Place, U. T. (1995c). Conceptual analysis as the empirical study of linguistic convention [Conference presentation abstract]. Proceedings of the British Psychological Society 1995, 143.
[Abstract]Recent developments such as connectionism in the field of artificial intelligence and selectionism in the neurosciences point away from a conception of the rules of language as a set of formal principles genetically inscribed onto the brain's equivalent of a hard disk and towards the notion that they are social conventions acquired and maintained by the error-correcting practices of a linguistic community. These developments should lead to a revival, not only of an empiricist/behaviourist linguistics, but also of conceptual analysis conceived as the empirical investigation of linguistic convention, using as its research tool Garfinkel's ethnomethodological experiment in which the putative convention is deliberately flouted so that the social consequences of so doing can be observed or, in the case of a thought experiment, imagined. Some implications of such a revival for our conception of the role of the philosopher in relation to psychology are examined. It is suggested that in order to explain how a "grammatical investigation" (Wittgenstein 1953) can throw light on the structure of reality, we need to invoke a combination of Frege's (1891/1960) "function and argument" analysis of the sentence and Wittgenstein's (1921/1961) "picture theory" of its meaning. This theoretical underpinning shows us how conceptual analysis construed as an empirical investigation of linguistic conventions can yield (a) a conception of mental life as proceeding from mental activity/process through an instantaneous mental event to a mental disposition, and (b) an argument against the existence of abstract objects such as the mind and its faculties.
Keywords: picture theory of meaning
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