An Introductory Course to Philosophy of Language [Unabridged] 1443897450, 9781443897457

Language is what we all share and is our common concern. What is the nature of language? How is language related to the

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An Introductory Course to Philosophy of Language [Unabridged]
 1443897450, 9781443897457

Table of contents :
Table of Contents
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen

Citation preview

An Introductory Course to Philosophy of Language

An Introductory Course to Philosophy of Language By

Ufuk Özen Baykent

An Introductory Course to Philosophy of Language By Ufuk Özen Baykent This book first published 2016 Cambridge Scholars Publishing Lady Stephenson Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2PA, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2016 by Ufuk Özen Baykent All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-4438-9745-0 ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-9745-7

To my mother


Preface ........................................................................................................ ix Introduction ................................................................................................. 1 Chapter One ................................................................................................. 5 The Concept of Language Chapter Two .............................................................................................. 13 The Scope of Philosophy of Language Chapter Three ............................................................................................ 21 Heraclitus, Logos and Language Chapter Four .............................................................................................. 25 The Problem of Naming in Plato’s Cratylus Chapter Five .............................................................................................. 33 World, Thought and Language in Aristotle Chapter Six ................................................................................................ 41 The Problem of Universals: Medieval Thought on Language Chapter Seven............................................................................................ 49 Descartes on Language Ability Chapter Eight ............................................................................................. 53 Leibniz’s Project: Ideal Language Chapter Nine.............................................................................................. 57 Locke on Words Chapter Ten ............................................................................................... 65 Language and Culture in Humboldt


Table of Contents

Chapter Eleven .......................................................................................... 69 Frege at the Linguistic Turn Chapter Twelve ......................................................................................... 77 Russell’s Theory of Definite Description Chapter Thirteen ........................................................................................ 85 Kripke and Direct Reference Chapter Fourteen ....................................................................................... 91 Pragmatic Approaches: Austin, Searle and Grice Chapter Fifteen .......................................................................................... 99 Skinner vs Chomsky in Language Acquisition


During the tenth year of my academic career at the faculty of education, deeply focused on teaching languages, I was encouraged to explore the depths of the nature of what I teach. It was then that I started my PhD in philosophy. As I went deeper and deeper I was able to associate what I had already learnt with what I was just learning, recognizing and questioning. My philosophical investigations about language manifested the fact that language is everywhere, sometimes as a tool and sometimes as an obstacle. Initially, in writing this book, I had in mind an audience of undergraduate students of philosophy. However, since many people read philosophy for different purposes, I decided to introduce the philosophy of language in such a way that it could be utilised by people with differing concerns. Therefore, while writing this book I have not assumed any familiarity with philosophical techniques or terminology. I know that the reading of philosophy is a demanding task and that philosophy has no shallow end. Yet you may find an attachment at some point in this book because language is what we all share. I am indebted to all my professors at the Philosophy Department of Uluda÷ University. I am also grateful to Prof. Dr. A. Kadir Çüçen for his support and encouragement during the tough process of writing. My dear professors Zekiye Kutlusoy, Muhsin Ylmaz, Zeki Özcan and Iúk Eren have given me courage and inspiration during my compelling but exploratory expedition into philosophy. I hope that when you finish reading this book your own theorizing will begin.

Ufuk Özen Baykent Bursa, 2016


Philosophical investigations about the concept of language have become more and more compelling in the last few centuries. The considerations about language are objects for various areas of scientific research as well as for theoretical questioning. Philosophical study of language sheds light on many different fields like education, linguistics, sociology, politics, psychology, etc. In a sense, where there is human life, there exists a trace of language because language is the most distinctive capacity of man. Philosophy of language provides a deep background for both other fields of philosophy and various scientific studies. My approach in writing this introductory book is both thematic and historical; my major aim is to enable all people interested in language and philosophy to find out connections to their own topics of study while introducing the field of philosophical investigations about language. The book follows a chronological sequence in the presentation of philosophers’ approaches to language which is enriched by the occupation of the chapters by certain themes. My choice of the philosophers included in and omitted from the book may seem arbitrary to others. However, the themes and the approaches required this choice. I emphasize it here because I may not have space to do so in the text: I will not spare an independent chapter for Wittgenstein, yet his two different approaches in two periods are handled in the relevant chapters. Chapter 1 and 2 are preparatory parts of the book illuminating the reader about the concept of language and the general scope of philosophy of language. Chapter one focuses on what language is and introduces the basic terms about the study of language. The definitions are given with reference to linguistic books as well as to philosophy books. The differences between formal language and natural languages and between human language and so called language of animals are discussed. Functions and characteristics of language, the relationship between philosophy of language and other fields in philosophy, and the connection between philosophy of language and other disciplines related to language are outlined in order to assign the dimensions of language and linguistic study. In this way, we will better relate the concept to the philosophical discussions and considerations in the history of philosophy before and after the linguistic turn. The second chapter is on the content of philosophy



of language, basic terms in this branch of philosophy, the distinction of syntax, semantics, pragmatics in philosophical language studies and examples of some basic problems in philosophy of language. With the third chapter starts the chronological sequence of the approaches of philosophers with considerable impact on the philosophy of language. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 explore the philosophers from antiquity namely Heraclitus, Plato and Aristotle. In antiquity the problem of naming and the truth of names were central to the discussions about language. The truth of names was determined according to the connection between language and world. Aristotle’s concentration on the categories and universals gave way to the medieval discussion of language which is covered in chapter 6 of the present book. The chapter includes references to Porphyry, Boethius, Abelard and William of Ockham. The medieval discussion of language is shaped by the nature of universals. The existence of universals and the names used to signify them are discussed mutually. Chapter 7 is a start for modern discussion about language. Chapters 7, 8, 9 and 10 display how language is regarded in modern philosophy by Descartes, Leibniz, Locke and Humboldt respectively. Descartes emphasizes language as an innate human ability that differentiates humans from animals or machines. Leibniz illustrates an ideal language project which would be useful for handling the problems in philosophy and science. Locke’s concern was with words and the ideas they represent. Humboldt emphasizes the social and cultural aspects of language. Chapter 11 and onwards is a shift in philosophical discussions about language. After the linguistic movement at the turn of the 19th century, language was studied from different aspects such as syntax, semantics and pragmatics. Frege and Russell were concerned with the semantic as well as syntactic aspect of language. Frege’s most striking contribution to the philosophy of language was his classification between meaning and reference. His contemporary Russell studied the names and descriptions; found descriptions; he problematic and distinguished between definite and indefinite descriptions. Kripke put forward his arguments about reference and opposed the descriptive reference. His assertions about contingent a priori and necessary a posteriori propositions were unsettling. Chapter 14 deals with the philosophical discussions about the pragmatic aspect of language and three philosophers, namely Austin, Searle and Grice are discussed as representatives. Austin’s proposal of speech acts was developed by his contemporaries Grice and Searle and was shaped as a pragmatic theory of language. It was a hard task for me to decide where to stop and finally I settled on Chomsky who in a sense represents a return to the era of Descartes and reconsiders the innate ability of man to create,

An Introductory Course to Philosophy of Language


develop and use a language. So while the final chapter reveals the debate between Skinner and Chomsky the focus is on language acquisition. The debate is between behaviourist and mentalist fronts and our emphasis is on the argument by Chomsky, reminding us of the innate human capacity of language. Thus the final chapter broadly brings Chomsky’s theory of language to light.


The concept of language is too broad to be defined in a single expression. As it sits at the heart of the philosophy of language, it is necessary to describe and make clear the concept initially. In general languages are forms of symbolic representation. Certain meanings are represented through the use of other certain symbols. The definition may be used for formal languages as well as for natural languages. Yet the aim of this book is to explore human language and provide a philosophical account of human language. Using language to speak, write, listen and read is a skill for us, special to humans. Human language therefore cannot be considered without people and people’s using, creating, developing and changing it. It is a tool for us to share our ideas, feelings and desires. It helps us to reveal our thoughts and communicate with others. Human language is one of the most developed and complicated means to transmit knowledge. Language is a must for poetry, prose and drama. It is what makes a community out of a group of people. Language is defined as a unity of multidimensional concepts that is made up of accidental signs and is a system that provides communication (ømer et al., 2013, 87). When the definition is considered it is true to say that there is no reason for naming an object by using the sign “table” but not using “tabe” instead. Language is a unified system of elements associated with one another in one way or another. One of the major aims of this system is to establish a ground for communication. The concepts of language are multidimensional and are therefore studied accordingly. For instance, the dimension of meaning is related to the field of semantics and pragmatics, the dimension of the usage of language in real-life environments is the focus of pragmatics, the way words and sentences are constructed is the problem of syntax, and the sounds and how they are pronounced are discussions in the fields of phonetics and phonology. In a dictionary of linguistic terms, language is described as something enabling man to constitute an artificial world separate from the real world with its own principles. Language is an arbitrary system based on social convention and is a sum of figure of speech bonded with accidental sounds


Chapter One

in a unity of sound and meaning (Karaa÷aç, 2013, 274, 275). This definition displays some of the basic qualities of language. Firstly, language has the property of conventionality. To express a being by using another being, namely a symbol, is a property of human language. Language is conventional, for we talk about certain objects by using some symbols that are not those symbols themselves. A second property of language is collectiveness, that is the condition of understanding or thinking the same object or concept when one word is uttered or read. The persistence of languages is closely related to the element of collectiveness. The spread of a relationship between a word in a language and the being it represents in terms of time or space will increase the meaningfulness of language. Tone of the properties determining accurate use of language is ascertained by its being widespread over space and time. The third property of language is arbitrariness and is acceptable on dimension of vocabulary. The being and the name we use to represent that being is arbitrary, is of no reason. From the beginning of all the questioning about the concept of language there has been a debate about how words have certain meanings. Is the meaning of a word already existent in the essence of that word or is it attached by humans? This leads us to the question of what came first: the being/ the knowledge of being or the name of the being. The field of linguistics has exhibited an explanation for this major question. The vocabulary of a particular language is grounded on two types of resources: Internal elements and external elements. Internal elements are fundamental and are formed by adding or removing affixes within the boundaries of that particular language. In the case of internal elements, both the being/ the knowledge of being and the name of the being are existent concurrently. External elements are on the other hand formed by borrowing from other languages. The positions of these elements are different; either the being/ the knowledge of the being or the name of the being arise initially. When he discusses the concept of language, Ferdinand de Saussure points out a triple classification of the term in question: Langage, Langue and Parole. Langage is the ability to use a system for communicating ideas and feelings using sounds, gestures, signs, or marks. This skill is peculiar to humans. Langue refers to the ideal abstract system composed of socially conventional symbols. It is the term Saussure uses to point out a particular natural language like English, Turkish, and Russian etc. Parole expresses the actual use of language in real environment conditions. According to Saussure language is a distinctive biological capacity of human beings and is an element governing human behaviour.

The Concept of Language


Another issue of debate has been the use of a language by animals. Do animals communicate with each other? If yes, how is their communication different from that of people? What differences exist between animal language and human language? The questions were posed as new experiments put forward various conclusions. Animals use a medium of communication which is non-verbal. The communication of animals is instinctive, innate and is transferred heritably. Human languages are acquired and learned by education. They are inherited by the generations that follow as a cultural heritage. Animal language is an expression of sensual conditions. On the contrary, human language goes beyond the expression of feelings and is used for argumentation, description, classification and figuration. Unlike humans, animals use signals instead of symbols. Human languages are composed of symbols to be used for recurrence and transfer. In his Objective Knowledge, Karl Popper identifies four functions of language: Manifestation of oneself, sign interchange, description and argumentation. According to Popper animals are similar to humans in the first two and basic functions. Both animals and humans can manifest any sort of physiological conditions. Likewise both can react in certain ways as a reply which is considered as an exchange of signs. But when the two other upper level functions are taken into account he asserts that animals are different from humans in that they cannot set forth descriptions and argumentations. In order to realize these two upper level functions, the human mind is required. The development of these upper level functions will provide a better use of the two other lower level functions. For instance the more a person develops argumentation techniques, the more he will succeed in exchange of ideas in a debate. Another classification in the discussions about the concept of language is the variation of language as being formal or natural. Natural languages and formal languages are commonly considered as being wholly different. However, when deeply questioned, many similarities will be found. Natural languages are formal in principle. In both types of languages there are the distinctions of form and content or expression and meaning. The use of a natural language under real life circumstances is parallel to the relation between theory and practice presented in formal languages. The main significant difference between natural and formal languages lies in the formation processes of both. Natural languages have not actually been formulated artificially. The fundamental formation processes of such languages are natural and the principles and rules grounding these processes are various, unique and complex. Such an obscure structure can


Chapter One

not only be explained by the syntactic and semantic principles of formal languages. Philosophy of language is closely related to some other disciplines in philosophy like logic, epistemology, ontology and philosophy of mind. The questions about the nature of justice, knowledge or being are of great interest and debate in the history of philosophy. Finding the appropriate answers is, in a sense, a problem of understanding the question. Is it the meaning of the word being questioned or is it the content of the concept? For instance, Wittgenstein claims that the question of “what is knowledge?” is meaningless when considered as a philosophical question. Wittgenstein exemplifies this with the concept of “family resemblance” and explains that when the word “game” is taken into account and defined, it is impossible to find features shared by all games. The reason why we call them games can be explained by the fact that they all resemble each other in some or other ways like the members of a family. Thus any kind of philosophical questioning may be relevant to the language used in our questions or in the definitions of concepts. Logic is one field of philosophy that is connected with philosophy of language at the syntactic level. Logic is an inquiry into the logical form of propositions which is the syntactic level of questioning language in philosophy. Logic displays a formal and artificial language which is often contrasted with human language. Philosophy of language is another field in philosophy whose path intersects with that of philosophy of language regarding the concepts of such mental processes as conscience, thought, belief, cognition and learning. Some of the propositions in language are on belief or perception. The philosophical analysis of an utterance like “I believe it will rain today” requires understanding the mental processes involved. Another concept in philosophy of mind is the concept of mental representation which binds the field to language. There is a relationship between mental representation of something and referring to that thing. Thus, the concept of reference and mental representation of the thing being referred to, have a bond. As for epistemology, the relation is that many philosophers agree that knowledge is propositional. When the relationship between a subject as a knower and an object as the thing known is considered, many argue that the object is a proposition. Besides the concept of proposition, the two fields of philosophy are linked with the concept of truth. The argument is that for a subject to know a proposition, it is necessary that the proposition is true. Thus, the question of truth of propositions binds knowledge to language. When ontology is the case, language is questioned in terms of propositions of existence. To propose that something exists or does not exist is problematic for many

The Concept of Language


philosophers of language including Frege and Russell. The discussions about such propositions will be handled in the relevant chapters that follow. Language is a questionable concept not only in philosophy but also in social and educational sciences. For some sciences language is a major concept of research and for others a secondary discussion topic when handling another problematic object. In brief, language is the object of many sciences either directly or indirectly. Linguistics is the science that studies language and puts the concept at the heart of its research. Psychology of language, physiology of language, philology and literature are the other fields and sciences in which language is either a primary or secondary concern for research. To begin with the scientific study of language, it is true to say that linguistics has gained popularity as scientists are more and more emphasizing the relationship between language and human culture, belief and behaviour. In the 1960s, as the complexity of linguistic phenomena was taken into account, it was crucial for the scientific arena to carry out research about language as an independent field. In this respect, as successful researches pointed out new findings, there developed many subfields within the major field of linguistics. Saussure put forward a distinction as to how language can be investigated in two systems. The diachronic system examines language on a historical scale and studies the changes in language and classification of languages into families. 19th century linguistics was mainly diachronic. The synchronic system studies various linguistic conditions regardless of historical changes. Synchronic linguistics focuses on analysis and description of language as used by its speakers. Humboldt was an important contributor to synchronic linguistics and shed a light on the importance of typological comparisons among languages. Synchronic linguistics became a more general type of linguistics with its considerable number of subfields which are related to the discussions in philosophy of language. Studies in synchronic linguistics were largely about analysis of language structure. There are some fields like sociolinguistics that bridge synchronic and diachronic linguistics. Morphology, phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics and discourse analysis are some of the subfields in linguistic study. Phonology is the study of speech sounds and their functions. Morphology examines words, their internal structures and formation processes. Syntax is related closely to the grammar of a language and it studies units like sentences, clauses, phrases and word classes. Semantics is the study of traditional meaning concerned partly with sense and reference distinction. Pragmatics studies social and affective meaning. The use of language in real-life


Chapter One

situations presents signals about speakers and their social relations. The linguistic units of study in pragmatics are utterances in authentic language use. Discourse studies written or spoken texts in terms of unity, coherence and emphasis. The linguist searching for general principles for all languages is thought to be carrying out studies in theoretical or general linguistics. However the one trying to reveal facts in the system of a specific language is practising descriptive linguistics. The field of linguistics that investigates differences and similarities among languages is called comparative linguistics (Crystal, 1987, 412). Like other sciences, linguistics aims at achieving objective, systematic, consistent and explicit standards. As a scientific area of study, the researches are carried out with data collection, analysis, testing hypothesis, formulating models and theories. As for the uniqueness of its basic research topic, linguistics is bound to many scientific or artistic fields. Likewise, it is an empirical concern that takes into account the philosophical consideration of language. The formation and development of languages, the variety of languages, the language and culture relationship, meanings represented with linguistic units, the relationship between language and world and language as a medium of expression of thought are the topics that bring philosophy closer to linguistics. However, it is important to realize the differences between the ways linguistics investigates language and the ways philosophy of language questions it. Firstly, linguistics carries out empirical studies based on the observation of linguistic facts. Therefore linguistics is a science of factuality. The investigation of language is grounded on the observation of language in real life circumstances. Various natural languages are examined to find out the features of them, similar and different characteristics among them and changes in them. Individual languages like English, Turkish or Russian etc. are studied in terms of explanation and problem solving. The morphological, phonological, semantic, syntactic and pragmatic levels of such languages are investigated in order to find answers to certain linguistic problems. Linguistic phenomena are explained and described. Contrarily, philosophy of language doesn’t question individual languages but rather tries to understand the content and nature of language, language ability, and concept of language. It is a process of problematizing. It brings up the questions and problems about the concept of language without a major aim of solving them. The philosopher considers and questions the findings of linguistic studies in general which might encourage him towards pointing out new problems. He questions the relations among thought, truth and meaningfulness.

The Concept of Language


In addition to linguistics, there are other fields of study that inquire into language indirectly. Psychology of language is one of them and it searches into all sorts of linguistic acts such as cognitive phenomena displayed during the processes of speech and understanding. It follows that there is a relation between linguistic behaviour and the psychological processes like memory, attention or focus that underlie the linguistic behaviour. In this respect it is emphasized that there is a connection between language and personality, intelligence or other psychological factors (Crystal, 1987, 412). Sociology of language deals with language in terms of sociological matters. The question of what kinds of relationships exist between society and language use or culture and language use and ability is a problem of this field. Another empirical study concerned indirectly with language is physiology of language. This investigates organic ties that make speaking possible (Bumann, 1997, 511). The conditions and terms of human physiology are examined in terms of its necessary features like diaphragm, lungs, palate, lips or teeth. Philology, the science started in the 19th century, takes language as its direct research topic and investigates cultural phenomena in the light of language studies. However today philology focuses on the individuality of languages and heads towards the field of literature through research of individual linguistic phenomena in literary texts (Bumann, 1997, 512). In the field of literary criticism the style, rhetoric and aesthetic levels of language are studied. As a last example of fields connected closely to language, we can mention translation studies. This is a field investigating the ways to establish equality of texts in different languages. Different theories of translation are proposed according to the different types of texts and target listener/reader.

References Bumann, Waltraud. (1997) “Dil Felsefesi” Günümüzde Felsefe Disiplinleri, trans. Do÷an Özlem, ønklap Kitapevi, østanbul. Crystal, David. (1987) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ømer, Kamile; Ahmet Kocaman; A.Sumru Özsoy. (2013) Dilbilim Sözlü÷ü. Bo÷aziçi Üniversitesi Yaynevi, østanbul. Karaa÷aç, Günay. (2013) Dil Bilimi Terimleri Sözlü÷ü. Türk Dil Kurumu Yaynlar, Ankara. Popper, Karl. (1972) Objective Knowledge an Evolutionary Approach. Oxford University Press.


Chapter One

Saussure, Ferdinand de. (1985) Genel Dilbilim Dersleri. trans. Berke Vardar, Birey ve Toplum Yaynlar, Ankara. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. (2007) Felsefi Soruúturmalar. trans. Haluk Barúcan. Metis Yaynlar, østanbul.


Many references date the field of philosophy of language back to the linguistic turn in the early 20th century, a major development in western philosophy that emphasized the importance of the relationship between philosophy and language. The turn towards linguistic philosophy drew attention to solving philosophical problems through understanding the language we use to express them. However, philosophical questioning about the concept of language dates back to much earlier, to antiquity. The present book embraces the whole history of philosophy associated with philosophical thinking about language. The philosophy of language is the field in which philosophical questions about language are discussed and where the concept of language, language ability and the language we speak are viewed philosophically. As mentioned in the previous chapter, unlike linguistics, philosophy of language treats all languages as one and looks for what is common among them. Starting with the observation of language facts, linguistics focuses on the differences among the individual natural languages, contrary to philosophy of language whose target is what is similar in all of them. For instance, the argument that the common feature of all languages is that they share the distinction of subject and predicate is a matter of philosophy of language. “Philosophy of language is the field in which philosophical questions about the structure of language, the meanings of terms and sentences, the relationship between language and world, language and thought, language use and communication through language are discussed” (ønan, 2013, 3). When we look at the distinction between linguistic philosophy before and after the linguistic turn, it is clear that before the turn language was the major topic of discussion for the philosophers. Rather, before the linguistic turn, language was a subject for discussion only if it was necessary when pursuing the answers for epistemological or ontological questions. Before Frege, no systematic theory of language could be seen for language was not at the heart of argument but was a secondary element for the purpose of finding support for another primary subject. For Plato, language was a subject to contemplate for understanding the nature of being that we talk about. For Ockham, language was a matter of discussing the nature of


Chapter Two

universals. For Descartes, it was important to understand the language ability of human beings so as to comment on the nature of humans. For Locke, the discussion about words was essential for his theories about episteme. However, after the linguistic turn led by Frege and Russell at the beginning of the 20th century, language was at the focus of interest and became the primary subject of philosophical consideration for the sake of itself. The major aim happened to be the understanding of the concept of language, handling it in different dimensions like syntactic, semantic or pragmatic and inquiry about the human ability to use and develop language. It was claimed that only after the unity of the concept of language is internalized, could it be the time to discuss all other unsolved philosophical questions. The relationship between language ability and ability to think has been an issue for curious minds. What makes it possible for humans to be able to think is a question that has puzzled the mind for centuries. In this respect many philosophers argued whether language was essential in order for men to think and turned towards the relation between language and thought. “In general, philosophy of language examines the relationship established by man between the world and his thoughts regardless of their content created by means of language” (ønan, 2013, 4). With the linguistic turn, philosophers of language claimed that once language has been comprehended in depth, it will be possible for us to find answers for many philosophical questions. All through the history of philosophy considerations about language have given way to the appearance of new and basic terms associated with the concept of language. Before the book moves on to language discussions put forward by different philosophers, it may be beneficial to introduce basic terms in philosophy of language like term, subject, predicate, meaning, reference, concept, intension, extension, context, truth value, identity statements, syntax, semantics, pragmatics and discourse. Words and the sentences formed with a combination of words are important for philosophy of language. The sentences in a language are constructed according to a logical structure. After a philosophical analysis of a sentence, we come up with parts of the sentence which are called terms. Let us take the sentence “The hotel across the street is very popular”. It is made of two terms, one being “the hotel across the street” and the other one “is very popular”. The first term in the example sentence is the subject, the second is the predicate. Thus the example sentence consists of two terms in the form of a subject and a predicate. Frequently, the terms in the position of a subject are proper names like “Plato” or “Aristotle”. In some cases, pronouns like “he”, “they” or descriptive

The Scope of Philosophy of Language


phrases like “the girl with the red coat” are terms that appear as subject in a sentence. The classification of subject and predicate plays a necessary role in the syntactic level of philosophical considerations of language. Predicate is used in two different meanings, one referring to the syntactic unit in a sentence, the other meaning an attribute predicated to an object. Thus the two views of predicate lead to the distinction between a predicate and the meaning of a predicate in a sentence. A common definition of predicate is that it is the part of the sentence left when the subject of that sentence is removed. Following the example sentence of “the hotel across the street is very popular”, it can be concluded that when the subject term “the hotel across the street” is removed, the rest of the sentence is the predicate. In logic, the predicate in “x is popular” is classified under the title of oneplace predicate. If we take the sentence “this hotel is more popular than the one across the street”, the predicate links two objects in a certain relationship. Thus “x is more popular than y” is an n-place predicate. The problem with some predicates is that they do not predicate to an object directly. The subject in such a sentence is a concept or is null where the predication is secondary. In a logical or syntactic analysis of a sentence the subject of predication is called syntactic subject. In the sentence “Tom is very tired”, the word “Tom” is a syntactic subject while the person called Tom is a logical subject or object as called by Frege. One of the major problems in philosophy of language is the relationship between subject and predicate and the issue of what makes them stand together in a sentence. Another basic term in the philosophy of language is meaning, that is what we comprehend when we hear or read a word. When variety of languages is considered it is recognized that the same meaning is conveyed through the use of different words. The meaning conveyed through the word “tree” is also conveyed through the word “arbre” in French. This leads us to the distinction between a term and the meaning of that term. A term may consist of a single word or phrase, but the meaning of a term in any different forms must be considered as something different. Today in philosophical discussions the meaning of a sentence is called proposition. Propositions are regarded as the most basic elements of human thought. Just like the difference between a word and its meaning, a sentence and the meaning of a sentence must be treated separately. “Su 100 derecede kaynar” and “water boils at 100°C” are two different sentences in form but convey the same meaning. Another term crucial for both philosophy and science is concept, by means of which it is possible to talk about thousands of things having


Chapter Two

similar features. Concept is something general and is what makes us think and talk about many individual things. To conceive the place I am sitting in as an office is to associate this place with the concept of office. Concept in this sense is a kind of meaning. The names for species like “man”, “office” or “planet” can be considered as concepts. A common view about concepts claims that they are universals and that with the help of concepts, we categorize, think and talk about the world. However some philosophers like Frege were opposed to the widespread idea and asserted that there is a difference between meaning and concept. The views of Frege will be covered in detail in the relevant chapter. Another important issue in the field of philosophy of language is the problem of reference. The object/person/place/event referred to by the use of a word is called a referent. When we look at the sentence “Mr. Smith is our teacher of philosophy”, we think that there is a relation between the name “Mr. Smith” and the person in the real world that teaches philosophy to us. The use of the name “Mr. Smith” refers to the real person as the teacher in question, so the referent is the person himself. In some cases two different terms can be used to refer to the same thing, - such as Frege’s well known example of “morning star” and “evening star” as two different linguistic expressions having the one and only referent, the planet that we call Venus today. Such terms are called coreferential. The terms in the positon of a subject in a sentence may be descriptive phrases, as in the sentence “the dean of the faculty knows me well” and the referent of “the dean of the faculty” is the person in the real world holding the position. There are fewer problematic cases about the referents of terms in subject position but the problem about the referents of predicates and sentences remains unsolved. For instance, the predicate in the sentence “blood is red” is claimed to be referring to the concept of red or all things with a red colour or the attribute of being red. Frege answers the question of whether sentences have referents or not and if they have, what their referents are with the concept of truth value. “The world is round” refers to true and “the world is flat” refers to false. Another important distinction firstly uttered by Rudolf Carnap paved the way for the rise of two new terms in philosophy of language, namely the concepts of intension and extension. Extension is a term for which many philosophers have reached a similar understanding but intension still remains unconventional. The cluster of objects which a predicate predicates properly is called the extension of that predicate. The extension of a predicate is a range of objects that it designates. If we take the example sentence “1 is an odd number”, all the sentences, that will be true if we change the subject term “1”, will form the extension of that

The Scope of Philosophy of Language


predicate. But for the intension there is no convention; some philosophers claim that it is meaning while some think it is a function that determines extension. Another term to be paid attention to is context which is closely related to time and place. When and where is a linguistic expression uttered? Who is the speaker and who is/are the listener(s)? Under what circumstances did the speaker utter the expression? These questions concern the concept of context. For instance the referent of a term like “the rector of Cambridge University” will differ according to the time when it is uttered or the referent of the subject in the sentence “The prime minister gave a speech” will change according to the country for which or time when the linguistic expression was used. Sentences may either be true or false conforming to when they are used. The contextual elements are very significant when determining the meaning and referent in some sentences that include pronouns used for people or things. The pragmatic approaches in regard to the concept of context will be discussed fully in the relevant chapter devoted to Austin, Searle and Grice. The truth value is another concept considered in philosophy of language. The relation between a sentence and the truth value of that sentence can be seen like the relation between language and world. The traditional view of truth value claims that the truth value of a sentence is associated with its correspondence in the real world. The truth of a sentence is realized if it corresponds to a phenomenon. The truth value of the sentence “the blue house across the street is mine” will change according to the factual world with a blue house existing and being mine. The theories of truth value introduced in the 20th century have gone much further than the classical view. In modern logic for instance there are two truth values namely true or false. The problem of identity is another matter discussed in philosophy of language and is related to sense and reference distinction. The identity problem in philosophy gives rise to the idea that if two things share all their properties, they might be considered as one and the same thing. Informativeness of sentences is closely connected to the problem of identity. Identity in sense is said to be corresponding to the concept of synonymy. If Frege’s example is followed, we would have two sentences such as “the morning star is the evening star” and “the evening star is the evening star”. The unsolved problem about these sentences is that while the former is accepted to be informative, the latter is not (Miller, 2007, 45-47). As pointed out in the previous chapter, language is analysed from different dimensions like syntax, semantics, pragmatics and discourse analysis. How words appear together to construct sentences and whether


Chapter Two

syntactical structures common among all languages exist are the issues for syntax. The first discussions related to syntactical perspective of language appear in Frege’ and Russell’s writing, then Wittgenstein and Carnap followed them and today they are pursued by Chomsky. Frege started syntactic analysis of simple sentences as having two terms, subject and predicate. Subject and predicate are two logical categories. The term in the position of a subject refers to an object and the predicate refers to a concept by predicating a certain attribute to that object. The predicate’s attribution to various subjects enables construction of an unlimited number of sentences. The semantic dimension of language is in the form of questioning the meaning of words. What meaning is, how words gain meaning and how the semantic relation between language and world is are at the core of interest. Until the beginning of the 20th century no theory of meaning can be encountered. Frege’s sense and reference theory of meaning has been embraced by many philosophers but other theories have also been put forward by different philosophers, all of which will be touched upon in the chapters that follow. An important issue discussed in terms of meaning is how the meaning of a sentence is related to the meanings of terms in that sentence. Herewith the distinction between a sentence and the meaning of a sentence is differentiated. Contemporary philosophy of language emphasizes the classification of sentence meaning of a sentence. Most philosophers agree that the meaning of a sentence would be regarded as a proposition. Another important problem for semantics is the relation between language and world, a relation which is studied with regard to the concept of reference. As mentioned above the referents of predicates and sentences are problematic issues discussed in the semantic dimension of language. In the pragmatic dimension of language the use of the sentences in context is examined. The conditions of expressions used to convey thoughts by using a sentence are questioned at the pragmatic level of language. One of the philosophers of language examining the pragmatic perspective is Grice who differentiated between the meaning of a sentence and the meaning intended to be conveyed by the speaker. Austin on the other hand pointed out the concept of speech acts moving from the point that all utterances are linguistic acts. Discourse analysis is simply described as “the analysis of language beyond the sentence” (Thompson, 2009, 59). In discourse analysis language is studied beyond the sentence boundary. Coherence and unity of the texts, coherence in the sequences of sentences and propositions, speech and turns at talk are at the focus of attention in the field.

The Scope of Philosophy of Language


This chapter aimed to shed a light on the field of philosophy by touching on the basic terms discussed and by relating the field to others associated with language. It was also necessary to differentiate between linguistics and philosophy of language. After drawing a framework of philosophy of language it should be easier to keep up with the questionings of the philosophers about the concept of language in the following chapters. In the history of philosophy, the discussions about language date back to antiquity. Therefore the following chapter is about Heraclitus and language.

References Frege, Gottlob. (1989) “Anlam ve Yönletim Üstüne” Felsefe Tartúmalar. 5. Kitap. trans. H. ùule Elkatip. Kent Basmevi, østanbul. ønan, ølhan. (2013) Dil Felsefesi. Anadolu Üniversitesi Yaynlar. Miller, Alexander. (2007) Philosophy of Language. Routledge Taylor and Francis Group. Thompson, Geoff. (2009) Key Ideas in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language. edt. Siobhan Chapman and Christopher Routledge. Edinburgh University Press.


In antiquity, the Greeks were eager to learn how words and languages had been formed. They realized that language underwent several changes and searched for the true meanings of words that became invisible all through these changes. There were three main questions discussed in antiquity about language. The first question sought for the nature of language, that is, whether it was natural or conventional. The second was the question of whether language worked dependently on a basic principle of regularity. The third problem was about the nature of logos. Among these three questions the lengthiest arguments are centred around the first, which is related to the other two, and questioned how far people have control over language. Altu÷ suggests that the word “language” that we use today, was not used with the same meaning by the Greeks (Altu÷, 2008, 15). The Greeks talked about language with reference to a concept of logos having multiple meanings. Akarsu adds that logos has been one of the basic concepts in the history of philosophy, having an initial meaning of utterance but then expanded to meanings like thought, concept, mind, meaning, principle of cosmos (Akarsu, 1998, 124). The concept of Logos indicates unity of being, thought and language. Heraclitus is one of the first philosophers to talk about language. His fragments surviving until today clearly demonstrate that his ideas are more systematic compared to his contemporaries, yet this does not make his fragments easier to understand. His fragments are in the form of aphorisms composed by great ingenuity. His fragments are judged for being implicit and obscure, and for this reason he was called “the Obscure” or “the Dark One” (Kenny, 2004, 13). Heraclitus suggests a constant change and becoming. In his fragments, he points out that everything is subject to change, movement and becoming by a metaphor of a flowing river, never stopping and ever renewing. “They do not step into the same rivers. It is other and still other waters that are flowing” (Heraclitus, Fragment 12). “Into the same rivers we step and do not step. We exist and we do not exist” (Heraclitus, Fragment 49a). Just like the water, stones, sand, soil and pebbles in the river, everything on earth consists of components subject to a constant change. Though most of these changes cannot always


Chapter Three

be perceived this secret harmony lies beneath the universe of flux. In these fragments when emphasizing the change and the movement, he implies that it is inevitable for mortal things to change and move. But it would make things difficult in terms of possibility of language when referring to objects of constant change. It is the problem of talking about the ever changing objects by using the same, never changing words This universe, which is the same for all, has not been made by any god or man, but it always has been is, and will be an ever-living fire, kindling itself by regular measures and going out by regular measures” (Heraclitus, Fragment 30). In the transformation of fire into something else or the transformation of something into fire, the quantity of fire remains the same. This is the logic of change manifesting that there is always something that is never due to change in the things that go through change (Arslan, 2008, 195). In the continual state of flux, there remains something that is not subject to change and on which all change is dependent. This constant pattern is Logos. “Although this Logos is eternally valid, yet men are unable to understand it -- not only before hearing it, but even after they have heard it for the first time. That is to say, although all things come to pass in accordance with this Logos, men seem to be quite without any experience of it - - - at least if they are judged in the light of such words and deeds as I am here setting forth according to its nature, and to specify how it behaves. Other men, on the contrary, are as unaware of what they do when awake as they are when asleep” (Heraclitus, Fragment 1). As seen in Heraclitus’ fragment the never changing principle that regulates all change is Logos. Logos, represents a harmony in this change and this order was not given by man. The universe consists of opposites, yet they are in harmony. “Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony” (Heraclitus, Fragment 8). This flux houses the opposites. Change is inherent in opposites and Logos takes an action by means of opposites. The harmony emerges as a result of the interaction between the opposites. To sum up, change and movement are impending for all things except Logos. The principle that lies behind the continual flux is Logos. It is Logos that ensures the rise of harmony through the interaction between opposites. The balance established between the forces grounds on Logos. We have mentioned that the relation between thought and language has been a core issue in philosophy dealing with the concept of language. When Heraclitus’ concept of Logos is acknowledged, we must remember that there is harmony between our utterances and the world. There are features of unity and order in the language that we use. Logos is a concept that emphasizes the harmony among being, thought and language. This assumption sits at the centre of the study of logic. It is assumed that the

Heraclitus, Logos and Language


principles of thinking are uniform with the principles of speaking. Logos is the basic principle providing the harmony among being, thought and language. “Men should speak with rational mind and thereby hold strongly to that which is shared in common ---- as a city holds on to its law, and even more strongly. For even more strongly all human laws are nourished by the one divine law, which prevails as far as it wishes, suffices for all things, and yet somehow stands above them” (Heraclitus, Fragment 114). To be able to speak with rational mind is dependent on Logos, the source of the right measure and proportion. It would not be a mistake to argue that Heraclitus stands closer to the natural view of language. As suggested in his fragments, the order of opposites is guaranteed neither by God nor man. Logos is what realizes this order and is a principle of nature. Just like the other things in nature, words are subject to flux. The natural bond between words and the things they designate is formed by Logos, and thus objects naturally have natural names. Heraclitus warns that if we comprehend individual things separately only as visible objects, we miss the power of Logos that keeps them in harmony. Logos enables the general comprehension of being united in language. Words should not be limited to the objects they designate. The real knowledge of an object can only be achieved by consideration of language as a whole, and each meaning can be judged by apprehending its opposite. The content of a meaning is naturally connected to the content of its opposite. In Fragment 67 Heraclitus says “God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, surfeit and hunger. But he undergoes transformations, just as (fire) when combined with incenses, is named according to the particular aroma which it gives off.” Just like the entire universe, the words in a language display a synthesis of opposite and they stand in perfect harmony in virtue of Logos. And here, in an intensified form, we encounter the fundamental law of the cosmos. For what in reality appears as an opposition becomes in the expression of language a contradiction—and only in such an interplay of thesis and antithesis, of statement and contradiction is it possible to reproduce the true law and the inner structure of reality…. Heraclitus situates the particular object in the constant stream of becoming, in which it is both preserved and destroyed; and for him the particular word is related to "speech" as a whole in the same way. Consequently, even the ambiguity inherent in the word is not a mere deficiency of language, but is an essential and positive factor in its power of expression. For in this ambiguity it is manifested that the limits of language, as of reality itself, are not rigid but fluid. Only in the mobile and multiform word, which seems to be constantly bursting its own limits, does the fullness of the world-forming logos find its counterpart. Language itself must recognize


Chapter Three all the distinctions which it necessarily effects as provisional and relative distinctions which it will withdraw when it considers the object in a new perspective. (Cassirer, 2005, 120,121)

Being and word operate in unity, so the problem of what kind of a relation exists between the world and language had a start in the history of philosophy with Heraclitus. The question of whether a substantial relation exists between language and being had been raised. The argument that words contain the substance of the subjects they refer to indicates that naturally words are as they are. If the word does not reflect the substance of that being, then it would be true to say that words are given conventionally. This brings up the well-known debate between natural view and conventional view of naming in antiquity.

References Altu÷, Taylan. (2008) Dile Gelen Felsefe. 2nd ed. Yap Kredi Yaynlar, østanbul. Akarsu, Bedia. (1998) Felsefe Terimleri Sözlü÷ü. ønklap Kitabevi, østanbul. Arslan, Ahmet. (2008), ølkça÷ Felsefe Tarihi: Sofistlerden Platon’a, østanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi Yaynlar, østanbul. Cassirer, Ernst. (1980) The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms: Language. trans. Ralph Manheim Yale University Press. Heraclitus. (2010) The Complete Fragments: Translation and Commentary and the Greek Text. trans. William Harris. Kenny, Anthony. (2004) A New History of Western Philosophy: Volume 1, Ancient Philosophy. Claredon Press, Oxford.


The first systematic text about language in antiquity is Plato’s Cratylus dialogue which examines naming and the truth of names. The participants of the dialogue, namely Socrates, Hermogenes and Cratylus deal with natural and conventional views of language. The problem questioned the origin of naming, that is, whether the words originate from the nature of the thing being named or from a convention among people. The natural view of language emphasizes the essence of the things named and asserts that the names are naturally correct, ideal and necessary. On the other hand, the conventional view supports nominalism and argues that people name things arbitrarily as a result of convention. What criteria determine the correct name given to an object? Two of the participants of the dialogue, Hermogenes and Cratylus are representatives of the two opposing answers to this question. The dialogue focuses on proper names. Hermogenes represents the conventional view, while Cratylus represents the natural view. Hermogenes presents his view in the beginning of the dialogue. “I have often talked over this matter, both with Cratylus and others, and cannot convince myself that there is any principle of correctness in names other than convention and agreement; any name which you give, in my opinion, is the right one, and if you change that and give another, the new name is as correct as the old — we frequently change the names of our slaves, and the newly-imposed name is as good as the old: for there is no name given to anything by nature; all is convention and habit of the users; — such is my view” (Cratylus, 384d-e). Socrates, the main participant of the dialogue, studies the etymologies of many words and makes a criticism of conventionalism. Socrates asserts that names are not attached to their objects randomly. While supporting his idea he first defines what names and naming are. In the following quote, according to Socrates the act of naming is dependent on an essential nature. “If all the world were to call you Hermogenes, that would not be your name”. How we call an object is that object’s name. “And is not naming a part of speaking? For in giving names men speak. (…) And if


Chapter Four

speaking is a sort of action and has a relation to acts, is not naming also a sort of action. (…) And we saw that actions were not relative to ourselves, but had a special nature of their own? (…) Cratylus is right in saying that things have names by nature, and that not every man is an artificer of names, but he only who looks to the name which each thing by nature has, and is able to express the true forms of things in letters and syllables” (385a - 387c). Socrates points out that a name is a means of teaching, informing and introducing reality (388c). A name is a tool for naming. Harris and Talbot suggest that names have two functions. Names classify reality and differentiate one thing from another. For instance, the name “Hermogenes” differentiates one man from another. However, in order for a name to realize these two functions, it is necessary that naming has been made correctly. Socrates expresses his ideas of language by means of a weaver analogy. In this analogy, he states that just like the instrument used by a weaver, language is intentional and its intention is within its design and is an invention like loom. Just like the parts of a loom, the parts of a language are appropriate for its functions and will not fulfil its functions if they are different from how they are. The designs of both have to be understood well in order to use them properly. What comes forward among these points of similarity are functionality and rationality. According to Socrates, if language is to be examined it is necessary to accept that it is a functional tool. Otherwise there is nothing to be studied. Thus it is meaningless to begin with a theory like Hermogenes’ because if we claim that names can be changed arbitrarily, we deny the functionality of language initially, which leaves us nothing to examine. Functionality shows that form is not random but rather intentional (Harris-Talbot, 1997, 6-8). Ackrill questions Plato’s comparing naming to other acts and argues that it might mislead the discussion. He objects to such a comparison and asserts that naming x is a different act from cutting x or burning it. My act of naming x does not demonstrate a causal link between x and me. I perform an action by naming x but this is not an act that evokes a change in x. Therefore, my deed of naming x with a correct name is independent of x’s qualities, yet my craft in cutting or burning x is very much dependent on this or that tool used in the activity (Ackrill, 1997, 40). The dialogue also discusses who would be responsible for naming. Socrates points out that: “And the work of the legislator is to give names, and the dialectician must be his director if the names are to be rightly given?” (388e). Names are given by professionals and these people are legislators. Naming is an art and people performing this art are legislators.

The Problem of Naming in Plato’s Cratylus


Then Socrates includes another point in discussion: Good names and bad names. He asserts that there are bad names as well as good ones. While giving names, legislators might take previous instances into consideration which had been given by others and which might be bad. Thus in order to help legislators with this hard duty, dialecticians would rather accompany them. Dialecticians are skilful in terms of the use of words and their involvement in the process of naming will direct the activity to see if the names are given rightly (390d). An ordinary man cannot be held responsible for giving names. The legislators in charge of name giving should be led by users of those words. People who frequently mingle with words and are men of letters are dialecticians and they would control the process of naming. Sedley points out that unlike the view of arbitrariness in naming asserted by Hermogenes, legislators together with dialecticians name things by considering the nature of the things named (Sedley, 2008). Socrates argues that legislators should direct to the appropriate form. In naming, the appropriate materials are sounds. The form of a name can be concretized with success in the sound systems used by different languages. The same thing is named with a different form in various languages. This does not contrast with the naturalist view of language that argues that names naturally belong to the things they name, because each of these names in different languages is the most appropriate and natural form of representation of the name forms in those languages. Ackrill asserts that Socrates makes a rather vague distinction in Cratylus, lines 389d-390a where he distinguishes between “form of a name” and concrete forms of it in different languages. For instance “dog” and “chien” are different forms of the one and only name. This may be considered as an attempt to re-define what name is in order to answer for Hermogenes’ argument that names are given conventionally. “Dog” and “chien” represent the same thing and despite the variation in sounds and letters they are accepted to be one name. This is exemplified by Socrates in Cratylus 394a-c. According to a doctor, regardless of their colour and shape, two different pills are same drug with equal effect. This is similar to use of two names of different letters and sounds in different languages but causing the same effect. Ackrill claims that the name representing the mental idea can be called “ideal name” which differs from forms in different languages called “common name”. “Common name” is made of sounds and letters while “ideal name” is a unit defined semantically free from sounds and letters (Ackrill, 1997, 44). While questioning the truth of names Socrates looks to an etymologic investigation. Firstly, he examines if the names of Gods represent the nature of Gods (399d-406e). With the examples of God names, he


Chapter Four

attempts to prove the natural truth of names and that names reflect the essence of things they designate. “Poseidon is Posidesmos, the chain of the feet; the original inventor of the name had been stopped by the watery element in his walks, and not allowed to go on, and therefore he called the ruler of this element Poseidon; the epsilon was probably inserted as an ornament. Yet, perhaps, not so; but the name may have been originally written with a double lambda and not with a sigma, meaning that the God knew many things (Pollaeidos). And perhaps also he being the shaker of the earth, has been named from shaking (seiein), and then pi and delta have been added. Pluto gives wealth (Ploutos), and his name means the giver of wealth, which comes out of the earth beneath. People in general appear to imagine that the term Hades is connected with the invisible (aeides) and so they are led by their fears to call the God Pluto instead (Cratylus, 401e-403a). Socrates then studies the names of sun, moon, stars and natural events in order to see their truth (409a). Socrates says “That is a tremendous class of names which you are disinterring; still, as I have put on the lion’s skin, I must not be faint of heart; and I suppose that I must consider the meaning of wisdom (phronesis) and understanding (sunesis), and judgment (gnome), and knowledge (episteme), and all those other charming words, as you call them?” and goes on with the etymologies of wisdom, understanding and justice (411a-b). He mentions that names of objects could be given depending upon the flux, motion and generation which objects are due (411c). The name “wisdom” for instance is the perception of flux and motion. When questioning the etymologies of some words, sometimes Socrates arrives at a conclusion that the words have a foreign root. He also criticises his way of examination when he cannot end up with the original truth of a name, and he prefers an easier way of concluding with the word’s having a foreign origin. Socrates makes a point about the words the truth of which he cannot verify: “To say that names which we do not understand are of foreign origin; and this is very likely the right answer, and something of this kind may be true of them; but also the original forms of words may have been lost in the lapse of ages; names have been so twisted in all manner of ways, that I should not be surprised if the old language when compared with that now in use would appear to us to be a barbarous tongue” (421d). Meanings of words have changed a lot all through the centuries, so that no association between them and their uses today can be made and they seem as if they have a foreign origin. We cannot explain the natural truth of names by comparing and contrasting them with other names, for it would be a cyclical explanation. In such a way it is not possible to arrive at the relationship between names

The Problem of Naming in Plato’s Cratylus


and the physical reality of the things names designate. That is why a new principle is needed and Socrates puts forward a new theory of two phases. Giving primary names is a process of imitation including the combination of sounds by considering the essential nature of the things named. This process of imitation is based on the physiological articulation of individual sounds. The second phase in Socrates’ theory is about the formation of compound names. After the formation of primary names, they are used in combination with each other, keeping their primary meanings in mind, to expand vocabulary by creating combined names (425b-427d). Socrates discusses the truth of names with the third participant of the dialogue, Cratylus. Socrates wants to question if names are necessarily correct or not. Cratylus asserts that all names are both perfect and trusty descriptions of objects they designate and sources of knowledge about those objects. However, Socrates argues that names have varying degrees of correctness and that errors might have occurred during the process of naming. Socrates illustrates the possibility of errors in the naming process with an example of pictures (430c). Naming an object is like drawing a picture of it. The picture of the object is not identical with the object itself. The picture may have points apart from the object. Just like a picture, it is possible that the name of an object is not identical to the object itself. The object might have been named with an incorrect name. Socrates argues: “But then how ridiculous would be the effect of names on things, if they were exactly the same with them! For they would be the doubles of them, and no one would be able to determine which were the names and which were the realities” (432d). Pictures cannot be the same as the objects; in this way names are not the same as objects. Then Socrates asserts a point: “Then fear not, but have the courage to admit that one name may be correctly and another incorrectly given; and do not insist that the name shall be exactly the same with the thing; but allow the occasional substitution of a wrong letter, and if of a letter also of a noun in a sentence, and if of a noun in a sentence also of a sentence which is not appropriate to the matter, and acknowledge that the thing may be named, and described, so long as the general character of the thing which you are describing is retained” (432e). Here we encounter a problem: if names have different degrees of resemblance to their objects, then what would be the criteria to apply to determine the degree of resemblance? Names can be graded according to their descriptive truth but the standards in grading are a problem. Consequently, we have to accept that there are differences between the constative and the identified. “Good; and when the general character is preserved, even if some of the proper letters are wanting, still the thing is


Chapter Four

signified; well, if all the letters are given; not well, when only a few of them are given” (433a). Socrates arrives at a point when questioning the names given to numbers. “… then custom and convention must be supposed to contribute to the indication of our thoughts; for suppose we take the instance of number, how can you ever imagine, my good friend, that you will find names resembling every individual number, unless you allow that which you term convention and agreement to have authority in determining the correctness of names?” (435c). Socrates not only weakens the principles of naturalism in naming but also makes room for elements of conventionalism. We should not misunderstand the point asserted by Socrates suggesting that there is a role of conventionalism in the correctness of names. Basically Socrates does not exactly embrace naturalism described by Cratylus. Although Socrates allows conventionalism in explaining the correctness of some names, he is never truly a conventionalist. He affirms that most of the names have a natural bond to their objects. A final issue discussed in Cratylus is the guidance of names in understanding the nature of things being named when the correctness and incorrectness of names are taken into account. We have pointed out that legislators giving primary names might have been mistaken in their perceptions of the world and that this might mislead them in giving names. Examination of names should not be a way to investigate the real nature of things. For instance, the first legislator in the world must have found another way to give the correct name, for he did not have any other names to lead him. The approach the legislator must have followed was to directly study the things to be named. Socrates claims: “But we may admit so much that the knowledge of things is not to be derived from names. No; they must be studied and investigated in themselves” (439b). For Plato, names are not tools for acquiring knowledge about things. In order to see the real nature of things, one should head directly towards the objects themselves. This may be explained by Plato’s theory of representation related to idea/form and appearance. Plato’s theory emphasizes that the objects of experience are symbols, which are a mental intermediary between language and forms of knowledge. Plato refers to the concept of participation in order to explain the relationship between words and pure concepts. Cassirer interprets this by stating that the obscure idea of Heraclitus about the harmony between word and opposites has been enlightened by Plato’s concept of participation. The idea enables the identicalness of word and meaning as well as their being non-identical. Representation by participation allows for the word not to be identical to the meaning.

The Problem of Naming in Plato’s Cratylus


In the same sense, the physical-sensory content of the word becomes for Plato the vehicle of an ideal signification, which as such cannot be encompassed within the limits of language but remains outside them. Language and word strive for the expression of pure being; but they never attain to it, because in them the designation of something other, of an accidental "attribute" of the object, is mixed with the designation of this pure being. Accordingly, what constitutes the characteristic power of language is also its characteristic weakness that makes it incapable of representing the supreme, truly philosophical content of cognition. (Cassirer, 2005: 88-89)

Cratylus ends with the confrontation of two ontological theories; Heraclitus’ doctrine of flux and Plato’s theory of forms. The participant Cratylus supports that names are naturally correct and represent the essential nature of things being named. Contrarily Hermogenes focuses on the convention of people in naming. Although both participants seem to be supporting two different theories about naming, Socrates reveals that they agree on the correctness of names, though following different paths. For Cratylus, as names represent the nature of objects, they are naturally correct. As for Hermogenes, once a name is settled on by convention, it is necessarily true. For both of them, there is no possibility of names’ being incorrect. On the other hand, through the dialogue Socrates proves that the legislators might have given wrong names and that therefore names have a degree of correctness. Socrates concludes that there are incorrect names as well as correct ones. Both Cratylus and Hermogenes claim that as all the names are correct, examination of names will teach us the true nature of objects. However, Socrates opposes them, because Socrates thinks that names, especially incorrect names, can mislead us about the nature of the things they name. He suggests that the true nature of objects can better be achieved by directing towards the objects themselves. The dialogue begins with the study of language and ends with the relationship between language and episteme. Although this dialogue seems to be a linguistic study on the surface, a deeper analysis will demonstrate the ontological and epistemological perspectives in it.

References Plato. (2014) Cratylus. trans. Benjamin Jowett. The University of Adelaide Library. Cassirer, Ernst. (1980) The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms: Language. trans. Ralph Manheim Yale University Press.


Chapter Four

Harris Roy and Taylor, J. Talbot. (1997) Landmarks in Linguistic Thought, Volume 1: The Western Tradition from Socrates to Saussure. Routledge: Florence, KY, USA. Ackrill J.L. (1997) “Language and Reality in Plato’s Cratylus” Essays on Plato and Aristotle. ed. J. L. Ackrill. Oxford: Claredon Press, ss. 3352. Sedley, David. (2008) "Plato's Cratylus" The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


In antiquity, during the period up to that of Aristotle, the problem of naming and the truth of names were questioned in terms of philosophical discussions about language. Today Aristotle’s discussion of how language operates is treated as a contribution to the field of logic. According to Aristotle, logic is a tool for knowledge that men possess in every field and thus he tried to systematise the reasoning processes of men. Aristotle argued that language is an expression of logos. This is a mental capacity of humans and it is what specifies man as “rational animal”. Aristotle was not concerned with the truth of names or who were responsible for giving names. He was interested in the identity of the individuals being named. By the agency of names, the confusion about identities can be prevented. For instance, by means of the name “Socrates” the identity of the person who was found guilty and drank hemlock is guaranteed. Aristotle’s arguments about language can be pursued in his Poetics in which he discusses the language of poetry and art. In Poetics his ideas about the grammar of a language can be traced. In part 20 Aristotle differentiates and defines letter, syllable, inflection, noun, verb, inflection, phrase and sentence as parts of the unity of linguistic expression. A letter is an indivisible sound, yet not every such sound, but only one which can form part of a group of sounds. (…) A syllable is a nonsignificant sound, composed of a mute and a vowel. (…) A connecting word is a nonsignificant sound, which neither causes nor hinders the union of many sounds into one significant sound; it may be placed at either end or in the middle of a sentence. (…) A noun is a composite significant sound, not marking time, of which no part is in itself significant: for in double or compound words we do not employ the separate parts as if each were in itself significant. (…) A verb is a composite significant sound, marking time, in which as in the noun, no part is in itself significant. (…) Inflection belongs both to the noun and verb, and expresses either the relation ‘of’, ‘to’ or the like. (…) A sentence or phrase is a composite significant sound, some at least of whose parts are in themselves significant. (Aristotle, Poetics, Part 20)


Chapter Five

Aristotle compares and contrasts a noun with a verb. A similarity between them is that the parts of both are not meaningful on their own. Additionally, both can be inflected. Nouns cannot notify time while verbs declare past, present or future actions. Nouns can be inflected as being “whose” or “to whom” or singular or plural. Inflection of verbs can display various forms of time, affirmation, negation, interrogation or imperative. Aristotle asserted that not all sentences had a verb, in which he was talking about the sentences of definition of a noun like “Man is a rational animal”. Besides his definitions and examples of parts of linguistic expressions, Aristotle continued to investigate terms and propositions in his Categories and different types of words like nouns and verbs and the problem of truth of sentences in his On Interpretation, two works placed in his collection of The Organon. The Organon is a collection of six works by Aristotle, which are studies in the field of logic, and verbal reasoning. Thus it would be helpful to refer to On Interpretation and Categories to understand how Aristotle views language. In Categories Aristotle examined the possibility of words that may be the subject or the predicate of a proposition and listed ten types of categories of the things that can be comprehended by people. These categories are substance, quality, quantity, relation, place, time, position, state, action and affection (Aristotle, Categories, Part 4). The categories are the most general genuses of being. The study of language in Categories is in terms of terms or concepts. There are ten types of predicates in a language and these ten predicates signify ten types of being. However, the very word "categories" indicates how closely the analysis of logical forms and that of linguistic forms were related for Aristotle. The categories represent the most universal relations of being, and at the same time the highest classifications of statement. The categories are, from an ontological standpoint, the basic specifications of actuality, the ultimate "predicates" of being; however these predicates can be arrived at not only through things, but also through the universal form of predication. And indeed, the structure of the sentence and its division into words and classes of words seem, in large part, to have served Aristotle as a model for his system of categories. (Cassirer, 1980, 126)

According to Aristotle, the structure of language is a reflection of the structure of the world. With his argument about logical categories, Aristotle claimed that there is a strong bond between language and reality. Thought is about reality or the world; language is an expression of thought and there exists a conventional relationship between language and reality. According to Cassirer, Aristotle’s categories are the final predicates of the

World, Thought and Language in Aristotle


being. A study starting with the analysis of things or a general predicate would reveal the nature of these predicates. In this way it is possible to divide sentences into types and constituents. The simplest elements of propositions are categories and when analysed in terms of language categories are terms and words like “Socrates”, “man” or “black” taken disconnectedly and on their own. From the perspective of logic, categories are concepts which are the object of study of logic and terms/words signify these concepts (Arslan, 2007, 65-69). Categories reveal that the objects of knowledge are in a hierarchical structure and that definition is a process of classification. In this hierarchy, being is at the top and the world of experience is at the bottom. In the hierarchy of categories, the progression begins at the lowest level and the progress moves from the particular to the general and then from general to general. The relationship among the levels of this hierarchy is a relation of genus and species. The two important terms in the philosophy of language which have already been mentioned in Chapter Two are intension and extension and they are strictly related to the relation of genus and species. Intension is a mental content and the members of this cluster are concepts obtained through the abstraction of shared features. Aristotle argued that intension is the object of knowledge and is an epistemological notion. However, extension is the phenomenal area and the members of this cluster are existential. An example would clarify what Aristotle wanted to show with the concepts of genus and species or intension and extension. The extension of rose consists of the particular roses in the world, R1, R2, R3 etc. In the upper level there are different species of flowers other than rose like daisy, violet, orchid etc. But the hierarchy progresses upwards to the genuses of plants like flowers, trees, vegetables, fruits etc. The hierarchy moves on to the genuses of living beings like humans, animals, plants and at the top there exists the being. Aristotle’s other work related to language in The Organon is On Interpretation and this starts with his investigations of names and predicates. On Interpretation begins with a brief, clear and essential theory of language. “Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words. Just as all men have not the same writing, so all men have not the same speech sounds, but the mental experiences, which these directly symbolize, are the same for all as also are those things of which our experiences are the images” (Aristotle, On Interpretation, Part 1). As Aristotle pointed out words are symbols of affections of the soul and mental experiences; these symbols are written or spoken and differ among languages. However, the mental experiences signified by these symbols are the same.


Chapter Five

Aristotle defined noun, verb, affirmation, negation, proposition and utterance each in turn. Nouns and verbs do not have a truth value on their own. “By a noun we mean a sound significant by convention, which has no reference to time, and of which no part is significant apart from the rest” (Aristotle, On Interpretation, Part 2). The truth of names is not natural and names are conventional. The nouns are either simple or compound. The parts of simple nouns do not have a meaning while the parts of compound nouns contribute to the meaning of the compound nouns. Both types are not naturally but rather conventionally true. The identification by the use of nouns has no reference to time. Later Aristotle defined a verb as “A verb is that which, in addition to its proper meaning, carries with it the notion of time. No part of it has any independent meaning, and it is a sign of something said of something else” (Aristotle, On Interpretation, Part 3). Identification by using a verb has a reference to time. A verb predicates something about an object other than itself. A sentence is something whose parts are not affirmation or negation and is meaningful. The parts of a sentence are meaningful on their own but when they are combined together in a sentence there occurs an affirmation or a negation. The truth of sentences is conventional just like that of words. “A sentence is a significant portion of speech, some parts of which have an independent meaning, that is to say, as an utterance, though not as the expression of any positive judgement. (…) The word 'human' has meaning, but does not constitute a proposition, either positive or negative. It is only when other words are added that the whole will form an affirmation or denial” (Aristotle, On Interpretation, Part 4). In case of affirmation or negation something is declared in relation with something else. In affirmation the two things related are found similar, while in negation they are differentiated. Aristotle did not make a clear distinction between sentence and utterance but investigated what can be said with sentences and sentence types. He pointed out that some sentences are propositional while some are subjunctive. Aristotle made a definition of a proposition which is still adopted today. “Yet every sentence is not a proposition; only such are propositions as have in them either truth or falsity” (Aristotle, On Interpretation, Part 4). Aristotle focused on the study of propositions, which he differentiated as being simple or compound. Simple propositions consist of single predication. “Socrates is a philosopher” is an example of a simple proposition. Compound proposition has multiple predications. “Socrates is a philosopher and a man” is a compound proposition consisting of two simple propositions. Whether they are simple or compound, all propositions are either affirmations or negations. “Socrates is a philosopher” is an affirmative

World, Thought and Language in Aristotle


simple proposition and “Socrates is not a philosopher” is a simple negation. In the analysis of propositions and types of propositions, Aristotle found that some subjects are particulars, expressions of singularity, while some are universals, expressions of plurality. Aristotle argued that to every affirmation there corresponds one denial. Aristotle asserted the existence of such pairs of affirmation and its corresponding denial which is a contradiction. One member of a contradiction is false and the other is true; both cannot be false or true at the same time. Aristotle presented his square of opposition which displayed three relationships among propositions; contradiction, opposition, and subalternation. For instance, the propositions with universals as subjects like “all men are mortal” and “all men are not mortal” stand in a relationship of opposition while propositions with particulars as subjects like “Socrates is mortal” and “Socrates is not mortal” are subcontraries. The propositions like “all men are mortal” and “Socrates is not mortal” are contradictories and both cannot be true at the same time. The propositions like “all men are mortal” and “Socrates is mortal” are subalterns. The following is a visual expression of Aristotle’s square of opposition. universal - affirmative Every S is P


particular – affirmative Some S is P




universal-negative No S is P


particular - negative Some S is not P

Final remarks about Aristotle’s view of language in general, how he considered truth of words and how his ideas are different from Plato’s view of true names are needed before the chapter is concluded. Language is the expression of logos and if man’s use of language is a proof of his being rational then conventions about naming and their subsistence are necessary. Unlike Plato, Aristotle is a conventionalist in terms of words. He did not agree with Plato’s doctrine of ideas or infinite forms that is a ground for human thought. Aristotelian conventionalism emphasized that there was no sense in carrying out a geographical or historical study of


Chapter Five

language. In different parts of the world different linguistic conventions are possibly applied, all of which serve the same purpose: They are tools for expressing rational thought and sharing thoughts with people in the same speech community through certain conventions. The conventionalism of Aristotle should be contrasted with that of Hermogenes in Cratylus. Aristotle’s concern was not the etymology of a name given to a thing or person or the truth and appropriateness of the name which was the focus of Plato’s discussion about language. Aristotle did not question if the truth of a name derives from nature or convention. What was important for Aristotle was the relationship between the name of a person or thing and the thing or person the name signifies in real life. The subsistence of a name would depend on the convention. Unlike the convention supported by Hermogenes, Aristotelian conventionalism is not a result of a person’s individual decision taken randomly. The ongoing social process is what determines convention and such conventionalism guarantees the social interaction of true messages. The theory underlined at the start of On Interpretation is quite different from Plato’s approach. Aristotle left aside Platonic ideas and argued that it is the real world that we perceive that provides for the examples of things that we speak about. The relation between language and the world is an indirect one and the mind is an intermediary. Aristotle agreed with Plato in that the mind stored the similarities among things. However, these similarities and the words that represent them are not related to each other in an imitative way. The relation is a conventional one for Aristotle. Therefore, the mental representation of the things in the world is the same for all people on earth however conventional the language is and however conventions differ among language communities (Harris and Talbot, 1997, 22-24). The words convey thoughts from one person’s mind to another’s because they are associated with the same thoughts in both minds. The role of convention is to establish the mental links between the words and thoughts. In On Interpretation Aristotle argued that speech produced symbols of mental representations. These representations are not symbols of the things in the phenomenal world but rather share similarities with them.

References Aristotle.Poetics. trans. by S. H. Butcher Aristotle. On interpretation. trans. by E. M. Edghill

World, Thought and Language in Aristotle


Aristotle.Categories. trans. by E. M. Edghill Arslan, Ahmet. (2007) ølkça÷ Felsefe Tarihi: Aristoteles. østanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi Yaynlar, østanbul. Cassirer, Ernst. (1980) The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms: Language. trans. Ralph Manheim Yale University Press. Harris Royand Taylor, J. Talbot. (1997) Landmarks in Linguistic Thought, Volume 1: The Western Tradition from Socrates to Saussure. Routledge: Florence, KY, USA.


In the medieval period the discussions about the problem of language were carried out in terms of the problem of universals. The problem of universals arose as a result of the problem of the relationship between the terms and concepts used by logic and reality. Are universals parts of the language or of the real world? Do the genuses and species exist as a different cluster of being in the world? How do words signify reality? The discussion to answer these questions resulted with the problem of the link between universals and language. The philosophers came up with the relationship between terms or concepts and reality which was also a question of the existential form of universals. There were many philosophers who argued that it was only the particulars that really existed and that the rest which were universals were claimed to be meaningless and null. The nominalists asserted that what really exist are particulars, the view grounded on Aristotle’s argument that real substance is not universal. The medieval discussion about universals was triggered by Aristotle’s logic in which he discussed the existence of universals as being types, properties or relations. The first medieval philosopher who showed an interest in Aristotle’s idea about universals was Porphyry, followed by Boethius and Abelard. After these three philosophers’ handling of the problem of universals, William of Ockham investigated the problem of language, associating it with universals, particulars and terms. William’s study of language was a more systematic work contrasting universals with particulars. In general, while the language discussions of medieval philosophy were carried out via the problem of universals, the philosophy about language was engaged with logic, epistemology and ontology. Porphyry’s Isagoge was inspired by Aristotle’s theory of universals; as a student of Plotinus Porphyry harmonized and reconciled Plato and Aristotle. Isagoge begins with Porphyry’s implying three questions and being unable to promise to answer them in his introductory type of writing. However, they are important for provoking investigations about the existence of genuses and species. The first question implied was that of

Chapter Six


whether genuses and species exist or if they are dependent on pure concepts. If we accept that they exist, do they have bodies? If they are immaterial, are they separate from perceptible things or do they exist within them? (Marenbon, 2007, 21-22). Even if Porphyry did not give a detailed explanation for these questions he brought up an influential literature for discussion. He laid a foundation for the realist – nominalist debate. Isagoge is a simple treatment of five concepts of genus, species, differentia, property and accident (Evangeliou, 1988, 59). The term “genus” means kind; for instance animal is the genus under which Porphyry falls. Between the two terms, genus is the one under which more species could be listed and the one which has a greater extension. Species means sort; as exemplified in the sentence “Porphyry is a man”. Between the two terms having similar properties the term whose intension is greater is species. Differentia is a distinguishing characteristic; rationality is what distinguishes humans from other members of the genus called animals. Differentia is the basic characteristic that distinguishes species from genus. Property is something that belongs solely to one species. Being capable of culture and developing it is said to be a property of humans insomuch as only humans are capable of it. Accident is a characteristic in general and this general characteristic is something shared by some members of a species. When we consider the sentence “Porphyry is brunette”, we can argue that being brunette is an accidental characteristic of Porphyry and that this can be shared by other members of the human species. The following figure may help us to visualize the genus-species differentiation which is popularly called Porphyry’s Tree. SUBSTANCE

(supreme genus)

(differentiae of the genus substance are material and immaterial) Body

(material substance is the species body)

(differentiae of the genus body are animate and inanimate) Animal

(animate body is the species animal)

(differentiae of the genus animal are rational and irrational) Human (rational animal is the species human) (differentiae of the genus human are particular individuals) Porphyry (the particular individual and no longer a genus or a species)

The Problem of Universals: Medieval Thought on Language


In this schematic classification, when we move from top to bottom we find the concept’s extension and species and from bottom to top we find the concept’s intension and genus. The supreme genus in the figure is substance, the first and most fundamental mode of being and the particulars are the individuals like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle or Porphyry. Substance is a genus and Porphyry is neither a species nor a genus but an individual. Porphyry’s being pale, dark-skinned or blonde is a general characteristic and he may share it with many other members of the human species. The extension of the concept of human consists of all the particular individuals who would fall under the genus human. The relationship between animal and human is genus-species relationship where animal is genus and human is species and the differentia is rationality. Boethius was interested in Porphyry’s Isagoge and translated it into Latin and became engaged with the problem of universals. Boethius explained universal as a general structure from which shares were received not extrinsically but metaphysically. Boethius argued that universals did not exist as substances and that they did not have any existence outside the mind. Although they have a mental existence they have to depend on an external reality. According to Boethius genuses and species had been generated by abstraction. For instance, the universal of human had been generated after an abstraction from particular individuals. Abelard’s interest in the problem of universals was based on his precedent philosophers, Porphyry and Boethius. Abelard’s most crucial contribution to the problem was that he took the problem out of the ontological field and asserted that the problem of universals was a matter of logic and epistemology. He argued that the starting point of the study should be the investigation of the words that signify concepts. He classified nouns as being general, proper and common. Abelard emphasized that it was only the particulars that existed and that the ones other than particular could only exist as an outcome of mental competence (Çotuksöken & Babür, 1993, 196). In the medieval period a systematic investigation of the problem of universals was made by William of Ockham in his work entitled Sum of Logic where he discussed terms, propositions and arguments. He is frequently associated with his razor and the idea of nominalism. Ockham’s razor is a law of economy or law of parsimony. “Plurality should not be posited without necessity”. Priority is given to simplicity. The explanation of more by using less language and simple description is preferred. The principle allows us to differentiate between what exists in our minds and what exists outside the mind. Logic depends on reasoning; reasoning


Chapter Six

consists of propositions; propositions consist of terms. In logical reasoning propositions and terms are linked as if in a chain and William of Ockham examined the terms which are the basic linguistic and logical structures. The questions hidden in William’s discussions are about what kind of a structure terms have and how they are constructed. William referred to and agreed with Aristotle’s definition of term: Term is what a proposition is decomposed to, resulting in a predicate or what is predicated (William of Ockham, 1974, 49). In Sum of Logic Part 1 on terms, William of Ockham dealt with terms and he made two different classifications about terms. In the first classification he argued that terms are of three types; written, spoken and conceptual. The second classification claimed that terms are either categorematic or syncategorematic. Our study of William’s discussion about language would begin with the first classification. At the beginning of the first part William refers to Boethius’s classification of discourse into three. The idea that being and thinking show themselves in discourse encouraged William to classify terms into three types. In the same way there are three sorts of terms- written, spoken and conceptual. The written term is a part of a proposition which has been inscribed on something material and is capable of being seen by the bodily eye. The spoken term is a part of a proposition which has been uttered aloud and is capable of being heard with the bodily ear. The conceptual term is an intention or impression of the soul which signifies or cosignifies something naturally and is capable of being a part of mental proposition and of suppositing in such a proposition for the thing it signifies. (William of Ockham, 1974, 49)

The classification was made according to the term’s function in a proposition because the proposition consists of written and spoken terms which are signs of mental terms. Mental terms constitute mental proposition based on a mental syntax. Written language is dependent on spoken language; spoken language depends on mental language. Mental language is the language of thought and is the most basic and primary form of language. Written words are subject to spoken ones which are in turn subject to mental ones. Written and spoken terms are secondary signifiers and they have been formed conventionally; as signification is conventional the meanings are open to change. Written and spoken terms are not dependent on the things themselves, but rather on mental concepts. Conceptual terms provide primary and direct signification. Naturally these are the mental impressions of something; they are directly connected to the thing they represent (Ockham, 1974, 52-54). Conventionally we may give

The Problem of Universals: Medieval Thought on Language


up using the word “table” to refer to the object. However, we cannot give up the mental impression of “table”. This evoked two distinctions: Natural signification or conventional signification and primary or secondary signification. The terms in conceptual language are concepts and its propositions are conceptual judgements. The signification made by the terms in written and spoken language is conventional and can be changed. The signification in conceptual language is natural which shows the idea that somehow concepts and the objects stand in a natural relationship of similarity (Spade, 2008). William of Ockham hereby put forward the distinction between conceptual language and spoken or written language. Universal is different from particular in that it is a concept. Concept is a conceptual and referential act and refers to particular objects. This cognitive activity is a characteristic peculiar to the subject. There is a similarity relation between the concept and the object it represents. William of Ockham claimed that knowledge possessed by man was about individual beings, particular perceptible things. At the same time man can think about particular beings via universals. However, universals are not objects for scientific knowledge. Universals, which are tools used for thinking about particular things, are objects of thought only in logic. The terms of conceptual language are universals. The terms of spoken and written language are derivative universals because the partnership of these is not natural but rather is based on a hierarchical relation (Libera, 2005, 388- 395). William examined the concept of universals in two ways. The first one is a natural universality peculiar to the concepts of mind and soul. The other is conventional universality peculiar to words. Thus the concept of “table” is a natural mental universal while the term “table” is a conventional one. A universal is not a singular, particular substance but is a sign of mental concepts. The universal term is a sign that is spoken or written. On the other hand substance can neither be a sign nor exist in mind, speech or writing on its own. Propositions consist of universals, not of individual substances. When it comes to genuses and species, they don’t exist outside the minds of speakers. Genuses and species have a mental existence and are also shaped by mind. Genuses and species are what explain and signify the substances of things. Words that signify universals are things that name givers conventionally created (William of Ockham, 1974, 78, 79). The word “term” has three senses according to William of Ockham. Term can stand in the position of a subject or predicate in a proposition. In this sense, in the proposition ‘Man is an animal’, “man” is the subject term and “animal” is the predicate term. In its second sense the term itself can


Chapter Six

be a proposition. In a proposition like “ ‘Man is an animal’ is a true proposition”, the subject term is a proposition itself. In the third sense conjunctions, adverbs, interjections and prepositions are not included under the title of term because they can be neither the subject nor the predicate of a proposition. The second distinction Ockham made about terms is differentiation between categorematic and syncategorematic terms (William of Ockham, 1974, 55). Categorematic terms are meaningful singly and can stand in the position of a subject and predicate in a proposition. Categorematic terms have a sharp and deterministic meaning. Examples for such terms can be “human” or “dog”. Syncategorematic terms are not meaningful singly, but rather contribute to the meaning of other terms in a proposition. Examples of syncategorematic terms can be “every”, “some” or “each”. Investigations about language were exposed to a turning point at the end of the medieval period as a result of the discussions made by William of Ockham. He clearly mentioned that knowledge is spoken out via propositions. Propositions consist of mental contents and concepts. In propositions concepts take the position of particulars and substances. Universals are nothing more than terms in propositions, tools for parsimony and devices used in scientific reasoning. Knowledge is strictly related to the terms which stand for particulars and substances. However, it is important to take into account that the terms refer to objects, to what really exists. As pointed out at the beginning of this chapter, William’s ideas are occasionally associated with nominalism and his nominalist view helps us to understand how he regarded language.

References Çotuksöken, Betül and Saffet Babür. (1993) Metinlerle Ortaça÷da Felsefe, Kabalc Yaynevi, østanbul. Evangeliou, Christos. (1988) Aristotle’s Categories and Porphyry. E.J.BRILL. Libera, Alain De. (2005) Ortaça÷ Felsefesi, çev. Ayúe Meral. Litera Yaynclk, østanbul. Marenbon, John. (2007) Medieval Philosophy: A Historical and Philosophical Introduction. Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, USA-Canada. Spade, Paul Vincent. (2013) "Medieval Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The Problem of Universals: Medieval Thought on Language


William of Ockham. (1974) Ockham’s Theory of Terms: Part I of Summa Logicae. trans. by Michael J. Loux. University of Notre Dame Press.


Philosophy in the last half of the 17th century, in which attempts were made to comprehend the notion of knowledge incipiently with the subject as a knower, demonstrated the view that the accuracy of propositions constituting knowledge could not be grounded on being. The thesis that “words signify ideas” was a dominant view of language in modern philosophy and led philosophers to direct themselves to the subject as a knower and as a user of language. Ideas as signification of words were commented on in different ways by the rationalist philosophers Descartes, Leibniz and empiricist philosopher Locke. This chapter focuses on language and language capacity of humans as discussed by Rene Descartes. The topic of language is not a major one in his writings yet he put forward consistent argumentation about the concept. At the end of the fifth part of his Discourse on Method, Descartes investigated the human capacity to create, develop, use and understand language via an analogy between machines and humans. He wanted us to imagine a room in which humans and human-like machines stand all together and asked how it is possible to differentiate between machines and humans. (…) if there were any such machines that bore a resemblance to our bodies and imitated our actions as far as this is practically feasible, we would always have two very certain means of recognizing that they were not at all, for that reason, true men. The first is that they could never use words or other signs, or put them together as we do in order to declare our thoughts to others. For one can well conceive of a machine being so made that it utters words, and even that it utters words appropriate to the bodily actions that will cause some change in its organs (such as, if one touches it in a certain place, it asks what one wants to say to it, or, if in another place, it cries out that one is hurting it, and the like). But it could not arrange its words differently so as to respond to the sense of all that will be said in its presence, as even the dullest men can do. The second means is that, although they might perform many tasks very well or perhaps better than any of us, such machines would inevitably fail in other tasks; by this means


Chapter Seven one would discover that they were acting not through knowledge but only through the disposition of their organs. (Descartes, 1998, 31&32)

In the analogy Descartes aimed to differentiate between machines and men and pictured a scene where the machines that appear like men, and imitate human behaviour and actions exist in a room together with men. Descartes questions what would be the means to distinguish between men and men-like machines. He claimed that there are two means to do this. Firstly, machines cannot use words or other signs to share their thoughts like men can. Here while referring to the ordinary language we use Descartes also paid attention to the sign language that may be used by the disabled. He anticipated possible objections, asserting that machines might be programmed to speak. He supported his idea by explaining that machines might speak only in the way in which and for the circumstances for which they had been programmed. When you touched a machine’s arm or hurt it, it would not use language to tell us about its feelings or how much it hurts. Descartes argued that machines could not use language for unpredicted circumstances, to represent their thoughts and feelings or to take part in an argumentation because they were not programmed for such unforeseen activities. The second means to distinguish between men and machines is that the latter do not act through knowledge but through disposition. Their organs are ready to act for the programmed situations. It is human reason that makes men choose how to act in all sorts of circumstances that the contingency of life brings, and reason is what is lacking in these machines. Briefly, Descartes pointed out two distinctive features of human beings: One is the ability to use language to express feelings and thoughts and the other is man’s acting through reason. The first of these features is informative for us to understand Descartes’ view of language and language capacity. Descartes expanded the analogy to contrast man with animals and to liken animals to machines. The reason for Descartes’ moving from machines to animals in his discussion is that animals use a kind of language to express sensation. Descartes pointed out that stupid, dull or even insane men are capable of using words in combination to make their thoughts understood. Thus language is an innate capacity inherited by all men regardless of degrees of intelligence. The following quotation shows how, according to Descartes animal language differs from that of humans. (…) there is no other animal at all however perfect and pedigreed it may be that does the like. This does not happen because they lack the organs, for

Descartes on Language Ability


one sees that magpies and parrots can utter words just as we can, and yet they cannot speak as we do, that is to say, by testifying to the fact that they are thinking about what they are saying; on the other hand, men born deaf and dumb, who are deprived of the organs that aid others in speaking just as much as, or more than beasts, are wont to invent for themselves various signs by means of which they make themselves understood to those who, being with them on a regular basis, have the time to learn their language. And this attests not merely to the fact that beasts have less reason than men but that they have none at all. (Descartes, 1998, 32)

As pointed out in the quotation above Descartes argued that the difference between human language and animal language is not because animals lack organs for speech. The examples of parrots and magpies uttering words manifest that they have organs for producing sounds. However, the use of language by these animals is different from men’s use of language because they cannot think about what they are saying. Descartes repeated the use of sign language by deaf people to put an emphasis on the idea that language capacity is innate and for all men. Animals’ utterance of words doesn’t prove that they are thinking what they utter. They use some sounds to express feelings and sensations but they cannot use language to take part in a conversation or argumentation. Their repertoire is automatic, limited and monotonous. The difference between animals’ use of language and man’s use of language lies in difference in nature, not in degree. Animals and human beings do not differ in degrees of being but rather have completely different natures. Human reason is what differentiates man’s use of language from that of animals. Animals do not have less reason than men but have no reason at all. In this respect animals are not different from man-like-machines. The innate language capacity is peculiar to men and the fact that Descartes used his analogy of machines and animals as probable language users shows his innatist view of language. Innatism emphasizes innate ideas given to men. The ideas are inherent in the mind naturally. Just like ideas, language exists only in human beings. Language is an aspect of man’s being created as a rational soul. Language is a natural capacity of human beings; experience and teaching are what bring about potential to actual. The innatism of Descartes claims that ideas are manifested through language. In his Principles of Philosophy he touched on the concept of meaning though not directly. He claimed that each word presents itself with an idea to our ability to reason and that this idea should be picked out carefully. His claim should be studied attentively for it displays the idea that meanings of words are not ideas themselves. Descartes differentiated


Chapter Seven

between ideas and thoughts. Ideas exist naturally as an aspect of the rational soul and they do not change from one man to another. Thoughts are our judgements and vary from one person to another. Thoughts are combinations of ideas and will. Will confirms or rejects. Speech is expression of judgement and the meanings of our utterances are thoughts, not ideas themselves. Meaning is a mental phenomenon. The mentalist view of meaning in Cartesian thought was taken as a model by Chomsky centuries later. Descartes argued that language was both an opportunity and an obstacle. Language is sometimes a means of sharing our thoughts with others but it may also be a barrier when it obscures our thoughts. In ordinary language the words may be uttered without ever thinking about their meanings, when used habitually. In such cases the use of language may be an obstacle to expressions of thought. The ambiguity and obscurity of words in everyday language use may result in failure in communication. Even during the conversations of educated men there may appear controversies because of using the same terms but implying different meanings. Clarity in language can prevent such disagreement. People speak with a memorized vocabulary and start thinking with words rather than with things themselves. Contrarily, Descartes pointed out that people should think with the contents conveyed through words, not with the words themselves.

References Descartes, Rene. (1998) Discourse on Method. trans. Donald A. Cress Hackett Publishing Company. —. (2002) Principles of Philosophy. John Veitch Blackmask Online.


The German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a keen researcher who put forward certain considerations related to different aspects of language and argued that ordinary language is troublesome. He claimed that ordinary language should be differentiated from the language of science and philosophy. Ordinary language is not a mirror of thoughts, and reasoning in ordinary language is problematic. Ordinary languages have propositions consisting of derivative and compound words which are difficult to understand. That is why an ideal language needs to be constituted, to be used in science and philosophy. In his Discourse on Metaphysics Leibniz expressed that the ideal language should be different from the common language of the public by pointing out that such a language would be an infallible tool for presentation and discoveries. The ideal language should have the characteristics of universality and explicitness. According to Leibniz, natural languages are not good mirrors of thought and make reasoning difficult. The compound and derivative concepts of ordinary languages can be reduced to simple concepts. The reduction process consists of steps of degrading a term into formal constituents until we arrive at simple terms. The simple terms achieved at the end of the reduction process will form the alphabet of thought (Copleston, 1994, 268-269). Symbols would be given for each of these simple concepts, and in this way the concepts of ideal language would be expressed with signs. The combination of these symbols by determined rules would make up the unity of this ideal language. The propositions of this universal language would be composed of the symbols of simple and undefined terms. Therefore, besides reduction of complex terms and determination of symbols, the formulation of universal logical rules is essential to formulate propositions and arguments with these symbols. The ideal language project of Leibniz can be considered as having four steps. The first step is the formation of a thought alphabet. The second one is the


Chapter Eight

development of a universal grammar. The third is specification of syntactic rules to combine and use these symbols in propositions, and the fourth one is the preparation of a dictionary for definitions of these symbols. The process of the progression of these steps is as follows: The compound terms in natural languages will be reduced to simple ones. Each simple term will be expressed by using a symbol. These symbols will be used to form propositions in the ideal language. The rules will be formulated for the combination of these symbols. The unity of the propositions of ideal language will be achieved by logical rules. A dictionary of symbols will be prepared for the widespread use and retention of the symbols. Leibniz’s concern in language should be discussed in two perspectives: One is his project of an ideal, universal language; the other is his research carried out to find out common roots of natural languages by concentrating on historical and philological aspects. Actually, these two perspectives supplement each other because an ideal language can only be created if grounded on the similarities among the variety of natural languages (Rutherford, 1995, 224). Leibniz claimed that there was a relation between the form and content of language and mental operations. Languages are mirrors of mind; analysis of words will inform us about the operations of mind. The idea about the relation between language and mind led Leibniz to plan a universal language. Such an artificial language as described above will mirror human reasoning. Just like the division of numbers into prime numbers, compound ideas can be divided into simple ones. The idea that these two operations of division can be carried out with same principles and methods is the major idea in the philosophy of Leibniz (Cassirer, 1980, 129, 130). In this way, certainty, simplicity and reliability in numerical operations could be achieved in our reasoning, which consists of the combination of appropriate symbols according to predetermined rules. According to Kulstad and Carlin, the ideal language of Leibniz is both similar to and different from that of formal logic. Both in ideal language and the language of formal logic reasoning is carried out through the use of symbols. Contrary to formal logic, ideal language should explain the content of human reasoning. Leibniz’s project of ideal language gives a hint about a sort of idea that he had already presumed about the human mind and reasoning. Leibniz had probably assumed that cognition is symbolic and that cognition takes place in a symbolic system similar to language. In plain words our reasoning is realized through a number of signs and has particular characteristics; without these signs we can neither think nor reason (Kulstad-Carlin, 2013). By means of ideal language, Leibniz asserted that communication problems resulting from the

Leibniz’s Project: Ideal Language


ambiguity and obscurity of words would be avoided. Additionally, reasoning would be speedy and free of error. If a list of simple concepts were prepared, it would be possible to achieve all systematic truths that can be known by the human mind. In short such an ideal language would contribute to the achievement of universal knowledge. That is how the ideal language of Leibniz could be associated with his view of epistemology.

References Cassirer, Ernst. (1980) The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms: Language. trans. Ralph Manheim Yale University Press. Copleston, Frederick. (1994) A History of Philosophy: Volume IV Modern Philosophy from Descartes to Leibniz. Image Books Doubleday, New York-London. Kulstad, Mark and Laurence Carlin. (2013) "Leibniz's Philosophy of Mind" The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ed.Edward N. Zalta Leibniz, Gottfried. (2004) Discourse on Metaphysics. trans. Jonathan Bennett. Rutherford, Donald. (1995) Leibniz and the Rational Order of Nature. Cambridge University Press.


The problem of meaning is one of the major issues in the philosophy of language. While questioning the smallest meaningful unit in language, some philosophers, among whom John Locke is included, asserted that words are the smallest meaningful units in a language. Locke pursued meaning in words, which he believed are representations of ideas in the human mind. He is believed to have been in favour of atomism in terms of words. His view about the meanings of words as representations of ideas brought about his association with the mentalist theory of meaning in language. His accounts on language can be examined in the study of his important work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which is principally on the theme of the ability of the human mind to understand and to know. Although the book is considered as an initial inquiry into modern epistemology, Locke establishes a strong connection between knowledge and language. He claims that the nature of knowledge, how we acquire knowledge and the obstacles on our way to knowledge cannot be understood wholly unless we study the nature and use of language and semiotics. “Essay is about the struggle for discovery of the new way of knowing” (Altu÷, 2008, 26). Although Locke carried out an inquiry about knowledge, the preface section of Essay asserts that his main intention is not to contribute to knowledge but rather to get rid of previously asserted wrong ideas about knowledge. “This, therefore, being my purpose—to inquire into the original, certainty, and extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of belief, opinion, and assent” (Introduction, Article 2). He refers to the ideas of Scholastics about knowledge and implies that a distinction among knowledge, belief, thought and assertion is required. Book 1 is a discussion of the concept of ideas that Locke inherited from his predecessors. The assertion that certain kinds of knowledge like the knowledge of God or knowledge of certain moral values are innate has been discussed by Locke. However, he gives the example of children having different ideas about God, demonstrating the variety of the notion


Chapter Nine

and claiming that it cannot be innate. After a reference to the doctrine of innate ideas, he draws his own view about the notion. He affirms that ideas cannot be in the mind unless man is conscious of them. Locke’s conclusion requires the individual’s being aware of the ideas existent in his mind. Therefore, Book I presents Locke’s own account about innatism and ideas, which is a step necessarily taken for directing the discussion to an epistemological ground. Book II of the Essay takes a path to an empirical account of knowledge. Locke initially discusses that all knowledge comes from sensation or reflection. “Our observation employed either, about external sensible objects, or about the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected on by ourselves, is that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of thinking. These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring” (Book II, Chapter 1, Article 2). Knowledge is a result of experience, either by sense experience or reflection. Knowledge of how sugar tastes, knowledge of how my phone rings or knowledge of the colour of my car derive from sense experience, while my awareness that I am anxious or my awareness of my own reading derive from reflection. My experience of sensation of external objects forms perceptions in my mind. Besides, I also reflect and consider the perceptions employed about the ideas in my mind. Reflections are not examples of knowledge but they provide materials for knowledge. As a result, basically and originally all knowledge derives from experience. Locke calls them ideas and they represent the objects of experience in the mind. So, for Locke ideas are important because they provide materials for knowledge. Ideas are objects of human thought, and the human mind is a tabula rasa at the beginning but filled with knowledge later on by means of experience. Both the words of a language and the ideas they represent are what the mind acquires by experiencing. In this manner Locke expresses all the words denoting physical objects and abstract, universal terms are derived from experience. At the end of Book II of the Essay, Locke arrives at a point of decision that in order to inquire knowledge, he would rather spare the next book for language. “I find that there is so close a connexion between ideas and words, and our abstract ideas and general words have so constant a relation one to another, that it is impossible to speak clearly and distinctly of our knowledge, which all consists in propositions, without considering, first, the nature, use, and signification of Language; which, therefore, must be the business of the next Book” (Book II, Chapter 33, Article 19). He realizes that ideas and words have a strong bond. As for knowledge, they are composed of propositions which are composed of words. The explicit

Locke on Words


and clear discussion about knowledge is impossible unless language and semiotics are inquired into. Words are sensible signs, necessary for communication of ideas. Man, though he have great variety of thoughts, and such from which others as well as himself might receive profit and delight; yet they are all within his own breast, invisible and hidden from others, nor can of themselves be made to appear. The comfort and advantage of society not being to be had without communication of thoughts, it was necessary that man should find out some external sensible signs, whereof those invisible ideas, which his thoughts are made up of, might be made known to others. For this purpose nothing was so fit, either for plenty or quickness, as those articulate sounds, which with so much ease and variety he found himself able to make. Thus we may conceive how words, which were by nature so well adapted to that purpose, came to be made use of by men as the signs of their ideas; not by any natural connexion that there is between particular articulate sounds and certain ideas, for then there would be but one language amongst all men; but by a voluntary imposition, whereby such a word is made arbitrarily the mark of such an idea. The use, then, of words, is to be sensible marks of ideas; and the ideas they stand for are their proper and immediate signification. (Book III, Chapter 2, Article 1)

As stated in the quote above, language is a means for communication. Words are representations of their ideas in the mind. Language is what gives rise to ideas to be sensible. The exchange of thoughts ensures the realization of sociability. Language is not static, but is an act. It is an act of uttering ideas via words. The quote also displays that Locke supports conventionalism with regard to words. Words are conventional and randomly given to things. Language allows for exchange of ideas between speaker and listener. The idea, a unit of thought, is externalized due to words. Words, in their immediate signification, are the sensible signs of his ideas who uses them. The use men have of these marks being either to record their own thoughts, for the assistance of their own memory or, as it were, to bring out their ideas, and lay them before the view of others: words, in their primary or immediate signification, stand for nothing but the ideas in the mind of him that uses them, how imperfectly so ever or carelessly those ideas are collected from the things which they are supposed to represent. (Book III, Chapter 2, Article 2)

Words initially signify the idea in the speaker’s mind. Words are therefore direct representations of ideas while they are indirect representations of objects. Locke differentiates between primary (direct) representation


Chapter Nine

and secondary (indirect) representations made by words. In addition to this Locke says “Words being voluntary signs, they cannot be voluntary signs imposed by him on things he knows not” (Book III, Chapter 2, Article 2). It is not possible to signify an idea that does not exist in one’s mind and to use a word that represents an idea not existent in one’s mind. Words are primary representations of the speaker’s ideas; thus they cannot designate an idea that is not in the speaker’s mind. Likewise, by using a word, it is not possible to designate an idea in another man’s mind. It can be implied that for Locke there are two functions of language. The first function is to transmit the ideas in a man’s mind to another man’s. The second function is to enable the record of our ideas which may be consulted later in the future. Locke claims that people fall into error in two ways. Firstly, they are mistaken to presume that the ideas in their minds represented by words are identical with the symbols of the ideas in listeners’ minds. “Words are often secretly referred first to the ideas supposed to be in other men’s minds” (Book III, Chapter 2, Article 4). Secondly, people are mistaken to think that they can speak about physical reality which is not present in their minds. “Secondly, because men would not be thought to talk barely of their own imagination, but of things as really they are; therefore they often suppose the words to stand also for the reality of things” (Book III, Chapter II, Article 5). In Book IV of the Essay, Locke reaches his major objective in writing this book. In the course of the flowing ideas, Locke started with his criticism of past views about knowledge, and moved on to his own account of idea diverging from Plato’s doctrine of innate ideas. His discussions about ideas led him to knowledge which also gave way to the study of language, for knowledge is composed of propositions and propositions of words. In the final book his discussion was ready to conclude with the nature and content of knowledge. Locke arrives at his definition of knowledge: “Knowledge is the perception of the agreement or disagreement of two ideas. Knowledge then seems to me to be nothing but the perception of the connexion and of the agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy of any of our ideas” (Book IV, Chapter 1, Article 2). In his definition, Locke excludes many things that used to be regarded as knowledge. In order for knowledge to appear, it is necessary that two ideas in the mind of the knower are associated as similar or different. Knowledge of white as not being black requires the knower’s having both the ideas of black and white. To be able to establish a connection between two ideas is a necessary requirement for knowledge.

Locke on Words


In the final book of his Essay, Locke spares a chapter for a division of sciences. “Science may be divided into three sorts. All that can fall within the compass of human understanding, being either, First, the nature of things, as they are in themselves, their relations, and their manner of operation: or, Secondly, that which man himself ought to do, as a rational and voluntary agent, for the attainment of any end, especially happiness: or, Thirdly, the ways and means whereby the knowledge of both the one and the other of these is attained and communicated” (Book IV, Chapter XXI, Article 1). These sciences are Physica, Practica and Semeiotike. Physica refers to natural sciences in which natures, associations, operations as well as physical qualities are studied. Practica is used for ethics and studies directions towards good and useful deeds. Principles and depths of human behaviour are at the focus of Practica. The third type is Semeiotike, semiotics which study language and words. For semiotics both words and ideas are signs; words being signs of ideas and ideas being signs of things. Locke points out that “For, since the things the mind contemplates are none of them, besides itself, present to the understanding, it is necessary that something else, as a sign or representation of the thing it considers, should be present to it: and these are ideas” (Book IV, Chapter 21, Article 4). The word is the sign of an idea by means of sounds; thus a person claiming that he is talking about things is wrong. What actually takes place according to Locke is an indirect association between words and things. Locke claims that it would be a mistake to think that we can speak about things. “Words are only tools that convert immaterial mental content to material and thus they become intersubjects” (Altu÷, 2008, 31). Harris and Talbot claim that Locke’s account of language asserts idealized forms of language and communication from his own perspective. However, they also argue that language is not actually in accord with these idealized principles, that language is an imperfect structure and that it may be a possible threat for acquisition and spread of knowledge. The imperfection of language is a result of the relation between essence of language and words. Firstly, a word is an arbitrary sign that represents an idea. Words of a language are conventional and there is no principle to be applied in order to compromise on a more appropriate sign. Secondly, words are voluntary signs of ideas. The use of a word as a sign of an idea is dependent on the individual free will of its user. A third point related to the others is about the effect of the individual speaker on the relation between word and idea. The speaker voluntarily chooses the word to signal an idea in his mind, which is not at all the decision made by the language community. A fourth point about the connection between a word


Chapter Nine

and idea is the condition of confidentially. As the ideas represented by the words the speaker uses are concealed in his mind, he would be the only person knowing the association between them. The word as used by me is a reflection of my idea only, which is however invisible to other minds and cannot be observed at all. Under this circumstance possible communication problems among the people in the same speech community can occur (Harris-Talbot, 1997, 128-129). However, people in the same speech community assume that their ideas represented by the words they use are identical in the minds of their listeners; the contrary would abandon communication. In the Essay, Locke pointed out no criteria to measure this presumed sameness. In the Essay, Locke actually intended to investigate what kind of structure the human understanding ability has. He inquired into the structure of the human ability of understanding as a subject capable of knowing; and while questioning the problem of knowledge, he discussed the relationship between the ideas and the words. This investigation brought him indirectly to the problem of meaning. Considering Locke’s approach, put forward about the connection between idea, knowledge and language in Essay, the conclusion that Locke handled the problem of meaning within the framework of a mentalist approach may be drawn. While explaining the meaning of a word as the idea expressed during communication, and that the minimal significant unit in a language is a word; he also claimed that the meaning of a word resides in the mind of the one who uses it. According to Locke, who is one of the philosophers deeming language as a carrier of thought, the human mind conceals thoughts which cannot be recognized by others. On the other hand, the communication of these thoughts is needed in order to establish the sociality. Consequently, by transforming the ideas hidden within the human mind into externally recognizable signals, it is ensured that they come to light for others. Hence, the reason why humans use the words as signals of their ideas is understood. Words, which are claimed to be based on a conventional structure, ensure an exchange of ideas between the speaker and the listener. By explaining the meaning of a word as an idea within the mind, Locke is placed at the heart of the mentalist theory of meaning. However, the mentalist theory of meaning has been criticized for various reasons and the alternatives that followed are not free of weakness. Martin asserts that the mentalist theory of meaning houses some problems, one of which is related to the nature of association between the sign and the idea. For instance, for me, the word “chocolate” may evoke a mental picture of a small chocolate shop in Belgium where I bought delicious

Locke on Words


chocolates. However, this is what chocolate means to me and it seems to differ from the real meaning of the word “chocolate”. For someone else, “chocolate” may represent an idea different from a picture of the Belgium shop (Martin, 2006, 434).

References Altu÷, Taylan. (2008) Dile Gelen Felsefe. 2. b., Yap Kredi Yaynlar, østanbul. Harris Roy and Taylor, J. Talbot. (1997) Landmarks in Linguistic Thought, Volume 1: The Western Tradition from Socrates to Saussure. Routledge: Florence, KY, USA. Locke, John. (1999) Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The Pennsylvania State University. Martin, R.M. (2006) “Meaning: Overview of Philosophical Theories” Concise Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. ed.Keith Brown, Alex Barber-Robert J. Stainton. Elsevier Ltd., Oxford, UK.


Wilhelm von Humboldt devoted himself to a serious study of language based on the comparison of several different languages. He proposed a connection between linguistic diversity and the growth of human power. The central idea in his arguments was that the human mind had a mental power to create and use languages. He explained the nature of language on the basis of identicalness of language and spirit. He described language as “the outstanding peculiarity of the spirit, enlarging the concept of human intellectuality, and emerging in a manner unexpected, and, in the ultimate depths of its appearance, inexplicable” (Humboldt, 1988, 29). The soul provides the mental power which is responsible for language as well as culture. The concepts of language, culture and mental power are engaged in Humboldt’s philosophy of language. “This is the natural and everywhere recurring phenomenon of human action. Everything in it was at first internal - feeling, desire, thought, decision, speech and act” (Humboldt, 1988, 23). Language is a human action and is produced by mental states of the human mind. These mental states are internal to humans and they can be exemplified as feelings, thoughts or decisions. Humboldt has several writings about his studies on language but the most important one is On Language in which he established the connection of diversity of human languages and the effect of language construction on the development of mankind. Humboldt asserted that language is not a constant end product but rather a natural activity produced by mental power. It’s not a voluntary activity because the emergence of language is not intentional. This involuntary creative activity is also universal for two reasons; because all people use language to designate things and because all languages operate according to some general laws. The mental power is described as having laws of procedure which make up the form of the language. The form of the language consists of two components: The internal or intellectual part and the sound form. The sound form is related to classification of words and grammatical forms. This part of the form is related to the fields of phonology, morphology and syntax. The internal part constitutes the nature of language and this is the


Chapter Ten

part Humboldt was more focused on. Humboldt divides this inner part into two sub-parts: The inner conceptual form and inner linguistic form. The conceptual part is dominated by the idea that the human mind is a rulegoverned system and the part consists of laws of intuition. The linguistic form on the other hand is composed of the laws for expressing the inner conceptual form in language. Language is necessary both for reasoning and for transferring ideas correctly. Without language, the mind cannot transform individual perceptions into manipulable concepts; in other words, the mind cannot acknowledge in a real sense the identities it passively experiences. In addition, it cannot decompose complicated experiences into understandable partitions. Thinking in a real sense, according to Humboldt, incorporates both partitioning and combining. The effectiveness of language resides in its mechanism for enabling to combine and to partition, so as to provide the speaker with transformation of an identity into true thought, which would otherwise remain as an amorphous activity. Thus, language would be used in thinking out loud. Only in this way, may the passive perception of the experience be merged with the subjective phenomena, which is indeed “internal mental activity”. As a result, the way we interpret our experiences and conceive the outside world will depend on the basis that our language imposes on us. Consequently, language becomes a tool to merge the objective experience of man with his subjective mentality. As different from the animals, we may control our intellectual activities achieve self-consciousness and understand our experiences (Harris and Talbot, 1997, 158-159). While putting forward the social aspect of language, Humboldt emphasized a close relationship between the development of the language and the evolution of the social institutions; and a connection between a community and its culture. Humboldt argued that “language is deeply entangled in the spiritual evolution of mankind, it accompanies the latter at every stage of its local advance or retreat, and the state of culture at any time is also recognizable in it” (Humboldt, 1988, 24). According to Humboldt, the relationship between a certain language and the culture of the community speaking this language is a dialectic one. In this respect, we may mention a language and a conception of the world peculiar to this language. Hence, there is a mutual interaction between the language and the conception of the world. A change in its view of the world for a community will bring about a change in its language being spoken. In this sense, the language is a continually reevolving activity and is transferred to the next generations (Altnörs, 2003, 19-25). Language, as an act, is a product of the spirit; still, language is at

Language and Culture in Humboldt


the same time something that shapes spiritual existence. While it is the spirit of the nation which shapes its language, the spirit of the nation in turn, is influenced by its language. As a consequence, the language and the spirit are intertwined and interact with each other (Altu÷, 2008, 59). “The mental individuality of a people and the shape of its language are so intimately fused with one another, that if one were given the other would have to be completely derivable from it.” (Humboldt, 1988, 46). It may be stated that the ones who speak a common language would possess a common view of the world. According to Humboldt, the language, apart from being a means of communication, is also a form of “thinking and expressing”. The tight link that Humboldt emphasizes between language and culture is in relation with the nation-state ideology of the era. He described languages as “bound and dependent on the nations to which they belong” (Humboldt, 1988, 24). Languages belong both to the individual and nation. The individual language user speaks to communicate; however communication takes place among a group of people. So the individual activity of language is united with that of the group. This is how Humboldt links the idea of language to the idea of evolution of nations. He pointed out that “the individual man is always connected with a whole, with that of his nation, of the race to which the latter belongs, and of entire species” (Humboldt, 1988, 41). His view of language is like the links of a chain; the individual activity of language is linked to the activity of a nation, to a race and to the human species. In his work On Language, Humboldt describes the interplay between language and idea such that the language does not stand for expressing thoughts independently from the language, but is itself the formative organ of thought. Without language, thought cannot exist. In this sense, language determines the boundaries of knowledge. Our thinking and knowing are achieved through language (Altu÷, 2008, 61-62). In addition to the philosophers, the intercourse between language and thought has directed many linguists to consider the relation. As an example David Crystal, in his book The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language, points out that there is a close connection between language and thought; he states that when our daily experiences are considered, language is what allows us to think (1987, 14). In this respect, it can be said that many linguists consider that there is an inseparable link between the view of the world of man and the language he speaks (Underhill, 2009, 10-11). This issue is being supported by words and concepts that have emerged in different languages, depending on culture. The point where linguists are diverted in their opinions is whether the conception of our world expresses itself in language, or language itself


Chapter Ten

shapes the concepts we are using. According to Humboldt, while we repeat thinking patterns consciously or unconsciously, or while we transform them into expressions, we act in conformance with a common worldview. Thus, Humboldt’s study of language is focused on two aspects inseparable from one another: How the system of language influences the imagination of a culture and how development of the culture contributes to language, which is a way of conception and expression (Underhill, 2009, 17). At this point, we may claim that culture contributes to the development of language, and that language influences our thinking, our perception of the world and formation of our culture.

References Altnörs, Atakan. (2003) Dil Felsefesine Giriú. ønklap Kitapevi, østanbul. Altu÷, Taylan. (2004) Modern Felsefede Metafizi÷in Elenmesi. Etik Yaynlar, østanbul. Crystal, David. (1987) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Harris Roy and Taylor, J. Talbot. (1997) Landmarks in Linguistic Thought, Volume 1: The Western Tradition from Socrates to Saussure. Routledge: Florence, KY, USA. Humboldt, Wilhelm von. (1998) On Language: The Diversity of Human Language-Structure and its Influence on the Mental Development of Mankind. trans Peter Heath Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Underhill, James W. (2009) Humboldt, Worldview and Language. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.


At the end of the 19th century, the philosophers turned their attention more intensely to the issue of meaning. The focus was on issues like what words and sentences designate, whether the ways they designate differ or not, and what kind of relationship exists between truth and reality as far as language is concerned (Kenny, 2007, 121). The atomism in terms of words in the philosophy of language before the period of Gottlob Frege turned into atomism in terms of sentences as a result of Frege’s questionings. In the beginning of the 20th century, some of the philosophers believed that major problems of philosophy may be solved through the logical analysis of language; while this brought about the movement of linguistic turn, reduction of the philosophy to the analysis of the language was realized. The developments achieved modern logic and analytic philosophy resulted in deeming language as a means of comprehending reality. In this sense, the resolution of language from syntactic, pragmatic and semantic aspects is considered as an appropriate means of reaching reality, which is indeed aimed at by philosophy. Frege has been accepted as the initiator of analytic tradition and symbolic logic in modern philosophy of language and had firstly focused on the philosophy of mathematics. In his era, mathematics had been gone through a great change; even the basic arithmetical concepts were subject to questioning. In Frege’s intellectual circle two basic problems were at the core of discussion: The first problem was about the relation between geometry and arithmetic and the second one was concerned with the theory of numbers (Heck-May, 2008, 3). Frege’s way intersected with language when he was trying to enlighten some arithmetical concepts. Frege claimed that arithmetic is derived from logic. For Frege, arithmetical concepts could be defined in logical terms and in this way propositions in arithmetic could be derived from principles in logic. In order to establish the right ground to achieve his aim, he tried to demonstrate the limits of traditional logic. Aristotle’s logic does not allow for reasoning with relations and proses this in syllogism, but there are relations in the world of existence. Not all propositions appear in the form of a subject and predicate. The analysis of language will reveal the logical form of our


Chapter Eleven

assertions about knowledge, which will inform us about the structure of the universe. In his Foundations of Arithmetic, Frege revisited and presented the concept of analytic as revised in his own way. An analytical truth is one whose proof depends on general laws of logic and definitions. Frege, whose major objective in searching for the basics of mathematical knowledge was to ground arithmetic on logic, put forward his theory of arithmetic after analysing simple arithmetical propositions like “5+7=12”. He proposed two arguments within the scope of his theory. Firstly, all arithmetical objects are claimed to be objects of logic and secondly, all arithmetical truths are indeed logical truths (ønan, 2013, 39). His conclusion in mathematics compelled Frege to study language because he presumed that logic was founded to be the basis for mathematics is also the basis for language. Frege argued that all natural languages like English, Turkish or French are grounded on logic. He wrote his On Sense and Reference in 1892 to explore the logical basis for all natural languages. On Sense and Reference begins with Frege’s handling the issue of identity. “Identity gives rise to challenging questions which are not altogether easy to answer. Is it a relation? A relation between objects, or between names or signs of objects?” (Frege, 1948, 25). Equality points to a relationship between two things but what are these things? It deals with the question of the objects of comparison. Are the objects being related or are they the words that we use to signify those objects? Frege answers the question in two different ways. Firstly he argues that “What is intended to be said by a=b seems to be that the signs or names "a" and "b" designate the same thing, so that those signs themselves would be under discussion; a relation between them would be asserted.” (ibid.26). Identity establishes a relation between two words-signs. Otherwise it would be impossible to explain why a proposition like “a=a” is uninformative but “a=b” is informative, in cases where a and b have same referents. Thus, in his first answer to the question he asserts that the relation is not between the objects because there is the existence of only a single object. In his explanation that follows, he comes up with a second answer that the relationship is within the object itself. “Nobody can be forbidden to use any arbitrarily producible event or object as a sign for something. In that case the sentence a=b would no longer refer to the subject matter, but only to its mode of designation; we would express no proper knowledge by its means” (ibid. 26). If we accept that the relation of identity is between the names then a sentence like “evening star is morning star” will be an assertion about language, but the proposition argues something about astronomy. The words are arbitrary and any other signs could be given by

Frege at the Linguistic Turn


convention to refer to Venus, but the choice of a sign is of no effect on the nature of this heavenly body. However, the problem that remained for Frege, was: Why is the proposition of “Morning star is morning star” not informative while on the other hand “morning star is evening star” is informative? The problem is connected with the informativeness of statements of identity, one for which Frege offers a solution with the distinction of the concepts of sense and reference. It is natural, now, to think of there being connected with a sign (name, combination of words, letter), besides that to which the sign refers, which may be called the referent of the sign, also what I would like to call the sense of the sign, wherein the mode of presentation is contained. In our example, accordingly, the referents of the expressions "the point of intersection of a and b" and "the point of intersection of b and c" would be the same, but not their senses. The referent of "evening star" would be the same as that of "morning star," but not the sense. (Frege, 1948, 27)

Thus, Frege solves the problem of identity and of the propositions about identity in his own way. The senses of the linguistic expressions of “evening star” and “morning star” are different though they have the same referent. The fact that the two expressions have two different senses explains why the proposition of “morning star is evening star” is informative while on the other hand the proposition of “morning star is morning star” is not. Frege points out that sense is a mode of presentation and that each linguistic expression presents the same object in different modes. The concept of mode of presentation may resemble Kant’s distinction between phenomena and noumena. The objects of the world have two facades; one which they present to us and the other which they do not (ønan, 2013, 41). The mode of presentation is sense in Frege’s case. Evening star presents itself as the first shining heavenly body just after the sunset. Morning star presents itself as the last shining heavenly body just before the sunrise. They are the different senses, modes of presentation of the same object, which explains the informativeness of the propositions constituted by them. The modes of presentation direct us when naming the objects. At this juncture, the distinction of sense and referent that Frege put forward is expanded with the addition of a third element, namely, conception. The distinction is considered as his great contribution to the philosophy of language. The referent of a linguistic expression is the object it pictures. The sense of a linguistic expression is its mode of presentation of its referent. “It is natural, now, to think of there being connected with a sign (name, combination of words, letter), besides that to


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which the sign refers, which may be called the referent of the sign, also what I would like to call the sense of the sign, wherein the mode of presentation is contained” (Frege, 1948, 27). As he exemplified with the two linguistic expressions of “morning star” and “evening star”, some words may have different senses but share one and only referent. The two example expressions represent Venus; however their modes of presenting the same planet are different, which Frege calls sense. Another example Frege gives to clarify the distinction is mathematical expressions of “24” and “4x4”, having the same referents because both are different names used to refer to the same number. But it is not possible to say that they have the same senses. Until now, we have clarified the two legs of the tripod but there is also the third leg to be explained. The third element in the distinction is conception, which is a subjective idea inspired by the experience referent and must not be mistaken for sense. The sense of a linguistic expression is common among all the subjects speaking the same language contrary to conception that may vary among the subjects in the same speech community due to prior experiences. “The referent and sense of a sign are to be distinguished from the associated conception. If the referent of a sign is an object perceivable by the senses, my conception of it is an internal image, arising from memories of sense impressions which I have had and activities, both internal and external, which I have performed” (ibid. 29). In order to make the distinction concrete, Frege gives an example of a telescope. “Somebody observes the moon through a telescope. I compare the moon itself to the referent; it is the object of the observation, mediated by the real image projected by the object glass in the interior of the telescope, and by the retinal image of the observer. The former I compare to the sense, the latter to the conception or experience” (ibid. 30). The three elements in the example are the moon itself as an object in the sky, the image of the moon reflected on the calibrated lenses of the telescope and the observer’s conception of the moon when he looks at it through the telescope. The first two elements are objective and independent of the observer. The moon itself and the image of the moon reflected on the lenses of the telescope will exist there as how they really are regardless of anyone observing. However, the third element is subjective, for it requires the existence of a subject looking at the moon through the telescope and conceiving it by means of the image on his retina. When the analogy of observing the moon through a telescope is interpreted, the three elements can be associated with three others questioned in the concept of language. The moon itself represents the referent of a word, the image of the moon

Frege at the Linguistic Turn


on the lenses represents the sense of a word and the image of the moon on the observer’s retina is the conception. The most important impact of the distinction appears in the concept of meaning. We can speak about and comment on things by means of meaning, or senses in Frege’s terminology. The relation between language and world is an indirect one. The words are used to refer to the objects through the senses. The function of the senses is to represent objects in our minds. What is required to think about Venus is its being represented in the mind through a sense, and only after that can we refer to Venus as an object. The indirect relationship between the word and the object it designates may resemble Locke’s assertions about words and objects being related by means of ideas. For Locke, meaning was the mental idea of the speaker or listener and it was an intermediary concept between language and world. However, Locke and Frege argue in different perspectives. Locke’s words are independent of the ideas they represent, and mental ideas as meanings of words are subjective. Contrarily, Frege’s major aim was to place meaning in an objective position, unattached to the mind of the speaker or listener. Locke’s mental ideas as meanings of words are subjective while Frege’s modes of presentation as senses are objective. As mentioned above, with his analogy of the telescope, Frege asserted that referent and sense are objective while conception is subjective. That is a big step towards the objective view of meaning; the meaning of a linguistic expression is objective and like the object itself the meaning is a part of the real world. Frege believed that the subjective view of meaning was a great obstacle for science, philosophy and communication of communities. The words in different languages will vary, yet the meanings will remain the same. The subjective images evoked by the words are ideas in Frege’s theory. The study of these subjective images cannot be the task of philosophy. Frege pointed out that words, senses and conceptions are concepts discussed to show how language is used to express thoughts. We express our thoughts in forms of propositions, and this idea led him to the analysis of these propositions. A simple proposition can be analysed as a combination of a subject and a predicate. The word in the subject position refers to one object and the predicate is the rest of the sentence when the subject is removed. The same predicate can be applied to many subjects, in a way that limitless sentences can be formed. The gap resulting from the removal of the subject can be filled with many others. Whether it is a subject or a predicate, each term must have a referent. Frege claimed that the referent of a subject is an object and that the referent of a predicate is a concept. A single term is inadequate on its own to put forward an


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argument. Arguments are asserted in the form of a proposition, which is a combination of two terms. We have mentioned that subjects and predicates have referents, and so do the propositions. The referent of a proposition is explained by Frege with the concept of truth value. “We are therefore driven into accepting the truth value of a sentence as its referent. By the truth value of a sentence I understand the circumstance that it is true or false. There are no further truth values. For brevity I call the one the true, the other the false. Every declarative sentence concerned with the referents of its words is therefore to be regarded as a proper name, and its referent, if it exists, is either the true or the false” (Frege, 1948, 34). The propositions are either true or false and this is their referent. The referent of the proposition of “5 is a prime number” is true. Declarative sentences express thoughts, but thinking is not a subjective activity for Frege. Thought has an objective content for its thinker. The sense of a sentence is thought, having the referent of a truth value of true or false. For Frege, justification is in question for a sentence having a truth value of true or false. The truth Frege described is not about a relation between object and linguistic expression. In the verification of a linguistic expression the senses of the terms constituting the expression, the referents of these terms and the thought and the mental design expressed with the linguistic expression should be taken together as a whole. During his analysis of propositions, Frege realized that some propositions in philosophy are problematic in the sense that they are regarded as being identical to other propositions. The problem was with the proposition asserting the existence or non-existence of something. The negative existential propositions are a great problem because in such propositions there is reference to an object that is said to non-exist. The existence predicates are different from the others for they are applied to concepts but not to objects. Frege called them secondary level predicates. Thus, it can be concluded that Frege asserted that the predicates are of two classes: Primary level and secondary level. Primary level predicates are applied to objects and their referents are primary level concepts. On the other hand, secondary level predicates are applied to concepts and their referents are secondary level concepts. Another theory developed by Frege is the theory of propositional function. Frege felt the need to develop a logical theory to formalize mathematical expressions. This was an expansion of the use of functionargument analysis in mathematics to its use in logic. In this way Frege did not only become the initiator of the system of predicate logic but also was successful in presenting a logical analysis of mathematical deduction (Beaney, 2009). Frege’s theory of propositional function was influenced

Frege at the Linguistic Turn


by the theory of function in mathematics. The propositions are the truth functions of the concepts that constitute them. A declarative sentence is analysed into two kinds of elements, one being constant and the other changing. The constant element has a saturated structure while the changing element has an unsaturated structure. For instance, the sentence of “Ufuk is a teacher” takes the symbol of F(x) as a single function argument. Furthermore, “Ufuk is Ali’s teacher” is a multiple function argument and is symbolized as F(x,y). Names are “saturated” (complete) expressions while functional expressions are “unsaturated” (incomplete). These concepts may be saturated by being applied to names. In the same way, the objects are saturated but the functions designated by functional expressions are unsaturated. Concepts are unsaturated and incomplete. The sense of a sentence occurs as a result of applying functions to objects. Mares argues that Frege’s concepts are propositional functions. In the example sentence of “my dog is asleep on the floor”, the sense of linguistic expression in the subject position is an abstract concept. The sense of the linguistic expression in the predicate position is a conceptual sense and a function from individual senses to thoughts (Mares, 2014). Finally, it is important to express the contribution of Frege to the theories of meaning in the philosophy of language. Previously, we have discussed the mentalist theory of meaning associated with Locke. However, Frege’s discussion of meaning is quite different and he supported the referential view of meaning together with Russell, early Wittgenstein, Ayer and philosophers in the Vienna Circle. According to Frege, the smallest meaningful unit for analysis is proposition. The meaning of a proposition lies in the truth condition it represents. Frege’s sense has been described in detail in his distinction among sense, referent and conception. Frege argued for an objective view of meaning independent of the subject, and that meaning is not a mental idea associated with words. Meaning cannot also exist in the properties of referents while some linguistic symbols have meanings without having any referents (Martin, 2006, 435). In short, according to Frege, the meaning of a proposition is the knowledge of the proposition’s truth values. Thus, the criterion for meaning is verification. As an important initiator of the theory of reference, Frege put forward the importance of the description of relations between language and the phenomenal world. The theory of reference had to face strong objections, one of which posed the idea that not all words denote actual objects. Examples like “Pegasus” or “Easter Bunny” are linguistic expressions that designate objects that do not actually exist. Lycan also asserted that some linguistic phenomena have different senses although they have one referent, giving the examples


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of “John Paul” and “Pope” denoting the same person but having different senses (Lycan, 2000, 4-6).

References Beaney Michael. (2008) “Wittgenstein on Language: From Simples to Samples” The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language. ed. Ernest Lepore & Barry C. Smith, Oxford University Press, Oxford. Heck Richard G. - Robert May. (2008) “Frege’s Contribution to Philosophy of Language” The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language. ed. Ernest Lepore & Barry C. Smith. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ønan, ølhan. (2013) Dil Felsefesi. Anadolu Üniversitesi Yaynlar. Kenny, Anthony. (2004) A New History of Western Philosophy: Volume 1, Ancient Philosophy. Claredon Press, Oxford. Lycan William G. (2000) Philosophy of language: A Contemporary Introduction. Routledge, London and New York. Mares, Edwin. (2014) "Propositional Function" The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Martin R.M. (2006) “Meaning: Overview of Philosophical Theories” Concise Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. ed. Keith Brown, Alex Barber-Robert J. Stainton. Elsevier Ltd., Oxford, UK.


Bertrand Russell’s idea of language can be found in his works On Denoting published in 1905, Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description published in 1912, and Philosophy of Logical Atomism, a series of conferences which were published in 1918. He started by investigating language, an activity which necessarily directed him towards exploration of knowledge and later towards the logical analysis of atomic propositions. He argued that there are three important semantic problems that should be solved by a theory of language. The first problem was about the terms without any referent, the second one was the problem of existential propositions and the last one was the substitution of identicals. While searching for solutions to these problems, he associated language with knowledge and he realized that he could solve language problems with reference to logical analysis. In order to provide a clear description of his ideas, it is more appropriate to begin with what he asserted about knowledge. Russell’s argument that understanding a proposition requires one’s direct acquaintance with all the parts of a proposition relates the two fields, namely philosophy of language and epistemology, with each other. He pointed out that ordinary language manifests two senses of knowledge. Knowledge of things has to be differentiated from the knowledge of truths. Knowledge of things is rather like identifying or recognizing things. Knowledge of things is like knowing a definite person or a city. Knowledge of truths, on the other hand, is knowledge of true propositions. In order to have knowledge of truths, knowledge of things is required, which is the assertion that led Russell to focus on the knowledge of things. Here, Russell’s key concept of direct acquaintance is at the centre of attention, being the only way argued to end up with the knowledge of things. To know something with direct acquaintance means to know it with no reference to language or without the use of concepts. “I say that I am acquainted with an object when I have a direct cognitive relation to that object, i.e. when I am directly aware of the object itself. When I speak


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of a cognitive relation here, I do not mean the sort of relation which constitutes judgment, but the sort which constitutes presentation” (Russell, 1917, 152). According to Russell, it is impossible for someone to have direct acquaintance with anything outside his mind. Russell then asserted that there are two kinds of knowledge of things: Knowledge by direct acquaintance and knowledge by description. Knowledge by direct acquaintance is a result of direct awareness without any intermediary. The subject has a direct, immediate cognitive relation to an object. When we touch an object we directly have a cognitive access to the hardness, softness, smoothness or raggedness of the object. The knowledge of the hardness of an object acquired with this immediate experience is knowledge by acquaintance. “When we ask what are the kinds of objects with which we are acquainted, the first and most obvious example is sense-data. When I see a colour or hear a noise, I have direct acquaintance with the colour or the noise” (Russell, 1917, 153). Knowledge by description is acquired through deduction. We deduce the things that we don’t know from the things that we do. “It will be seen that among the objects with which we are acquainted are not included physical objects (as opposed to sense-data), nor other people's minds. These things are known to us by what I call 'knowledge by description'” (Russell, 1917, 155). The things leave marks in our minds through perception. Our condition of direct acquaintance is due to these marks. These mental marks of objects formed by direct acquaintance are called sense data by Russell. The sense data are particular, subjective, and a basis for knowledge, but they are momentary. On the other hand, in order to have knowledge by description, it is necessary that one has to be already directly acquainted with some things. By means of the things that we know by direct acquaintance we acquire a language, the use of which enables us to attain the knowledge of the outside world. In order to have knowledge by description, we have to go beyond the boundaries of our own immediate and private experience, in such a way that we share common knowledge and language. To go beyond the boundaries of knowledge of direct acquaintance, Russell claims that we have to deduce universals from particulars. Universals are drawn from the similarities among the particulars by a process of abstraction. Abstraction is a function of mind. For all the universals that we deduce, there exists a predicate for each in a language. However, to be able to comprehend a predicate one has to be acquainted with the universal. Briefly, in order to understand and speak a language, one has to be acquainted with things, have sense data and know universals.

Russell’s Theory of Definite Description


Russell asserts that in order to comprehend what is meant by a proposition, one has to be directly acquainted with the referents of all its constituents. It is only possible to know sense data and universals by acquaintance. The meaning of a proposition consists of sense data and universals that exist in the mind. The comprehension of the meaning of a proposition is realized through this. Russell uses terms such as function, universal and concept with a similar denotation. Unlike Frege, he did not differentiate between sense and referent of a term. Russell claimed that the sense of a term is its referent. After the analysis of propositions, Russell focused on the constituents of function and variable. The universal of red is a function predicated by “___ is red”. “x is red” is a propositional function and “x” is the variable in the proposition. By definition a propositional function contains an undetermined element represented with “x”. It is necessary for “x” to be determined in order for a propositional function to have meaning. When an object is used to fill in the place of “x” in a propositional function, a true or false proposition is achieved. That is, the universal does not have a sense by itself, but rather, it is meaningful if it appears in a proposition. His discussions about propositions directed him to exploration of descriptions which appear as the variable in a propositional function. We have expressed that Russell pointed out the necessity of knowledge by acquaintance of all the referents of the terms in a proposition in order to understand the proposition. However, they are only sense data and universals that we know by direct acquaintance. Due to language, by using universals, we can speak about the outside world with which we are not directly acquainted. It is language that enables us to speak about what we do not know by using what we know. In language, we share our knowledge by description by using descriptive phrases. Then Russell investigates descriptions by classifying them into two types as definite descriptions and indefinite descriptions. “By a 'description' I mean any phrase of the form 'a so-and-so' or 'the so-and-do'. A phrase of the form 'a so-and-so' I shall call an 'ambiguous' description; a phrase of the form 'the so-and-do' (in the singular) I shall call a 'definite' description. Thus, 'a man' is an ambiguous description, and 'the man with the iron mask' is a definite description” (Russell, 1917, 155). Indefinite descriptions do not signify a definite particular object. “Some of the countries in Europe” is an indefinite description for the countries in question are indefinite. But a definite description is used to signify a definite particular. For instance, “the capital of Turkey” is a definite description that signifies a particular city.


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Russell put forward his doctrine of logical atomism which was a result of his analysis of propositions. Logical atomism is analysis of a subject into its constituents which can no longer be analysed. “It is a theory about the fundamental structure of reality and so it belongs to the main tradition of western metaphysics. Its central claim is that everything that we ever experience can be analyzed into logical atoms” (Russell, 2010, vii). The doctrine of logical atomism is about the conformity between language and world. Russell asserts that the atoms arrived at finally in the analysis are not physical atoms but are logical atoms. Some of these atoms are particulars and some are relations or predicates. The logical atoms in language correspond to logical atoms in the world. The propositions are representations of facts in the world. The atoms are logical because they are not material but they depend on ideas constituting objects. Atomic language facts conform with atomic facts of the world; therefore Russell started his investigation of atomic propositions. Russell argued that the most important contribution of symbolic logic is to distinguish between atomic propositions and complex propositions that appear like atomic propositions. Classical logic asserted that both propositions of “Socrates is mortal” and “All men are mortal” were atomic, having emphasized that they had the same form of subject + predicate. The problem that was set in the beginning of 20th century was about a failure to differentiate between propositions concerning universals and particulars. In the area of the phenomenal world there are facts in relation with each other. It is possible that some propositions may appear as atomic when the grammatical syntax is concerned, yet a logical analysis would show that they are complex. Some example propositions have shown that although no conjunction was used in them, they are still complex. Russell depicted no problem with the propositions about proper names, yet the propositions with descriptions were found problematic by Russell. Propositions with proper names might be atomic while propositions with descriptions are not atomic. According to Russell, atomic propositions stand in one to one correspondence with atomic facts. The logical analysis of language would enable us to arrive at atomic propositions which would lead us to atomic facts. Altnörs points out that Russell’s argument grounds on an assumption of ideal language in which propositions appear in one-to-one correspondence with the things in the outside world. The theory of descriptions is the first example of logical analysis of language. By means of this theory, the operation of symbolic language and the adequacy of the tools of formal analysis were tested. The theory of descriptions aims to eliminate the names other than proper ones with its

Russell’s Theory of Definite Description


ontological law of parsimony. The theory is actually an outcome of a struggle for an analysis to eliminate descriptive phrases in propositions (Altnörs, 2003, 120). Rossi asserts that the theory of descriptions suggests a method to eliminate unjustifiable beings. The logical analysis manifests as a struggle to shed a light on the atomic constituents of complex propositions, and on the obscurity of thoughts and to eliminate unnecessary beings (Rossi, 2001, 17). The two propositions of “The present king of France is bald” and “Socrates is bald” may seem to have the same grammatical structure of a subject followed by a predicate. However, Russell emphasized that a logical analysis would manifest the difference between the two propositions, the former being molecular, and the latter atomic. A logical analysis of the former would exhibit three other propositions implied by a single molecular proposition. “Presently, France has a king”, “At present there is one king in France” and “Whoever the present king of France is, he is bald” are the propositions hidden in the proposition in question. Russell also studied other names that are possible subjects in propositions. He classifies proper names that designate particulars as ordinary, analysable proper names and unanalysable logical proper names. Ordinary proper names can be analysed as definite descriptions whereas logical proper names cannot be analysed and are the names of particular sense data. The ordinary proper names like London or Jack are rather shortened forms of descriptions. The logical proper names are used for sense data resulting from acquaintance with a particular object. These names cannot be understood by everyone because they are the representations of marks in one’s mind of one’s own sense data. “This” or “that” can be given as examples for logical proper names. The reference by logical proper names was much later called direct reference. Initially in this chapter, we have pointed out that Russell manifested three semantic problems that a linguistic theory should solve. The first problem was about terms without any referents. The subject term in the proposition “The present king of France is bald” is non-referential and the proposition is false. According to the principles of logic, the negation of a false proposition is necessarily true. “The present king of France is not bald” must be true as set forth by logical principles; however, it is not for the subject term does not have a referent. France is no longer a monarchy, thus there is no king of France. Russell solves the problem by asserting that a logical analysis will reveal that the negation of the proposition in question is “It is not the case that the present king of France is bald”. The second problem Russell pointed out was about existential propositions which may mislead us at a surface level analysis. The subject


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term in the proposition “Unicorns do not exist” has no referent however such a proposition seems to make a reference to something that does not exist. However, proposing that it does not exist is blanking the concept. This concept cannot be applied to any object. Russell explained that existence is not a feature of objects but rather a feature of propositional functions or concepts. The third problem was about the substitution of identicals. If a and b are identical, the substitution of them in a proposition would not change the truth or falsehood of the proposition. Russell expressed that during the reign of George IV, Scott wrote a novel called Waverley. Taking this into account, the truth value of the proposition of “George IV wished to know whether Scott was the author of Waverley” would not change if identicals were substituted. Then the proposition of “George IV wished to know whether Scott was Scott” would be true. When we say: `George IV wished to know whether so-and-so', or when we say `So-and so is surprising' or `So-and-so is true', etc., the `so-and-so' must be a proposition. Suppose now that `so-and-so' contains a denoting phrase. We may either eliminate this denoting phrase from the subordinate proposition `so-and-so', or from the whole proposition in which `so-and-so' is a mere constituent. Different propositions result according to which we do. I have heard of a touchy owner of a yacht to whom a guest, on first seeing it, remarked, `I thought your yacht was larger than it is'; and the owner replied, `No, my yacht is not larger than it is'. What the guest meant was, `The size that I thought your yacht was is greater than the size your yacht is'; the meaning attributed to him is, `I thought the size of your yacht was greater than the size of your yacht'. To return to George IV and Waverley, when we say `George IV wished to know whether Scott was the author of Waverley' we normally mean `George IV wished to know whether one and only one man wrote Waverley and Scott was that man'; but we may also mean: `One and only one man wrote Waverley, and George IV wished to know whether Scott was that man'. In the latter, `the author of Waverley' has a primary occurrence; in the former, a secondary. The latter might be expressed by `George IV wished to know, concerning the man who in fact wrote Waverley, whether he was Scott'. This would be true. For example, if George IV had seen Scott at a distance, and had asked `Is that Scott?’ A secondary occurrence of a denoting phrase may be defined as one in which the phrase occurs in a proposition p which is a mere constituent of the proposition we are considering, and the substitution for the denoting phrase is to be effected in p, and not in the whole proposition concerned. The ambiguity as between primary and secondary occurrences is hard to avoid in language; but it does no harm if we are on our guard against it. In symbolic logic it is of course easily avoided. (Russell, On Denoting, 1905)

Russell’s Theory of Definite Description


Russell solves the puzzle in a different way from Frege, who asserted that sense and reference should be considered differently. Russell on the other hand differentiated between a primary and a secondary occurrence of a denoting phrase. The two phrases are not actually co-referential. The denoting phrase of “The author of Waverley” does not directly refer to an individual man. When he analysed this descriptive phrase, he arrived at a general proposition constituted of concepts, while on the other hand, the name “Scott” finally in the analysis was degraded to a definite description. In brief, the two terms in the proposition, “Scott” and “the author of Waverley” are not co-referential. Finally, it is necessary to remark on Russell’s view of meaning as expressed in his “An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth”. Russell identified the condition of truth of a proposition in terms of verification. “Speaking broadly, the process of verification is as follows: first you hear or read or consider a sentence S; then you have an experience E; then you observe that S is a sentence which describes E. In that case you say that S is "true". I do not mean that this is a definition of the word "true", but that it is a description of the process by which you come to know that this word is applicable to a given primary sentence” (Russell, 1940, 80). The prerequisite for a sentence to have meaning is that it is in the form of a proposition. The sentence has to be true or false. The truth of a sentence is verified by checking the conformity. For Russell, the truth is conformity. It is necessary to control the conformity between the object or fact referred to by the proposition and the proposition itself. By the end of the evaluation, the propositions found to be true or false will be accepted as meaningful, but the propositions which are neither true nor false are claimed to be devoid of meaning. The propositions devoid of meaning will not have referents. Thus, it is clear that Russell favoured the referential theory of meaning. The meaning was discussed at the propositional level. The meaningfulness of a proposition was determined in accordance with the proposition’s conformity with the fact.

References Russell, Bertrand. (1905) “On Denoting” Originally Printed in Mind. —. (1917). Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description. Reprinted in his his Mysticism and Logic. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd. —. (1940) An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth. George Allen & Unwin LTD. —. (2010) The Philosophy of Logical Atomism. Routledge.


Chapter Twelve

Altnörs, Atakan. (2003) Dil Felsefesine Giriú. ønklap Kitapevi, østanbul. Rossi, Jean-Gerard. (2001) Analitik Felsefe. çev. Atakan Altnörs, Paradigma, østanbul.


Saul Kripke’s important work Naming and Necessity (1980) is a collection of his lectures presented in Princeton that directed analytic philosophy onto a different path. However, the striking effects of his lectures were on philosophy of language and metaphysics. He challenged his preceding philosophers Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein, specifically their theory of descriptive reference, and also Quine about his arguments about the concept of necessity. His sharp division between necessity and a priority, with the emphasis that the former is a metaphysical concept and the latter an epistemological one, left a mark on conception of the terms. This division will be discussed in detail throughout the chapter. Naming and Necessity is well appreciated for two issues: Kripke’s defence of modal concepts and his rejection of the conception of descriptive reference. Kripke introduced a modal argument and placed the concepts of necessity and possibility at the heart of the discussion. His argumentation about what must be and what can be was at the core of his considerations about language. He also rejected and counterargued the descriptive account of reference which relates language and world through description. Firstly, Kripke referred to the arguments of the descriptive theory of reference which claimed that description is essential in order to speak about an object. The proper names or pronouns had been studied and claimed to be substituted by description. He exemplified Frege’s argument that the name “Aristotle” meant “the man who taught Alexander the Great”. The descriptive account asserted that the proper name and the description are synonymous and can substitute for each other. Frege differentiated among a word, sense and referent. Sense of a word is displayed through a description and it designates an object. Russell on the other hand did not differentiate between sense and referent. The ordinary proper names contain a particular description while pronouns like it, he, and they contain a mental description. Kripke mentioned that it is possible to refer to things by using proper names of individuals and by means of natural kind terms. In any case, the speaker’s intentions or beliefs do not determine the referent. Kripke introduced the modal argument intended for proper names. He asserted a


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new concept of rigid designators, the term he used to talk about both proper names and natural kind terms. A rigid designator is an expression with necessarily the same reference in every possible world. “Let us call something a rigid designator if in every possible world it designates the same object, a non-rigid or accidental designator if that is not the case. Of course we don't require that the objects exist in all possible worlds” (Kripke, 1980, 48). The concept of possible words was explained by Kripke with an example of two dices, each with six sides. When we roll the dice, there are 36 possible outcome states. These states are like possible worlds. We live in our actual world but possible worlds are the possible ways in which the world could be. A singular term ‘z’ is a rigid designator if and only if ‘z might not have been z’ and ‘someone other than z might have been z’ are unambiguously false. Kripke expressed the idea that proper names are rigid designators while descriptions are not. Let us study an example of a proper name “William Shakespeare”, and a description, “the author of Hamlet”. The descriptive theory of reference asserted that the two are synonymous and co-referential and that they refer to the same man. But, Kripke argued that the proper name “Shakespeare” is a rigid designator while “the author of Hamlet” is accidental. In Kripke’s way of argumentation, the person called Shakespeare might not have written Hamlet. History’s progression might have been in some other way, as if, for example, the possible world in which Shakespeare lived were somehow different and Shakespeare were not the author of many tragedies including Hamlet. In a possible world he might have been a merchant. The fact that Shakespeare is the author of Hamlet is not a necessary fact of history. The fact that “the author of Hamlet” picks out Shakespeare relative to our actual world and Ben Jonson for instance, relative to another possible world makes “the author of Hamlet a non-rigid designator. However, Kripke generalized that “William Shakespeare” refers to the same person in all possible worlds. As a term designating the same entity relative to all possible worlds, “William Shakespeare” is a rigid designator. Kripke considered the logical and metaphysical concept of necessity and commented that there is no necessity in such descriptions. A sentence like “Shakespeare is the author of Hamlet” is a contingent proposition and is true. The philosophy of language agreed on the principle that, two synonymous terms can substitute for each other in a proposition and that the truth and meaning of the proposition do not change. Another true proposition is “Shakespeare might not have been the author of Hamlet”. If we apply the principle and the synonyms substitute for each other we come up with the proposition “Shakespeare might not have been Shakespeare”. However, after the substitution, the truth value of

Kripke and Direct Reference


the proposition changes and there appears a logical contradiction. Therefore, Kripke arrived at the conclusion that a proper name is not synonymous with a description. Kripke’s argument is that no proper name can be synonymous with a description. However, he then had to explain how we talk about something by using proper names and pronouns if not through descriptions. Kripke mentioned that he did not have a theory but that he had ideas about the topic. His ideas gave way to both causal theories of reference and to direct reference theory. Kripke claimed that a proper name is presented with a ceremony. The picture is this. I want to name an object. I think of some way of describing it uniquely and then I go through, so to speak, a sort of mental ceremony: By 'Cicero' I shall mean the man who denounced Catiline; and that's what the reference of 'Cicero' will be. I will use 'Cicero' to designate rigidly the man who (in fact) denounced Catiline, so I can speak of possible worlds in which he did not. But still my intentions are given by first, giving some condition which uniquely determines an object, then using a certain word as a name for the object determined by this condition. (Kripke, 1980, 79).

Kripke argued that there are two ways to carry out this mental ceremony of naming: By ostension and by description. The former way is ostending, presenting something and naming it by demonstrating. Naming a new born baby, naming a street, building or institution are examples of naming by ostension. After the mental ceremony, the name happens to be a label of the thing named. Even though the person or the place named may alter in time, or we don’t know the person named or we had never been to the place named, by means of a label we still talk about or understand it. The name of an object is first given by someone under certain circumstances and for some reason. This is the first link in naming but the name is passed on from one link to another. Kripke argued that the whole ongoing process is a causal chain. There exists a cause for the name’s passing on from one link of the chain to the other. The names possibly go through changes but there is always a cause for the change. One may use a name without knowledge of all the links and causes. But the fact that we cannot know all the links of the causal chain does not affect the existence of the chain (ibid. 93). The second way of naming is by description, which occurs much more rarely than the former way. Kripke gave the example of the discovery of Neptune, for determination of the referent by description. “Neptune was hypothesized as the planet which caused such and such discrepancies in


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the orbits of certain other planets” (ibid. 79). The reference of a planet which had not been discovered before and which had been observed to cause certain discrepancies in the orbit of Uranus was fixed with a description. According to Kripke, even under these rare conditions when naming was by description, name and description do not have the same meaning. Description only works for determining the referent of the proper name. According to Kripke, in some cases a referent may be determined by a description, a property that identifies the object. But the description is not a synonym of the name. Identification by using such a property is fixing a reference by an abbreviation. Names are like abbreviations, contingent marks of their referents. As noted by Noonan, Kripke’s argument is that the speaker has a kind of identifying description in mind whenever he uses a proper name. However, Noonan warned that Kripke’s claim was not a necessary description of all the words uttered by a speaker. We do not have a mental description of all the names we use to give a meaning or fix a reference and when we have, it is not necessarily a shared meaning by the public (Noonan, 33). Fixing the reference is one sort of relationship between a name and a description. In this way, when introducing a proper name, a particular thing is picked out. We tag the particular object and refer to it in all possible worlds. What is the semantic content of a proper name if not a description? Proper names and pronouns used in propositions directly designate their referents. In the case of a proper name the semantic content is its referent (ønan, 2013, 89). The sentence like “The world revolves” is constituted of two terms: “The world” and “revolves”. The name “the world” directly refers to the planet we live on. The direct reference theory claims that the meaning of a name is the thing referred to by the name used. The striking claim made by Kripke was a challenge for a previous argument which many philosophers like Hume or Kant agreed on: All a priori propositions are necessary and all a posteriori propositions are contingent. A priori propositions are those deduced from pure reason and are independent of experience while a posteriori propositions are dependent on experience and empirical evidence. The former can be exemplified with the propositions of mathematics or geometry. Such a priori knowledge was known to be necessary because knowledge by pure reason eliminates the accidental occurrences in sense experience. But Kripke’s claim was the possibility of contingent a priori propositions. He emphasized the distinction between a priority as an epistemological concept and necessity as a metaphysical concept. Kripke argues for the existence of contingent a priori truths by reference to the concept of rigidity. His example to display this is a

Kripke and Direct Reference


standard meter rod which was first named in Paris and introduced as a rigid designator of the length of the stick. “Even if we define what a meter is by reference to the standard meter stick, it will be a contingent truth and not a necessary one that that particular stick is one meter long. If it had been stretched, it would have been longer than one meter. And that is because we use the term 'one meter' rigidly to designate a certain length” (Kripke, 1980, 75). “The stick S is one meter long” is an a priori proposition for the people there during the naming process. They did not need to measure it additionally to prove it. But Kripke asserted that the stick could have been a bit longer or shorter and that when the possibilities were considered it could have been of a different length. Kripke argued that the length of objects is not a necessarily unchanging characteristic. The length of a stick at a point in time is contingent. Therefore the proposition that “Stick S is one meter long at t” is contingent but a priori for the people during the naming ceremony. Kripke’s assertion on necessary a posteriori propositions is related to many propositions about scientific inventions. “Water is H2O” is a proposition of necessary truth. The water’s consisting of two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom is a matter of metaphysics and is metaphysically true. However, the knowledge was not deduced purely by mind. The knowledge of such a fact is dependent on observation, experiment and measurement. So this necessary true proposition is a posteriori. The proposition that “Hesperus is Phosphorus” is necessarily true because it contains names of rigid designation. However, empirical investigations are required to determine the truth of the statement. The concept of rigid designation has a significant part in picturing an illustration of a necessary, a posteriori truth. Without rigid designation the necessary a posteriori category would be empty. And so in any other possible world it will be true that Hesperus is Phosphorus. So two things are true: first, that we do not know a priori that Hesperus is Phosphorus, and are in no position to find out the answer except empirically. Second, this is so because we could have evidence qualitatively indistinguishable from the evidence we have and determine the reference of the two names by the positions of two planets in the sky, without the planets being the same. (Kripke, 1980, 104)

A final remark about Kripke is about his arguments about general terms and species names. Simple particular terms in the forms of proper names and pronouns do not have descriptive content. Descriptions are contingent designators; they might have been such and such. Kripke questioned the cases of general terms like “water”,


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“lion” or “human” and argued that many particulars are included in these species. Thus a general term is applicable to many objects. But Kripke also distinguished these natural general terms from artificial ones like “triangle”, “computer” or “function”. The theory of direct reference argued that both kinds of general terms make direct reference just like proper names. The referents of general terms are the names of the species. General terms are also rigid designators and refer to the same species in all possible worlds.

References ønan, ølhan. (2013) Dil Felsefesi. Anadolu Üniversitesi Yaynlar. Kripke, Saul. (1980) Naming and Necessity. Basil Blackwell. Noonan, Harold. (2013) Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Kripke and Naming and Necessity. Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group.


After the linguistic turn the philosophers of language focused on semantic and syntactic aspects of language. However, the first signals of the pragmatic side of language and the focus on language use in actuality were observed in later Wittgenstein’s ideas. During the 1930s the linguistic units were approached as potential elements of use by speakers. The philosophers of the pragmatic approach attempted to explain what people do with words and to classify them. What is done with language is a linguistic act by the use of linguistic units. (Martin, 2006, 436). Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations was a step towards the investigation of language use in a real life environment. John L. Austin, Paul Grice and John Searle followed him on the way to pragmatic study of language. The utterance of a sentence is an act performed in accordance with certain rules. The meaning of a sentence is formed through a behaviour pattern exhibited while uttering the sentence. According to P. F. Strawson, Russell’s theory of descriptions was misleading because what signify something are not the linguistic units themselves but rather the people who use these linguistic units. “This” in the sentence “This is a beautiful red pen” can signify something only if it is used in a meaningful context that makes the expression meaningful. Strawson argued that a sentence like “The present king of France is bald” cannot be considered as false just because there is no king of France today. No one hearing this sentence would answer in ways like “no, this is wrong” or “no, I don’t agree with you”. Strawson believed that such statements with non-existent referents have no truth value. The expression is just unsuccessful (Lycan, 2008, 161). The verification principle adopted by the Vienna Circle was believed to underestimate the number of true propositions. In Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein turned away from the ideas of Vienna Circle and put forward the concept of language games. Like all other games, language games are played according to some principles. Knowledge of a language is to be equipped with all the principles required to play language games. The act of playing the


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language games is equally important with the knowledge of the principles of a language. That is why each language play contains an activity which Wittgenstein calls “forms of life”. “So you are saying that human agreement decides what is false and what is true? It is what human beings say that is false and true; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life” (Wittgenstein, 1953, 88e241). Learning a language game is adapting a form of life and we can talk about the existence of an unlimited number of language games and forms of life. Wittgenstein’s language games are like linguistic activities e.g., to measure on a metrical scale, to give an order, to make a guess or to name an object. A language game consists of a system of principles. A language community is needed to form the system of these principles and to play these games. Learning a language is therefore about becoming a part of the community playing language games. Each language game is also a form of life. Semantic philosophy of language investigated the meaning of sentences independent of their actual use. However, later Wittgenstein argued that there is no meaning of a sentence other than its actual use in a language game. The slogan of “meaning is use” asserts that there is no semantic meaning independent of pragmatics (ønan, 2013, 107). Wittgenstein, with his arguments in Philosophical Investigations, paved the way for pragmatic approaches to language and meaning. John Austin’s starting point was that some sentences are different from others and that some sentences do not declare a fact, but rather produce some effects. He asserted that the verifiability principle was inadequate because many utterances discarded as meaningless are in fact meaningful. Such utterances are not uttered to give information and they should be examined in terms of conditions of successful performance. (…) in recent years, many things which would once have been accepted without question as ‘statements’ by both philosophers and grammarians have been scrutinized with new care… It has come to be commonly held that many utterances which look like statements are either not intended at all, or only intended in part, to record or impart straightforward information about the facts…Along these lines it has by now been shown piecemeal, or at least made to look likely, that many traditional philosophical perplexities have arisen through a mistake-the mistake of taking as straightforward statements of fact utterances which are either (in interesting non-grammatical ways) nonsensical or else intended as something quite different. Whatever we may think of any particular one of these views and suggestions…it cannot be doubted that they are producing a revolution in philosophy. (Austin, 1962, 2-3)

Pragmatic Approaches: Austin, Searle and Grice


In How to do Things with Words, Austin argued that the same speaker might utter the same expression with different meanings. He did not approach meaning in terms of terms and the referents they signify. The meaning focused on by previous philosophers like Frege, Russell or Kripke was semantic meaning. However, Austin was concerned with pragmatic meaning, the meaning conveyed during a conversational activity (Rossi, 2001, 63). While the aspect of language investigated before pragmatist philosophers of language was limited to the informative side of language, Austin and his followers emphasized the study of such uses as asking questions, giving orders or appreciating (Martin, 2006, 437). Austin describes the utterance of a linguistic expression as taking an action. The pragmatic philosophy of language embraced a rather more inclusive view of language than the logical positivists, who limited their studies to the use of language to make declarations about the world. Austin investigated language use and initially differentiated between performatives and constatives, a distinction which he later revised as general terms of speech acts consisting of three different levels of acts (Austin, 1962, 5-7). Austin asserted that with an utterance it is possible to perform three types of acts: Locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary. I explained the performance of an act in this new and second sense as the performance of an ‘illocutionary’ act, i.e. performance of an act in saying something as opposed to performance of an act of saying something (…) Saying something will often, or even normally, produce certain consequential effects upon feelings, thoughts, or actions of the audience, or of the speaker, or of other persons: and it may be done with the design, intention, or purpose of producing them (…) We shall call the performance of an act of this kind the performance of a perlocutionary act or perlocution. (…) We can similarly distinguish the locutionary act ‘he said that…’ from the illocutionary act ‘he argued that…’ and the perlocutionary act ‘he convinced me that…’. (Austin, 1962, 100-102)

A locutionary act is the performance of saying something which may be realized in three sub-acts called the phonetic act, the phatic act and the rhetic act. The act of locution is the function of language to declare something and to refer to something. An illocutionary act is performance of an act with an utterance; the kind of act Austin classified under five categories. The first category is that of verdictives which can be exemplified by the judgements we make in our lives. The judgement by a jury or judge and verdict by a referee in a match are examples for this category. The second is exercitives, acts related to exercising power or a right. Voting for a political party, appointing an employee for a position or proposing someone to take part in an activity is an example for exercitives.


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The third category is commissives, with which you are committed to doing something. You make a promise and undertake a responsibility. The fourth is behabitives which are about attitudes and social behaviour. We apologize for a mistake, congratulate a colleague for promotion, console a friend for the loss of a loved one or challenge a rival. The final category is expositives, associated with our utterances in order to fit the conversation or argument. ‘I reply’, ‘I argue’ or ‘I assume’ is an example for this kind. As for the third level of speech acts namely the perlocutionary act, this is about the kind of effect inspired by the utterance of an expression. Austin exemplified a perlocutionary act with a sentence: “There is a bull in the field”. The sentence might declare that a specific kind of being is in a certain place, which would be a locutionary act. Secondly, the speaker might be warning the audience, which is an illocutionary act. Finally, the speaker might encourage the audience to run away and to prevent the audience from going any further into the field, which is a perlocutionary act. It is commonly claimed that Austin did not take into account the central role of speakers' intentions and hearers' inferences, something which his followers Grice and Searle handled in their discussions of speech acts. Austin’s contemporary Grice put forward the concept of conversational implicature related to the three levels of speech acts suggested by Austin. “I wish to represent a certain subclass of nonconventional implicatures, which I shall call conversational implicatures, as being essentially connected with certain general features of discourse…”(Grice, 1991, 26). The flow of a conversation and some characteristics of discourse are related to conversational implicatures. A conversation consists of a succession of remarks which are connected or disconnected. The speakers taking part in the conversation are cooperating in the process with differing degrees of efforts. The purpose(s) of the conversation normally direct(s) the participants to the desired way. The intention of the conversation might have already been fixed at the start or it may develop during the exchange of expressions. Some possible conversational moves are needed to avoid unsuitable directions. Grice asserts that a Cooperative Principle would be useful for carrying out suitable conversations. The Cooperative Principle as argued by Austin is related to Quantity, Quality, Relation and Manner, the maxims as inspired by Kant. The quantity maxim is related to the informativeness of one’s contribution to the conversation; one should be neither more nor less informative than required. The quality maxim is about the truth of what one asserts in a conversation; what one does not believe to be true and what one cannot prove to be true should be avoided in conversation. The third maxim is

Pragmatic Approaches: Austin, Searle and Grice


being relevant; the content of your contribution to the conversation should be consistent and related to the rest. Manner is about how something is said. The obscure and ambiguous manner of talk should be avoided and brief and orderly talk should be encouraged. An important distinction was made by Grice which is essentially linked to his concept of implicature; the distinction between saying and meaning. The sentence meaning is differentiated from the utterer’s meaning. This distinction between meaning and use has been applied in different fields like philosophy, linguistics and artificial intelligence. Grice provided the beginning of a theory of meaning in his 1957 paper “Meaning”. The basic idea of the distinction lies in the timeless conventional meaning of a sentence which is different from sentence manifestations as produced intentionally by a speaker (Grandy and Warner, 2014). The conventional and abstract meaning of a sentence is distinguished from the utterer’s intentional meaning on specific occasions. Going into a bakery and asking “Do you have bread?” may seem like performing the speech act of satisfying one’s curiosity only when the sentence meaning is taken into account. However, the utterer’s meaning is rather related to the act of asking for bread to buy. Grice asserted that what provides the meaning of an expression is not the fact that it asserts a proposition. An expression is meaningful only when the speaker proposes a kind of thought or intention. Searle was another contemporary of Austin and Grice who developed and expanded the notion of speech acts and put forward a speech act theory. Searle focused on the problem of meaning from a pragmatic perspective and explored the concept in his Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy in the Real World. He pointed out that the word “meaning” is ambiguous and he investigated the meaning conveyed through the actual use of language by a speaker. He introduced the notion of intentionality of the speaker uttering the linguistic expression. Uttering a linguistic expression is an intentional act. These illocutionary acts like promising, apologizing or consoling are dependent on a number of principles. Searle introduced the distinction between the illocutionary force and the propositional content of an utterance in his book entitled “Speech Acts”. In order to clarify the distinction he exemplified the issue in the following sentences: 1234-

“Sam smokes habitually. Does Sam smoke habitually? Sam, smoke habitually! Would that Sam smoked habitually!” (Searle, 1969, 22)


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Searle questioned what the speaker is doing when he utters each of these sentences. Searle asserted that the first utterance declares a claim; the second one is used to pose a question, the third to give an order and the final one to make a wish. In uttering all these expressions, the speaker refers to an object named “Sam” and the predicate in all of them is “to smoke habitually”. Although referents and predicates in the four utterances are identical, they are used to perform different kinds of speech acts. In this way, Searle put the concepts of reference and predicate on one side and acts such as promising, questioning or claiming on the other side (Searle, 1969, 23). The key to understanding meaning is this: meaning is a form of derived intentionality. The original and intrinsic intentionality of a speaker’s thought is transferred to words, sentences, marks, symbols, and so on. If uttered meaningfully, those words, sentences, marks, and symbols now have intentionality derived from the speaker’s thoughts. They have not just conventional linguistic meaning but intended speaker meaning as well. The conventional intentionality of the words and sentences of a language can be used by a speaker to perform a speech act. When a speaker performs a speech act, he imposes his intentionality on those symbols. How exactly does he do that? (…) Intentional phenomena, such as fears, hopes, desires, beliefs, and intentions, have conditions of satisfaction. Hence when a speaker says something and means something, he is performing an intentional act, and his production of the sounds is a part of the conditions of satisfaction of his intention in making the utterance. But when he makes a meaningful utterance, he imposes conditions of satisfaction on those sounds and marks. In making a meaningful utterance, he thus imposes conditions of satisfaction on conditions of satisfaction. (Searle, 1999, 141)

In another of his important writings entitled Intentionality, he presented the notion of intentionality which he described as “a property of many mental states and events by which they are directed at or about or of objects and states of affairs in the world.” He exemplified intentionality as such: If I believe in something, it is a belief in something; if I have a desire, it is a desire for something. Thus, all states of mind or events are a result of intentionality; all desires, wishes, fears or hopes are intentional and directed to something (Searle, 1983, 1-2). Searle introduces two concepts relevant to illocutionary acts and the notion of intentionality; conditions of satisfaction and direction of fit. Searle argued that conditions of satisfaction would be applied to speech acts if there was a direction of fit. While explaining these two concepts he asserted that an utterance might be true or false but that it might also be the case that an order was fulfilled or not; a promise was kept or not. By

Pragmatic Approaches: Austin, Searle and Grice


taking into account the concurrence between speech act and direction of fit we call the speech act a success or failure. Searle linked the conditions of satisfaction to direction of fit in this way. What should not be missed here is that for each and every speech act there exists a direction of fit. In order for a speech act to be realized, it is necessary that the psychological condition is realized as well. Here, the conditions for satisfaction of a speech act are identical with the psychological condition mentioned. An order given would be satisfied if and only if the request uttered was realized. This is how conditions of satisfaction are related to conditions of intentionality (Searle, 1983, 10-11). Searle also claimed that there are a number of ways in which these directions go. He pointed that some speech acts went in the direction of word-to-world or world-to-word. He also added that there were some acts of null direction cases where there was no direction of fit. “(…) the assertive class has the word-to-world direction of fit and the commissive and directive classes have the world-to-word direction of fit” (Searle, 1983, 7, 8). Searle introduced a technical term, background, which he sometimes called network. Background is closely related to intentionality and is used to talk about human skills, abilities and tendencies. Background consists of mental capacities that help in the realization of all cases of representations but are not the representatives themselves. Biological and cultural abilities, capabilities, suppositions and attitudes are included within background. Background is a set of nonrepresentational mental capacities and these enable all representing to be realized. Searle gave the example of going to get a beer from a refrigerator and asked us to think what are required to have this intention and achieve this target. In order to fulfil one’s intention to get the beer, one has to be equipped with certain biological and cultural resources. Unless one is equipped with such resources as standing, walking, opening and closing the door, and opening a bottle, it is not possible to realize this intention. In order to fulfil intentional states one must have certain kinds of know-how. Normally the activation of these capacities contains presentations and representations. For instance, in order to open a door, one has to see the door. However, my capacities to know and to open the door are not representations. These are the capacities forming the background but they are not representing. Searle argued that background was composed of two sections: Deep Background consists of capacities with which humans are biologically endowed. These capacities can be exemplified as walking, eating, knowing and perceiving. The second section of background is the Local Background which is composed of cultural-dependent capacities like


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knowing what certain cultural objects are used for, and recognizing appropriate and inappropriate types of behaviour (Searle, 1983, 143-144).

References Austin, John. (1962) How to do Things with Words. Oxford University Press. Grandy, Richard E. & Warner, Richard. (2014) "Paul Grice" The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ed. Edward N. Zalta

Grice, Paul. (1991) Studies in the Way of Words, SWW. Harvard University Press. ønan, ølhan. (2013) Dil Felsefesi. Anadolu Üniversitesi Yaynlar. Lycan, William G. (2008) Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction. Routledge: Francis and Taylor Group. Martin, R.M. (2006) “Meaning: Overview of Philosophical Theories”, Concise Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, ed. Keith Brown, Alex Barber-Robert J. Stainton. Elsevier Ltd., Oxford, UK. Rossi, Jean-Gerard. (2001), Analitik Felsefe. trans. Atakan Altnörs, Paradigma, østanbul. Searle, John R. (1969) Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge University Press. —. (1983) Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind. Cambridge University Press. —. (1999) Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy in the Real World. Basic Books. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. (1953) Philosophical Investigations. Basil Blackwell Ltd.


Until the 20th century, language acquisition was recognised as a product of our reasoning capacity. However, the linguists, psychologists and philosophers of the 20th century focused on the process of language acquisition and language capacity as a result of the studies in the fields of syntax, semantics and pragmatics. How do children acquire a language? How is human capacity to learn and use a language? How is it possible that children are capable of complex structures of language with limited exposure to it? These questions were answered from different perspectives by the philosophers of the 20th century. An American psychologist and an influential exponent of behaviourism, Burrhus F. Skinner, linked language acquisition to theory of verbal behaviourism in his work entitled Verbal Behaviour, published in 1957. According to Skinner utterances produced by speakers and the replies given to the utterances of others is verbal behaviour, which is affected by two factors. The first factor affecting the speaker’s verbal behaviour is the physical environment of the speaker. The other one is the speaker’s past reinforcement. The reinforcement past consists of the rewards and punishments given for the speaker’s previous verbal behaviour. Skinner claimed that knowledge of a language was to possess and to use certain behaviouristic capacities. He argued that to know a language is to be equipped with the capacities that enable appropriate reacting to the world, answering other speakers’ questions correctly and uttering proper expressions. Therefore, to acquire a language is to acquire this competence, something which Skinner argued could be realized by a process of operant conditioning. “The process of operant conditioning naturally plays an important role in behaviour defined in terms of the special way in which it achieves its effects. Differential reinforcement shapes up all verbal forms, and when a prior stimulus enters into the contingency, reinforcement is responsible for its resulting control” (Skinner, 1957, 204). Skinner asserted that all verbal behaviour is an act. The recurrence of an act depends on the reinforcement for an answer given for an operant in


Chapter Fifteen

the environment. The child will develop linguistic competence after a process of reward or punishment given for the verbal acts they have performed previously. The reinforcement will be given by the environment of the child (Cowie, 2010). It is mostly the parents and other adults in the environment who give continual feedback for complex performances of language. Skinner pointed out that children perform a great variety of speech sounds initially and randomly. However, the parents reply with positive feedback for only those used in their native tongue. This is a condition which encourages the utterance of expressions appropriate for their native language (McDEvitt&Ormrod, 2004, 278). Explanation of language acquisition by operant conditioning and behaviourism was criticized by many opponents, one of whom was Noam Chomsky. The idea that there is a capacity of the human mind that enables humans to master a particular and natural language is mostly associated with Chomsky. Crystal pointed out that for a long period of time the researches supported the argument that language acquisition is a result of the imitation and reinforcement process. Until the 1960s the common assertion about language acquisition was that children learned languages by imitating and repeating the utterances they heard in the environment and by paying attention to the corrections and reactions of adults. However, the studies that followed gave way to a view which denied the adequacy of the behaviourist arguments to explain the reality of language acquisition and development wholly. While children’s learning of sounds or words might be explained by imitation, their knowledge of certain grammatical rules cannot be explained in the same way. The opponents of the view that language is acquired through imitation proposed two pieces of evidence, one of which is grounded on language use by children and the second on the linguistic expressions that children cannot produce. The erroneous linguistic structures used by children could not have been acquired by imitation because the adults in their environment could not provide such linguistic input. Some irregular verbs or nouns can be given as examples for such uses. The children may utter a sentence like “He doed it!” in which he applied a rule for the formation of past forms of verbs. Such an inaccurate expression cannot be acquired by imitation of adult speech. Additionally, it was observed that children continued to make the same linguistic mistake even if they had been corrected over and over. As a result of these arguments alternative theories for language acquisition were proposed to replace behaviourism (Crystal, 1987, 234). Chomsky was one those who opposed the behaviourist view of language acquisition. He agreed with neither the idea that the initial state of the human mind was a blank slate nor the idea of innate knowledge of a

Skinner vs Chomsky in Language Acquisition


specific language. Chomsky claimed that babies are born with a covert knowledge of a limited number of sets formed by possible grammars. The babies equipped with knowledge of these sets of linguistic units and the ways to combine them listen to the exposed examples of language use and choose one grammar from the set of possible grammars existent in the mind (Petitto, 2007, 84). In 1959, Chomsky argued that verbal behaviour cannot be explained by the stimulus and response relationship. He asserted that language is independent of stimulus and that reinforcement has no relation with the past. Chomsky claimed that a speaker may, for instance use language as a response to the environment but independently of a stimulus. An important argument made by Chomsky against Skinner was that we can comprehend sentences which we have never heard before or which are uttered under unexpected circumstances. How we reply to utterances of others is generally shaped by our immediate mental state rather that our reinforcement past. According to Chomsky, knowledge of a language is not only to be equipped with certain behaviouristic competence. Contrarily, competence in a language depends on the variety of information related to pragmatics, semantic and syntax. Chomsky argued that Skinner’s biggest mistake was his failure to see the importance of the reality of knowledge related to how that language works. Chomsky asserted that explicit teaching was not a feature of language acquisition, that most of the time children did not seem to be conditioned at all and that parents avoid reinforcement for their children’s language use. However, he proposed that children acquired language by passively listening to language used on television or by their parents. Additionally, Chomsky’s striking claim was that children gained competence of the use of some words without ever experiencing them as a subject or an object or as used in different contexts. What lies behind a child’s competence of the use of a word is his knowledge of the word’s syntactic and semantic qualities and of how these qualities operate in a language in unity. However, the mechanism of conditioning cannot provide adequate explanation for such knowledge (Cowie, 2010). From an interview with Chomsky, Naomi Chase reported that he focused on the biological side of language capacity and that he described our ability to comprehend and use language as being beyond experience. When someone says that “the house is brown” we understand that it is the exterior of the house that has the brown colour but we were not informed about this fact. Our knowledge derives from two sources: Inside and outside. If it does not come from experience or outside then it may derive from inside or from our biological design. Chomsky supported the idea


Chapter Fifteen

that the ways to acquire a language can be developed but that language acquisition of a child can never be prevented. Even deaf people or children that grow up in an environment where language is not used develop a kind of sign language in their own ways. The system would operate in a way even without any experience, and the basic elements in the structure of language are endowed in our biological nature. Chomsky’s major argument is that what differentiates human beings from other living things is language ability, and that language ability is the basis of our existence and nothing similar to this ability exists in another organism. However, Chomsky’s idea of innatism should be read carefully because he did not assert that there are innate ideas. He did not argue that the knowledge of a specific language like English or Turkish is innate. A child’s learning to speak English is dependent on experience. Chomsky’s idea of innatism pointed out that basic features representing the biology of human existence are common for all languages. Knowledge of a language is like having a heart that is a reflection of our biological heritage. Just as the organs of the human body have particular features, so do human beings speak languages with certain characteristics. Nutrition and exercise can have a limited effect on the heart. Similarly, experience affects a child’s language development in certain parameters (Pietroski and Crain, 2005, 164). In the 1960s, within the framework of his mentalist approach towards language acquisition, Chomsky argued that people are born with an innate capacity for acquiring language. The innatist view, which asserts a biological basis for language acquisition, is grounded on three major arguments. The first one emphasizes the inadequacy of everyday language use to provide exposure for a child’s acquisition of complex structures. In everyday language adults have a tendency to use incomplete sentences, prefer simple and short expressions and utter grammatically incorrect sentences. The second argument is about the fact that children utter sentences they have never heard before for effective communication to take place. Such sentences may be in accordance with the underlying rules which have not been formally taught to them and which are about how words can be put together to form new sentences. The third argument is that children acquire the language spoken in their community in the same way although they have different experiences of exposure to language and different reinforcement from their parents or other adults in their environment at an early age (McDEvitt & Ormrod, 2004, 279). Chomsky described his theory of language and language acquisition in detail in a number of well-known and exceptional writings. He introduced his theory of Universal Grammar. He announced a number of striking

Skinner vs Chomsky in Language Acquisition


concepts related to language and human ability to acquire a language. In 1957, his Syntactic Structures was published, in which he described the major aim of a linguist as investigation of basic features grounding grammar models regardless of any reference to a particular grammar of a language. His specification of such an aim for linguistics displays his argument for the same principles underlying all languages. He also differentiated between linguistic levels such as phoneme, morpheme and phrase and investigated how they could be put together to form sentences. Language is both a limited and unlimited structure: A limited number of sounds and words are combined to form an unlimited number of sentences according to certain principles (Chomsky, 1957, 11-15). In 1965, Chomsky’s Aspects of the Theory of Syntax was written by taking into account the oppositions and criticisms against his previous arguments. Chomsky specified his theory of grammar as transformational in which syntactic and semantic properties of sentences are explained by means of transformations of the structure of a phrase. Chomsky clarified the idea that transformation is a structural operation which should not be taken as a negative sentence transformation to a positive one or vice versa. In this phrase structure view of grammar, Chomsky pointed out that some transformations are obligatory and some are optional. Obligatory transformation is one that is necessarily applied to all sentences while the optional one takes place as a choice of the speaker. If obligatory transformations are not applied there appears the possibility that the sentence is grammatically incorrect (Chomsky, 1965, 135). Generative grammar is a system of rules used to form an unlimited number of structures. Three important components in this system are syntactic, phonetic and semantic components. The syntactic component specifies an infinite set of abstract formal objects, each of which incorporates all information relevant to a single interpretation of a particular sentence. (…) The phonological component of a grammar determines the phonetic form of a sentence generated by the syntactic rules. That is, it relates a structure generated by the syntactic component to a phonetically represented signal. The semantic component determines the semantic interpretation of a sentence. That is, it relates a structure generated by the syntactic component to a certain semantic representation. Both the phonological and semantic components are therefore purely interpretive. Each utilizes information provided by the syntactic component concerning formatives, their inherent properties, and their interrelations in a given sentence. Consequently, the syntactic component of a grammar must specify, for each sentence, a deep structure that determines its semantic interpretation and a surface structure that determines its phonetic interpretation. The first of these is interpreted by


Chapter Fifteen the semantic component; the second, by the phonological component.” (Chomsky, 1965, 16)

As seen above Chomsky differentiates between two levels of structures: Deep structure and surface structure. At the level of deep structure semantic interpretation takes place while in the surface structure phonetic interpretation takes place. Chomsky opposed the general idea that deep structure was interpreted by semantic component and that surface structure was interpreted by phonological component. The basic idea of transformational grammar is the general difference between these two structures. Chomsky introduced the concept of language-acquisition device (LAD) to refer to the abstract innate capacity of human beings to acquire language (Chomsky, 1965, 32). The human mind is ready to acquire a language; when a child is exposed to language general parameters and principles related to exploration and configuration of language start to operate automatically. These principles and parameters are what constitute the concept of language acquisition device. All humans are born with an innate language acquisition device which enables them to produce grammatically coherent and new utterances and to understand the language used in the environment once they acquire adequate vocabulary. The innate capacity of grammar represents the initial state of language capacity or language acquisition device which Chomsky later called Universal Grammar (UG). The initial state of UG is the grammar possessed by the child before being exposed to any linguistic data. Primary linguistic data are very crucial for the child because the child will determine how grammar should be shaped by means of these initial data of language use. When the child is exposed to primary linguistic data, a vocabulary special to the exposed language is formed and the parameters of UG are adjusted according to that particular language in question (White, 2003, 2). Parameter is a variation of a limited number of a type of syntactic characteristics. As an example, the parameter of null subject can be given. For instance, the Turkish language is a language adjusted according to the null subject parameter. The mechanism of language acquisition is activated with exposure to language input and the final state of a person’s language capacity is what Chomsky called language competence. Chomsky differentiated between language competence and language performance. We thus make a fundamental distinction between competence (the speakerhearer's knowledge of his language) and performance (the actual use of language in concrete situations). Only under the idealization set forth in the

Skinner vs Chomsky in Language Acquisition


preceding paragraph is performance a direct reflection of competence. In actual fact, it obviously could not directly reflect competence. A record of natural speech will show numerous false starts, deviations from rules, changes of plan in midcourse, and so on. The problem for the linguist, as well as for the child learning the language, is to determine from the data of performance the underlying system of rules that has been mastered by the speaker-hearer and that he puts to use in actual performance. (Chomsky, 1965, 4)

What Chomsky called language competence exists in the mind of the language user and is the knowledge that enables us to understand if the sentences exposed to are appropriate for the grammar of the particular language. Language performance is the concrete and actual use of language by means of this knowledge. Competence is an abstract and covert mental representation of knowledge of language. Performance is data intended for language competence but they may be misleading. Language performance may reflect the effects of mistakes in speech or other forms of language and slips of the tongue. The researchers investigating language competence can only achieve indirect knowledge of it (Mitchell and Myles, 2004, 10, 11). What Chomsky means by the speaker’s performance is the concrete use of language in actual circumstances. Competence is a reality in the mind of the speaker while performance is realized in a particular time and place. The difference is a conceptual one and it should be the starting point for various studies. Chomsky described the concepts of I-Language and E-Language in detail in his book entitled Language and Mind. E- Language, which is external to the individual, is equivalent to an everyday idea of any other particular language and is a concept used to differentiate between languages like English, Turkish or French. However, Chomsky argued that these languages are different from the language capacity of an individual. Contrarily, I-Language is an internal and intentional system of knowledge that underlies linguistic capacities of humans. I-Language underlies our capacity to produce sentences and understand utterances under different circumstances. For language, “the principles on which knowledge rests” are those of the internalized language (I-language) that the person has acquired. Having acquired these principles, Jones has a wide range of knowledge, for example that glink but not glnik is a possible lexical item of English; that John is too angry to talk to (Mary) means that John is to be talked to (if Mary is missing) but John is to do the talking (if Mary is present); that him can be used to refer to John in the sentence I wonder who John expects to see him, but not if I wonder who is omitted; that if John painted the house


Chapter Fifteen brown then he put the paint on the exterior surface though he could paint the house brown on the inside; that when John climbed the mountain he went up although he can climb down the mountain; that books are in some sense simultaneously abstract and concrete as in John memorized and then burned the book; and so on over an unbounded range. “The power to engender” the I-language principles on which such particular cases of knowledge rest is understood to be the component of the genetic endowment that accounts for their growth and development. (Chomsky, 2011, viii)

I-Language is studied as the object of linguistic theory and is the linguistic knowledge represented mentally, of a native speaker. ELanguage is the collection of knowledge and behaviouristic habits shared by a language community. The concept of I-Language should be the object of scientific research. Chomsky’s reason for differentiating between ILanguage and E-Language is to clarify the concept of language competence. Structural and descriptive linguistics have considered language as linguistic units such as acts, utterances, words and sentences. Chomsky argued that these are examples for technical concepts of ELanguage. In his investigations about language Chomsky focused on the language of the individual rather than on the language of a social or a political group.

References Chomsky, Noam. (1957) Syntactic Structures. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin & New York. —. (1965) Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. MIT, Cambridge, Mass. —. (2011) Dil ve Zihin. çev. Ahmet Kocaman, BilgeSu Yaynclk, Ankara. Cowie, Fiona. (2010) "Innateness and Language" The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ed. Edward N. Zalta Crystal, David. (1987) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Mcdevitt, Teresa M. & Jeanne Ellis Ormrod. (2004) Child Development. 2nd ed., Pearson Prentice Hall. Mitchell, Rosamond & Florence Myles. (2004) Second Language Learning Theories. 2nd ed., Hodder Arnold, London. Pietroski, Paul – Stephen Crain. (2005) “Innate ideas” Cambridge Companion to Chomsky. ed. James McGilvray, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Skinner vs Chomsky in Language Acquisition


Skinner, Burrhus F. (1957) Verbal Behaviour. Appleton-Century Crofts, Inc. New York. White, Lydia. (2003) Second Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar. Cambridge University Press.