[hist-analytic] Deliberation and Grammar

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Mon Jul 13 09:25:47 EDT 2009

A lot has been said about conceptual schemes. Some good; some 
not so good. But as long as we are talking about the relation of 
conceptual schemes to grammar, then we are talking about something 
slightly different than what people like Davidson and Rorty and Aune 
have talked about. 

Although I don't know its current status - I haven't worked in this area 
in a good number of years - there have been theories relating grammar 
and "conceptual schemes." Here I have in mind what linguists (Gruber, 
Jackendoff et al) have called "theta theory." Theta theory is based on 
the idea of "theta role" such as "agent" and "patient" etc A noun e.g. 
can me "marked" in the sense that it has a theta role. The grammatical 
connection comes in by using theta roles to formula conditions for 
case assignment. 

Up until about 1980 Chomsky did nothing with case marking; he relied 
on "transformation rules" to make structure explicit. But later with the 
introduction of arguments for studying case this changed. People like 
Tim Stowell and others constructed elegant theories of case assignment 
based on the "theta criterion." So "concepts" in the form of theta roles 
become connected to case assignment and case assignment determined 
much as to word order ("case assignment under ajacency"). 

This theory is probably old fashioned now. Don't know but it is great 
illustration of the interface of syntax and semantics if you consider 
these roles semantical. Now if you look, carefully, at the origin of 
theta theory you will find that it, contrary to what some linguists think, 
goes back to Davidson's logical form of action sentences. Later I think 
it was Charles Parsons who applied it to modeling action. I did some 
work on the interaction of theta roles and constructions involving 
what were (are?) called GO PPs, that is prepositions indicating motion, 
e.g. 'under the rug' as in 'it rolled under the rug' as opposed to 'it 
lies under the rug'. This conception is owing to Jackendoff (Semantic 
Structure, MIT, 1990). I bring it up to illustrate how grammar and 
"conceptual structures" interrelate. 

Now as to the discussions of late about concptual structure, I haven't 
looked at it in a while, and at least with respect to cononical languages 
I think it is a waste of time, but I'd want to reserve final judgment until 
I've looked more carefully. Aune has a good paper on this as I recall, 
although owing to my recent work I have been unable to give it a close 
look. Check the hist-analytic site if you are interested. 

I've largely lost interest in a lot of this. If you go to a good linguistics 
library, MIT for example (if the books haven't as yet all been stolen) 
has rows and rows of journals like "Linguistics and Philosophy". Much of 
this is very good, very good. But it is of little consequence to "general 
philosophy" which is my main interest. Clever algebraists who know 
seventeen languages have a shot at excellence, but like most of the 
articles contained in these journals not much more than tenure comes 
out of them. 



----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Danny Frederick" < danny.frederick at tiscali.co.uk > 
To: "hist-analytic" < hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk > 
Sent: Sunday, July 12, 2009 12:00:30 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific 
Subject: RE: Deliberation and Grammar 

Hi Steve, 

I was suggesting that, as grammar involves a conceptual scheme, and as it is always possible that a given conceptual scheme may be replaced with a better one, then it is possible for someone to have a thought that he cannot express in a grammatical sentence of his current language. The only way forward is for him to extend the current range of grammatical constructions; and this would naturally be done by means of analogy or metaphor. And because it can be done in this way, there is some hope that his interlocutors will understand what he is getting at and follow suit. I suspect that this is how languages have in fact evolved. 

The reference to an extensional language was merely to provide a readily understood example of a syntactically well-defined language type in which some very ordinary statements cannot be made – at least, not in a way that reveals their grammatical structure. 

I did not raise the question of whether intensionality is a necessary condition of intentionality – at least, not intentionally. But now that you mention it, I think that it is not, given that intensionality is (I presume) a feature of language, and some non-language-using animals have (so we think) intentional states. On the other hand, I doubt that we can attend to something without classifying it in some way (if only as a thing). But classification requires concepts, not necessarily language. 



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