, Dean R. (Dean Reid), 1967-
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Linguistics and Philosophy.
Robert C. Stalnaker.
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My dissertation concerns the nature of linguistic understanding. A standard view about linguistic understanding is that it is a propositional knowledge state. The following is an instance of this view: given a speaker S and an expression a that means M, S understand a just in case S knows that a means M. I refer to this as the epistemic view of linguistic understanding. The epistemic view would appear to be a mere conceptual truth about linguistic understanding, since it is entailed by the following two claims that themselves seem to be mere conceptual truths: (i) S understands a iff S knows what a means, and-given that a means M-(ii) S knows what a means iff S knows that a means M. I argue, however, that this is not a mere conceptual truth. Contrary to the epistemic view, propositional knowledge of the meaning of a is not necessary for understanding a. I argue that linguistic understanding does not even require belief. My positive proposal is that our understanding of language is typically realized, at least in native speakers, as a perceptual capacity. Evidence from cognitive neuropsychology suggests that our perceptual experience of language comes to us already semantically interpreted. We perceive a speaker's utterance as having content, and it is by perceiving the speaker's utterances as having the right content that we understand what the speaker says. We count as understanding language (roughly) in virtue of having this capacity to understand what speakers say when they use language. This notion of perceiving an utterance as having content gets analyzed in terms of Dretske's account of representation in terms of a teleological notion of function: you perceive a speaker's utterance as having content when the utterance produces in you a perceptual state that has a certain function in your psychology.(cont.) I show how this view about the nature of linguistic understanding provides an attractive account of how identity claims can be semantically informative, as opposed to merely pragmatically informative, an account that avoids the standard difficulties for Fregean views that attempt to account for the informativeness of identity claims in terms of their semantics.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Linguistics and Philosophy, February 2003.Includes bibliographical references (leaves 139-140).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Linguistics and Philosophy.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Linguistics and Philosophy.