The Unity of Linguistic Meaning
The problem of the unity of the proposition is almost as old as philosophy itself, and was one of the central themes of early analytical philosophy, greatly exercising the minds of Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and Ramsey. The problem is how propositions or meanings can be simultaneously unities (single things) and complexes, made up of parts that are autonomous of the positions they happen to fill in any given proposition. The problem has been associated with numerous paradoxes and has motivated general theories of thought and meaning, but has eluded any consensual resolution; indeed, the problem is sometimes thought to be wholly erroneous, a result of atomistic assumptions we should reject. In short, the problem has been thought to be of merely historical interest. Collins argues that the problem is very real and poses a challenge to any theory of linguistic meaning. He seeks to resolve the problem by laying down some minimal desiderata on a solution and presenting a uniquely satisfying account. The first part of the book surveys and rejects extant 'solutions' and dismissals of the problem from (especially) Frege and Russell, and a host of more contemporary thinkers, including Davidson and Dummett. The book's second part offers a novel solution based upon the properties of a basic syntactic principle called 'Merge', which may be said to create objects inside objects, thus showing how unities can be both single things but also made up of proper parts. The solution is defended from both philosophical and linguistic perspectives. The overarching ambition of the book, therefore, is to strengthen the ties between current linguistics and contemporary philosophy of language in a way that is genuinely sensitive to the history of both fields.
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abstract account of unity AGENT analysis appears argument asymmetry basic Bill Chapter Chomsky claim cognitive combination combinatorial principle complex compositional compositionality concatenation concept constituents constraints context principle copula Davidson desiderata determine difference directional symmetry discussion distinction Dummett dyadic relation elements encode entities essentially example explain explanatory expressed external fact Fodor Frege Fregean function function-argument Gaskin given hierarchical ibid idea independent inherent instantiation internal Merge interpretable unities intrinsic judgement Kant Kant’s kind labelling language lexical items linguistic meaning linguistic structure logical form Mary merely metaphysical MRTJ notion objects one’s ontology operation particular philosophical position predicate presupposes primitive properties propositional attitudes propositions recursive reference regress relevant role Russell Russell’s semantic theory sense sentences set theory simply Soames Soames’s solution speaker/hearer specify stipulation syntactic structure syntax things thought tokens truth conditions type theory understand uninterpretable structures unity problem verb Wittgenstein words