Quine and Sellars on Thought and Language
It’s commonly held that one cannot do justice to the intentional content of thoughts or the semantic properties of speech acts in purely extensional terms. So we’ll begin with W. V. Quine’s argument for rejecting all nonextensional language, his related denial of analyticity, and his use of logical form as a theoretical tool for understanding language. We’ll also consider his claim that logic has the status of a science, his thesis of the indeterminacy of translation, and his distinct argument for the inscrutability of reference, working up to his claim of "the baselessness of intentional idioms and the emptiness of a science of intention" (Word and Object, 221).
In apparent contrast with Quine, Wilfrid Sellars held that thoughts have the status of folk-theoretical posits that explain speech behavior, which have content that’s analogous to the semantic properties of speech acts. He built this folk-theoretical realism about intentionality on a functionalist account of both intentional content and the speaker’s meaning of speech acts.
In keeping with this—and in opposition to currently dominant views about the mind—Sellars argued that we come to have first-person access to intentional states when we come to have the ability to report noninferentially that we are in such states. Our first-person grasp of the mind, he argued, is in effect built from third-person resources. We’ll pay special attention to evaluating this challenge to current approaches to mental phenomena.
We’ll also ask whether Sellars' realist views about meaning and intentionality actually do conflict with Quine's austere strictures, as they superficially seem to. And we’ll consider whether, instead, Sellars’ views should be seen as supplementing Quine’s, resulting in a well-founded, compelling theory about thought, speech, and the relation between them. And we’ll evaluate the implications of Quine’s and Sellars’ views for a Gricean intention-based semantics.
Along the way we’ll take up Quine’s and Sellars’ views about several related matters, such as the logical form of ascriptions of thoughts and speech acts, and whether to understand such ascriptions theoretically (Sellars), as mere dramatic idiom (Quine), or in some other way. We’ll also consider the nature of quantification, its bearing on ontology, and its interaction with nonextensional contexts. And we’ll look at Quine’s and Sellars’ views about indexicals and self-reference and about the holism of meaning and belief, and the implications their views have for the relation of third-person ascriptions of thoughts to our first-person conscious access to them.
Some material will be available online. But we’ll also rely heavily on the following books, so that it may be useful to get hold of at least some of them, though they’ll all also be on library reserve:
Quine: From a Logical Point of View; The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays; Ontological Relativity and Other Essays (all Harvard U. Press); and Word and Object (MIT).
Sellars: Science, Perception and Reality; Science and Metaphysics; and Philosophical
Perspectives: Metaphysics and Epistemology (all Ridgeview Publishing:
Week-by-week details and more at https://tinyurl.com/QS2021
This course will satisfy either Distribution Group A or Group B.
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