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Title: Convention and intention : a defence of internationality against meaning-relativism
Author: Mount, R. G.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2004
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In the dissertation are considered a number of ways in which one may discern, write and analyse conventions and intentions for the illocutionary forces of speech acts, and meanings, senses and references for statements and utterances, with the objective of suggesting alternatives to what is dubbed meaning-relativism. It is argued that the paradigm of the explicit performative is inexpedient, for it need not be considered the model of the congruence between content and force in an illocution, and the scepticism evinced by Derrida regarding the possibility and purpose of writing such conventions is correlatively challenged. (Discussion of respective arguments for the writing of senses and references for statements and utterances in truth-conditional semantics occupies most of chapter I, and develops themes shared with the discussion of speech acts contained in the introduction, and picked up in chapters II-IV. Derrida sets up qualitatively similar arguments in his study of the use of indexical or demonstrative expressions, considered in relation to Fregean semantics and Husserlian phenomenology in chapter I sections 2 and 3). The central thesis presented makes both a substantive argument and a related metaphilosophical point: firstly, the problems of indeterminable intentions and of non-saturable conventions can be resolved, and the fount of Derrida's (and Rorty's) work, viz. the failure of intentionality to mediate, or orientate, communication, self-consciousness and meaning, is contested by the theory offered, a theory, in the second point, rendering profitless Rorty's distinction between the 'objective knowledge' of traditional systematic (semantical) philosophy and less privileged discourse ('edifying' or 'historicist' philosophy). Derrida denies that the meanings given to the word 'communication', and vouchsafing the metaphorical application to definitions in semantics, semiotics and 'real' or 'gestural' collocution, can be settled by a priori definitions, or conventions. The consensus required to direct each such convention of communication, he argues, could never be found, or would remain irredeemably metaphorical, as the incomplete and illegitimate extension of a paradigm of rule or law to which it could never attain. This may be seen in the reshaping of speech acts in indexical, demonstrative and quantificational constructions, in the estrangement from speakers' intention brought by appearance in quotational contexts, and in the tolerance of insincerity, conditions rendered ubiquitous, Derrida continues, by the extensions of 'ideal' speech situations tolerated by writing. Derrida asks how writing and communication may confront these problems, and, a related point, how intentions in writing and communication can be read off from their reports in conventional (paradigmatically explicit performative) formulae. The effect of the relativisation to non-literal, fictional, or quotational contexts for Derrida, is to render incomplete all conventions and motivating intentions for locutions and illocutions, for they are perennially spliced to constructions for which they cannot account, and to the vocalisation of intentions indefeasibly more complex than those for which they were written. The arguments of chapters II-IV consider the ways in which Grice, Strawson, McDowell, Searle and Lewis address these problems, and the conclusion is drawn that conventions and intentions for locutions and illocutions can be written, via Lewis' conventions, without presupposition of any standard to which they must conform, and without the inevitable relativisation to literal and non-literal, fictional, or quotational contexts. (There is, it should be said, insufficient attention given to Derrida's reasons for holding that the explicit performative is the exemplar of a statement with illocutionary force). Rorty's arguments against theories of intentionality exhibit a similar motivation and tenor. Rorty denies that mentality, in its functioning and in its description, carries processes apt to be described by intentions and conventions, and his work is considered in the second section of the introduction. There is no problem of intentionality for Rorty, because man's faculties and operations with knowledge and language are, in their complexity, irreducible to cognitive or 'representationalisf models; there is, he argues, nothing gained by imposing such structures. An epistemology and a philosophy of mind can be written for man without any call upon 'representationalisf theories, and Rorty makes the case for a Deweyan, pragmatist conception of knowledge as justified belief in conjectures, best guesses, surmises and opinions that help ' ... us to do what we want to do'. (In chapter IV this is compared to the derivation and enduring of a convention as conceived by Lewis). To suggest difficult cases for Rorty's survey of systematic and edifying philosophy appeal is made to Leibniz as both a systematic metaphysician and yet as a critic of the Cartesian and Lockean traditions to which Rorty objects. Analogues of the details of Leibniz's response to dualism are found in Deleuze, and the role and importance, in any theory of intentionality countenancing possiblia, of notions of compatibility, incompatibility, compossibility and incompossibility, are presented. The applications of a possible worlds theory of intentionality are explored in chapter I sections 3 and 4, and the discussions raise an incidental matter of some importance: the desire throughout equally to consider the lessons of the semantical and the phenomenological traditions, with the ambition of, at the very least, intimating that Rorty's caricatures do no useful work. One example must suffice for illustration: in section 2 Evans' arguments concerning the notion of the mediation of sense by reference in Frege's semantics are considered, and, in section 3, an application of his conclusions made to matters derived from a discussion of Husserlian noema. It is shown that one can, by the selfsame reasoning, derive a case, contra Derrida, for conventions of meaning in a truth-conditional semantics. In chapter I section 1 the case is made for an extensional semantics as conceived by Davidson, by way of intimating a means of defining conventions for language without the presupposition of standard, constituent or enduring meanings. Anomalous monism is presented as a theory of intentionality holding none of the concerns that, Rorty argues, such theories inevitably raise; it is palpably not a 'representationalisf or dualist theory, and is a powerful response to typically Rortyan post-structuralist scepticism concerning meaning and truth. The debts of anomalous monism to Tarski's truth definition, and of the informational theory advocated in chapter I section 3 to principles of charity, are defined, and the prospect mooted of describing a possible worlds theory of intentionality for distributed systems as a development of models provided by Tarski semantics. (Reasons for advocating an informational theory are explored also in relation to Lewis' description of the structures of convention and of possible worlds). In recommending anomalous monism as a theory of intentionality Davidson allows no strict psychophysical laws between mental and physical; the mental and the physical perennially fulfil 'disparate commitments'; the irreducibility of the mental derives neither from the property of intentionality, for such interdependence is compatible with there being a correct way to interpret speakers without relativisation to conflicting translation manuals, nor from the existence of many equally plausible manuals, for this is compatible with their arbitrary selection: the contrast aptly sets up the choice between Kripke or situation semantics and Tarski semantics. In section 2 Evans' arguments for the role of singular terms in Fregean semantics are presented, the better to make a case, in section 3, against Derrida's objections to the possibility of achieving the mediation of sense by reference or context in Husserlian phenomenology. The notion, central to Fregean semantics, of the context of a sentence as the modulus of meaning, is soundly challenged by Evans, for, he shows, the sense of singular terms in Fregean semantics need not be given in the determination by a reference: singular terms (empty or not) can carry sense without the mediation of a reference, in literal and fictional contexts alike. In section 3 the correspondence between Fregean Sinn and Husserlian noema is presented, specifically to make the case that intentional acts do not require the mediation to which Derrida objects. Conditions as strict as Derrida demands of Sinne and noema do indeed make Fregean semantics and Husserlian phenomenology unworkable as theories of intentionality, but one need not countenance such strictness. It is argued that Hintikka shows a way in which Husserl's difficulties with a foundational phenomenological notion, namely that reduction reveal all mediating noematic acts as open to consciousness and reflection, can be resolved, and consequently that Husserl's equivocations regarding the presence and importance of hyle in connecting up sensation and sense can be eliminated. Arguing against a conception of intentionality as mediated or directed there is suggested, as a sound and fruitful alternative, an informational (or intensional) theory, one, it is noted, allaying the fears of Sartre and Ricoeur regarding hyle and the presentness to consciousness and cognition of perceptual acts. A connection to Merleau-Ponty and his work on intentionality and the situated body is ventured, aiming to compel the abandonment of Husserl's form-matter distinction; for Merleau-Ponty matter always contains and precedes form; the perceived world constitutes the basis of rationality, value and existence, even a 'nascent logos'.
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Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
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