John Searle is famous for his description theory of names. Most regard this theory as having been refuted by Kripke. Yet Searle's theory has definite advantages over the Millian and causal alternatives. I show that the advantages are due to his explaining meaning in terms of the contents of mental states. The arguments against descriptivism refute only the claim that the relevant contents are descriptive. We get a better theory of names by keeping Searle's Intentionalism and dropping descriptivism.
SENSE, REFERENCE, AND INTENTIONAL CONTENT
Searle addressed fundamental questions about proper names: Do names have senses? In virtue of what do names refer to objects? How in the utterance of names do speakers succeed in referring to objects? In answering these questions, Searle develops a broadly Fregean account in which the notion of “Intentional content” plays the fundamental role. Searle's basic principle is that the meaning and referential properties of all linguistic units are derived from the intrinsic Intentionality of mental states (1983: vii, 27).
Since linguistic reference is always dependent on or is a form of mental reference and since mental reference is always in virtue of Intentional content … proper names must in some way depend on Intentional content.
In order that a name should ever come to be used to refer to an object in the first place there must be some independent representation of the object. This may be by way of perception, memory, definite description, etc., but there must be enough Intentional content to identify which object the name is attached to.
To fully understand the thesis that basic word meaning is conventional speaker meaning or expression, and to avoid misguided criticism, we need to know what conventions are. Briefly, we may say that “convention” should be understood as denoting arbitrary social practices or customs. Constituting standards of correct usage, they are one type of rule. This chapter will be devoted to clarifying what conventions in this sense do and do not entail. We will develop Lewis's idea that conventions are regularities in action that are socially useful, self-perpetuating, and arbitrary. There is no requirement, on our definitions, that the regularities be nearly universal or mutually known. And of course there is no requirement that conventions result from agreements. We will take some pains to explain how word usage can be objectively correct or incorrect if it is arbitrary and conventional. The fact that conventional regularities may have exceptions allows languages to change over time, and the self-perpetuating character of conventions coupled with linguistic variation leads to evolving families of languages. The same facts make it difficult to assign precise boundaries to languages, as we will see in Chapter 11.
It is often said that conventions are agreements. Indeed, in one sense, the word “convention” denotes an international agreement, and in another denotes formal meetings designed to secure agreements. But in the sense we are concerned with, most conventions, including linguistic conventions, are not and did not result from agreements.
Chapter 2 began with the fundamental distinction between speaker meaning and word meaning. Even though “banana” means a kind of fruit, Alfred Kahn once used it to mean a decline in the gross national product in order to make fun of politicians who wanted him to avoid the terms “recession” and “depression” because of their negative associations. We have defined what it is for a speaker to mean or express something in terms of the speaker's intentions. We must now begin analyzing what it is for a word or other expression to mean something or to express an idea. What makes it true, for example, that “vixen” means “female fox” in English, but does not mean anything in French? Why does “jument” mean “female horse” in French today, whereas earlier it meant “pack horse”?
It seems self-evident that such facts about English and French are determined in some way by facts about the individuals who have actually spoken English and French. It would be as hard to maintain that an abstract system such as English arose and evolved independent of the actions of concrete human beings as it would be to maintain that the species Canis familiaris arose and evolved independent of concrete dogs.
Chapter 14 introduced the thesis that ideas or concepts are thought-parts, and sought to clarify and establish the underlying assumption that thoughts have constituents. This chapter will formally define “idea,” and set out the basic properties of concepts. We will introduce the distinction between atomic and complex concepts, and analyze what it is to conceive concepts. We will discuss the content of concepts, and the fact that concepts represent objects. And we will distinguish the intentional content of ideas from their extension or objective reference.
The terms “idea” and “concept” are ambiguous in English, and have been used with many different meanings in philosophy and psychology. In particular, they have been used to mean universals (e.g., Husserl), sensory images (Hume), objects of thought (Descartes), contents (Burge), senses (Katz), conceptions or belief systems (many contemporary psychologists), and mental representations generally (Brentano). We will use “idea” and “concept” exclusively for thought-parts, distinguishing them from universals and other objects, images, and conceptions (see Chapter 19) as well as from contents (§15.6) and senses (§21.1). An idea, on my conception, is only one kind of mental representation. Whereas ideas or concepts are wordlike mental representations, images are picturelike, and conceptions are theorylike.
Even when “idea” and “concept” both denote thought-parts, they have somewhat different patterns of usage in standard English. The terms are equally natural when discussing expression or containment. They are interchangeable when discussing the contents and objects of thought-parts, and what they represent.
Word meaning is relative to a language. The neo-Gricean thesis that word meaning is recursive, conventional, cogitative speaker meaning holds only for living languages like English. Related theses hold for dead languages and idiolects. Word meaning is determined by stipulation rather than by convention in artificial languages (at least initially), by individual custom in idiolects, and by prior practice in dead languages. What we can say in general is that word meaning is “established” speaker meaning. This chapter distinguishes the different ways in which speaker meaning may be established by examining different types of languages. We will focus on the convention-dependence of living natural languages and on the linguistic lineages that their evolving conventions create. The self-perpetuation of conventions coupled with linguistic diversity has generated thousands of genetically related natural languages in much the same way that reproduction and individual variation have generated millions of genetically related biological species. Natural languages are discovered when a community is found that has a previously unknown set of linguistic conventions. What words mean now in a living natural language is determined by the current lexical and constructive conventions of those speakers whose conventions have evolved from the conventions of prior users of the language. This will enable us to avoid the apparent circularity inherent in saying that English is defined by the conventions of English speakers.
This chapter will define concept possession, and distinguish it from the stronger notions of understanding and mastery. To possess a concept, we will argue, is to have conceived it and remain capable of conceiving it. We will show that nominalist and information-semantic definitions of concept possession are wide of the mark, while recognition, knowledge, and inferentialist theories are too strong.
Fodor has remarked that “[i]t's a general truth that if you know what an X is, then you also know what it is to have an X,” and that this applies to concepts in particular (1998a: 2). There are many senses of “have” for which Fodor's generalization fails. A child may know what a baby is without yet knowing what it is to have a baby, and may know what a woman is without yet knowing what it is to have a woman. I believe that the having of concepts is a less obvious exception. I have defined concepts as parts of thoughts, but that does not tell us what it is to have a concept.
“Having” a belief is the same as believing the belief, and “having” a thought is the same as thinking it. To “have” an idea is to conceive it. Despite this pattern, having a concept, as this phrase is commonly used, must be distinguished from conceiving a concept. We have countless concepts that we are not currently conceiving. I have had the concept of neutrons since grade school.
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