Place, U. T. (1994e). Conceptual analysis as the empirical study of linguistic conventions: Some implications for behavior analysis [Conference presentation at the Twentieth Annual Convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis, Atlanta, Georgia, May 29th 1994].
[Abstract]In a recent paper (Place 1992), the writer has argued that conceptual analysis, as practised by the philosophers of the 'ordinary language' school, is an empirical study of the linguistic conventions to which a speaker must conform if what she says is to be understood by (i.e., is to effectively control the behavior of) any competent interpreter of the language, dialect or technical code she is using. Since conformity to social norms and conventions is maintained by the avoidance of the aversive consequences of failing to do so, the only way to demonstrate unambiguously the existence of such a norm or convention is to perform an ethnomethodological experiment (Garfinkel 1964) in which the putative norm or convention is deliberately flouted so that the actual social consequences of so doing can be observed. Because of the social disruption and hostility towards the experimenter which such an experiment is liable to incur, in practice most such investigations take the form of a thought experiment in which the researcher invites the reader to imagine or recollect from her own past experience the consequences of flouting the convention in question. Though the consequences of flouting linguistic conventions are less serious, the reluctance of philosophers, in their professional capacity, to engage in any form of practical activity has ensured that the methodology of conceptual analysis is likewise that of the ethnomethodological thought experiment. In this case the existence of a linguistic convention is demonstrated by constructing a sentence which flouts the putative convention, and then asking the reader to consider how she would react, if confronted by such a sentence in the course of ordinary conversation. Provided the linguistic conventions which are studied in this way are universal in the sense that some version of them is to be found in every natural language, conceptual analysis so conceived can provide valuable insights into (a) the different ways in which language is used to control the behavior of the listener (pragmatics), (b) the way in which sentences are used to depict or represent segments of environmental reality, possible future events and states of affairs as well as actual past and present ones, (semantics) and (c) the nature of the reality thereby depicted (metaphysics). In relation to behavior analysis, conceptual analysis has important implications for the study of verbal behavior, for an understanding of the relation between our ordinary psychological language ("folk psychology") and the language of behavior analysis on the one hand and the language of physiology on the other, and for an understanding of some of the concepts, such as the concepts of 'cause' and 'effect' which are fundamental to the enterprise of empirical science as a whole.
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