Minds with meanings

Rivista Internazionale di Filosofia e Psicologia 11 (1):1-18 (2020)
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Abstract

: Jerry Fodor and Zenon Pylyshyn have proposed a purely referential-causal semantics, a semantics without meanings. Adopting Pylyshyn’s previous treatment of the fact that we can perceive and track something before we have any idea of what that is, these authors claim that such causal relations to external entities allow us to word-label them and thereby build an entire lexicon with specific referents. I disagree and explain why I do so. The kind of semantics that I prefer is radically opposite: the one proposed by Noam Chomsky and Paul Pietroski. This is an internalist semantics that only has meanings, reference being indirect, often indefinite, sometimes problematic. Chomsky insists that the only posit that is tenable is the internal structure of the speaker-hearer, a complex, abstractly characterizable, computational-derivational apparatus, optimal if left alone, that interfaces with other cognitive apparatuses: the articulatory-perceptual one and the conceptual-intentional one, satisfying the constraints that they impose. I show that the semantics proposed by Fodor and Pylyshyn is especially problematic when inexistent entities, possible entities, fictional characters and objects in the remote past are examined. It is, however, problematic even when dealing with more ordinary concepts. On the contrary, an internalist semantics avoids all these problems. Keywords: Internalist Semantics; Theory of Meaning and Reference; Jerry A. Fodor; Noam Chomsky; Paul Pietroski Menti con significati Riassunto: Jerry Fodor e Zenon Pylyshyn hanno proposto una semantica interamente causale-referenziale, una semantica priva di qualsiasi nozione di significato. Adottando la precedente trattazione di Pylyshyn di come è possibile percepire e inseguire oggetti prima di avere alcuna idea di cosa essi siano, questi autori pretendono che queste interazioni causali con enti esterni bastano a etichettarli con dei termini lessicali, costruendo un intero lessico con referenti specifici, senza la componente del significato. Io dissento e spiego perché. Il tipo di semantica che adotto è diametralmente opposto, una semantica che ha solo significati, per la quale i referenti esterni sono indiretti, spesso non definiti, talvolta problematici. Noam Chomsky e Paul Pietroski hanno perfezionato questa semantica puramente internalista, insistendo che l’unico attributo sostenibile è la struttura mentale interna al locutore, una struttura complessa, caratterizzabile solo a un livello di astrazione adeguato, atta a soddisfare i vincoli imposti dai sistemi cognitivi con i quali interagisce: quello articolatorio-percettivo e quello concettuale-intenzionale. Mostro che la semantica proposta da Fodor e Pylyshyn si scontra con problemi insolubili quando tratta enti inesistenti, enti possibili, invenzioni letterarie e oggetti appartenenti a un passato remoto. In effetti, si scontra con problemi insolubili anche quando tratta oggetti e proprietà ordinari. Una semantica interamente internalista non incontra nessuno di questi problemi. Parole chiave: Semantica internalista; Teoria del significato e del riferimento; Jerry A. Fodor; Noam Chomsky; Paul Pietroski

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Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini
University of Arizona

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References found in this work

Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use.Noam Chomsky - 1986 - Prager. Edited by Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel.
The Modularity of Mind.Robert Cummins & Jerry Fodor - 1983 - Philosophical Review 94 (1):101.
New horizons in the study of language and mind.Noam Chomsky - 2000 - New York: Cambridge University Press.

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