The Idea Theory of Meaning - Michael Johnson

The Idea Theory of Meaning - Michael Johnson

The Idea Theory of Meaning Outline 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

6. 7. Metasemantics The Conformal Theory The Idea Theory Primary and Secondary Qualities General Terms/ Abstract Ideas

The Tribunal of Experience Summary 1. METASEMANTICS The Meaningless World Most things in the world dont have meanings. Rivers and lakes and trees and rocks and planets

and black holes and electrons none of these things have meanings. Theres nothing that a river is about, there is nothing that a lake represents, a tree cant be true or false. Meaningful Artifacts A very small number of things, however, do have

meanings/ are about or represent other things. Many of these meaningful things are human artifacts, like maps, diagrams, paintings, icons, etc. In addition, there are linguistic and mental representations. Language

All normal human beings, and most abnormal human beings, speak a language. First languages dont need to be taught; they come naturally to us. A sentence like The cat is on the mat has a meaning; it is about a certain cat and a certain mat; and it is true if the cat its about is on the mat its about, and false otherwise.

Mental Representation Thoughts too are representational. I can think about cats, and I can think that a cat is on a mat. Unlike language, its plausible that a large number of non-human animals have representational thoughts. Almost certainly dolphins and dogs, and maybe even bees and

ants. Metasemantics Since most things arent meaningful, and only a few things are, its reasonable to ask: why do things like maps, sentences, and thoughts have meanings and rivers, lakes, and trees have no meanings? And why, for example, is a map of

Hong Kong a map of Hong Kong, rather than (say) a map of Kuala Lumpur? Why do meaningful things have the meanings they do rather than some other meaning? Metasemantics Metasemantics (metaphysical semantics, the metaphysics of meanings) is the part of

philosophy of language that tries to answer the question: Why [in virtue of what] do meaningful things have the meanings they do, rather than some other meaning, or no meaning at all? Original vs. Derived Intentionality A historically popular strategy for approaching

this question has been to draw a distinction between original and derived intentionality (representation). Original vs. Derived Intentionality Minds (more accurately: thoughts) have original intentionality. We have to have a real story for them to answer the metasemantic question

(why they mean what they do). Other non-mental representations on the other hand, like diagrams and sentences, have derived intentionality. They mean what they do because they inherit their meanings from our thoughts. 2. THE CONFORMAL THEORY

Aristotle Aristotle (384-322 BCE) is in the running for greatest Western philosopher and hes usually in everyones top 5 at least. According to Aristotle,

substances are composed of matter + form. Aristotle on Hylomorphism Example: a house is a substance. The matter of the house is the bricks, cement, plaster, wood, and so forth. But the house is not just the bricks and cement, etc. It is those bricks, cement,

plaster, etc. arranged in a certain way: with a certain form. The Conformal Theory of Representation Aristotle held an obscure doctrine of the identity of the knower with the known. The basic idea seems to be this. When I think of a house, for instance, my soul (i.e. my matter) takes on the

form of a house. Thus, even though I (me, my soul, my matter) am distinct from a house (its matter), I represent the house because it and my soul have literally the same form (the form of a house). Conformal Theory

Represents Aristotle on Linguistic Representation Furthermore, Aristotle thought that spoken language was an outward sign of the state of ones soul. So the (spoken) word horse was a sign of my soul having the form of a horse. So we can say that horse represents horses,

because it is a sign of a state of my soul that represents horses (by identity of form with them). Conformal Theory Represents

House Aquinas and the Conformal Theory Aristotles greatest medieval follower, St. Thomas Aquinas (12251274 CE), tried to deal with a problem in the conformal theory.

Problem for the Conformal Theory I represent a house by having the same form as a house. So why doesnt the house represent me, since it and I have the same form, and representation = sameness of form?

Problem for Conformal Theory Represents??? Intentional Presence The solution was that the rock-form was not really present in me, it was only spiritually present. Spiritually present forms represent

really present ones, but not vice versa. (Incidentally, this is also the explanation for why even though I have the form of a rock, I dont look anything like a rock.) Real Form Spiritual

Form Conformal Theory Represents The Idea Theory

The addition of spiritual forms to regular forms presaged what would become the dominant view of mental representations: the idea theory. The New Science The 17th Century saw the rise of corpuscularianism.

It was a lot like Greek atomism, except whereas atoms are essentially indivisible, corpuscles could theoretically be divided. Notable corpuscularians were Robert Boyle, 1627-1691 Isaac Newton, 1643-1727

Thomas Hobbes, 1588-1679 John Locke, 1632-1704 John Locke Father of Classical Liberalism (civil

liberties, economic freedom, limited government) Along with Descartes, most important 17th Century Western philosopher. Worked in Boyles lab.

Corpuscularianism The view was that everything is made out of corpuscles microscopic little bits that had a certain shape, size, and momentum. Corpuscularianism

However, the corpuscles did not have color, taste, smell, sound, or warmth. These other qualities were explained as the effects of the corpuscles on our sensory organs. For example, heat is just the motion of corpuscles, but this motion causes us to experience the sensation of warmth.

The Unreality of Tastes, Colors, etc. I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on are no more than mere names so far as the object in which we place them is concerned, and that they reside only in the consciousness. Hence if the living creature were removed, all these qualities would be wiped away and annihilated (Galileo, The Assayer).

Problems for the Conformal Theory But if colors, for example, exist only in the mind, then it cannot be true that when I represent a white horse, my soul has the same form as a white horse.

Problems for the Conformal Theory There are no white horses. There are horses that cause me to experience whiteness when light bounces off of them. But the whiteness itself depends on me, the observer. Whiteness exists only in minds. 3. THE IDEA THEORY

The Idea Theory The new scientific developments called for a new theory of representation. Many philosophers, including Descartes, Hobbes, and Locke adopted an idea theory to account for representation.

John Locke 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 John Locke yet they are all within his own breast, invisible and hidden from others, nor can of themselves be

made to appear John Locke 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.

Comparison with the Conformal Theory For Aristotle and Aquinas, a mind/ soul represents an object by sharing its form. Language represents by indicating the state of the soul. Comparison with the Conformal Theory

The idea theory introduces a new element. The mind represents a thing by having an idea that represents that thing. A word represents by indicating an idea present in the mind. The Nature of Ideas

According to Locke, ideas are the pictures drawn in our minds (Essay, II.x.5). The Nature of Ideas An idea of a horse, then, is very much like a picture, image, or painting of a

horse. Compare Hume: By ideas I mean the faint images of [perceptions] in thinking and reasoning (Treatise, I.i.1). Idea Theory

Mind Idea of a Dagger Dagger

Indirect Realism The idea theory is a variety of indirect realism. What you directly see are mental entities (for example, ideas). You only indirectly see the real things that the ideas represent. Resemblance Theory According to the resemblance theory of

representation, ideas represent things by resembling them sort of like how painting works. The resemblance theory is thus a theory of what it is in virtue of which ideas have the contents they have: the ideas resemble the contents. Idea Theory

Resembles Sees Mind Idea of a

Dagger Dagger Corpuscularianism So how did the Idea Theory handle the claims of corpuscularianism, that things in the world

didnt have color, taste, etc.? Partly Resembles Idea Theory Sees

Mind Idea of a Dog Dog Note

This was already really part of the original resemblance theory nobody thinks your idea of a dog smells like a dog! Resemblance Theory of Representation Importantly, ideas dont represent by sharing forms with their intentional objects (as weve seen, science doesnt allow this).

Instead, just like paintings, ideas represent by resembling their intentional objects. An idea of a horse is like a picture of a horse, and it represents a horse as a picture does: by resembling it. Resemblance Theory The resemblance theory is really the important part of the idea theory, because it does all the

explaining. Why does word W mean X? Because W is associated with idea I and I means X. But why does I mean X? Because I resembles X. PRIMARY AND SECONDARY QUALITIES Corpuscularianism Redux

The idea theory cant exactly escape the problem the conformal theory faced. A painting of a red wall resembles a red wall in the sense that if you looked at both, the appearances they generate in you would be the same, because both share a feature they reflect light at a wavelength between 630 and 700nm.

Corpuscularianism Redux But surely (a) you dont look at your mental states and (b) your mental states dont reflect light! Primary Qualities Locke famously draws a distinction between

primary and secondary qualities. The primary qualities of an object are those ascribed to it by corpuscularianism (shape, size, momentum, and what Locke calls solidity). Secondary Qualities Secondary qualities are the propensities of the object to cause certain appearances in us (like

the feeling of warmth). According to Locke they were things like color, smell, taste, texture, and warmth or coldness. COLD NORMAL




HOT Primary vs. Secondary Qualities Locke thought that ideas of primary qualities really did resemble those primary qualities, but the resemblance theory was false for secondary qualities. Ideas of primary qualities represent by

resembling; ideas of secondary qualities represent in some other way. George Berkeley, 1685-1753 Irish philosopher Bishop in the Church of Ireland. Idea theorist

Advocated a view which we now call subjective idealism. George Berkeley, 1685-1753 Berkeley argued that no idea resembled anything

physical or material; ideas only resembled ideas. Only Ideas Can Resemble Ideas Ideas arent spatial and thus they dont have shapes, sizes or momenta. Is your idea of a big elephant bigger than your idea of a small elephant?

Ideas dont even resemble the primary qualities, like shape, size, and momentum. Thats a SMALL elephant. Thats a BIG elephant.

Idealism For Berkeley, this wasnt a bad thing, and it didnt show that the idea theory or the resemblance theory were false. What it showed, instead, was that our thoughts were not about a physical world, but of a world made of ideas. My idea of a table was an idea of an idea,

because tables are ideas. GENERAL TERMS/ ABSTRACT IDEAS Locke on General Terms It is not enough for the perfection of language,

that sounds can be made signs of ideas, unless those signs can be so made use of as to comprehend several particular things Locke on General Terms

for the multiplication of words would have perplexed their use, had every particular thing need of a distinct name to be signified by Locke on General Terms

To remedy this inconvenience, language had yet a further improvement in the use of general terms, whereby one word was made to mark a multitude of particular existences.

Particular Terms Locke General Terms Dog

Abstract Ideas If we accept the idea theory, then, we have to accept that there are abstract ideas not mental pictures of a particular person, but mental pictures that resemble equally a group of things. These abstract ideas are the meanings of

general terms. Berkeley vs. Abstract Ideas Berkeley, however, argues that abstract ideas are impossible. The abstract idea of a man is supposed to apply equally to a tall man and a short man; a black man and a white man; a skinny man and a fat man; well-dressed man

and a pauper, etc. But no picture resembles equally all such men, as any picture of a man depicts him as either skinny or fat, but not both and not neither. Berkeley Again, this didnt lead Berkeley to reject the idea theory, only to (once again) place a severe limit

on what we can have ideas of. Just as we cant have ideas of non-ideas (because non-ideas cant resemble ideas) we cant have ideas of abstract things, because mental pictures are always determinate and never abstract (like regular pictures). THE TRIBUNAL OF EXPERIENCE

Hume: Impressions and Ideas David Hume took Berkeleys style of austere empiricism to its logical extreme. Hume makes a distinction that wasnt made by Locke and Berkeley between impressions and ideas. Impressions are sensations or perceptions or sense experiences. Things like seeing red or

feeling pain. The idea of red is not the same thing as seeing red though: for Hume, all (simple) ideas are copies of impressions. The Tribunal of Experience Hume then proposes the tribunal of experience. For each supposed idea, we ask: (a) Is it copied from an impression? If so, which

one? [No answer? Go to (d).] (b) If not, is it a complex idea, built out of simpler ones? (c) If so, repeat (a) and (b) for each of its parts. (d) If not, its not really an idea at all! Hume vs. Causation Hume notoriously targeted causation for the

tribunal of experience. Imagine the following sequence of events (that is, have the following sequence of ideas in your head): first you have an idea of ball A headed toward ball B. Then A hits B and causes B to move away. Got it? OK, now imagine this other sequence of events: A is moving toward B, A and B touch, and B moves away on its own (not because A caused it).

Hume vs. Causation Whats the difference here? Hume argued that there wasnt one. You couldnt see one event causing another, and since all ideas were copies of impressions (for Hume), you couldnt have an idea of one event causing another.

Other Imperceptibles There were some other problems with the idea theory involving unobservables. How is your idea of a black hole or an electron anything like those things? Even more straightforwardly, how is your idea of (for example) Moses anything like Moses (theres no ancient statues or other representations of him)? But it seems we do

have an idea of Moses, at least in the sense that we can think about him. SUMMARY

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