First speaker for the spring 2017 Cog Sci series is Dorit Bar-On of the Dept. of Philosophy on Friday, Feb. 3. in Laurel Hall, room 201 at 4pm.
Crude Meaning, Brute Thought (or: What Are They Thinking?!)
Can there be thought before language? Two influential philosophers – Paul Grice and Donald Davidson – have famously endorsed conflicting theses on this matter, despite sharing a broadly rationalist perspective on the relation between thought and language. Roughly, for Grice, thought of an especially complex sort is a precondition of linguistic meaning, whereas for Davidson, there can be no thought without language. I argue that, transposed into an evolutionary key, both views present us with unpalatable alternatives concerning the natural origins of objective thought and meaningful language. I use insights from Grice and Davidson to lay out some broad desiderata for a viable intermediate position on the relation between language and thought, indicating why several extant anti-rationalist proposals fail to meet these desiderata. In the final section, I turn to certain forms of nonlinguistic communication of which both prelinguistic children and languageless animals are capable – viz., expressive communication. I propose that a proper appreciation of the character and function of expressive communication can help us mark the contours of the relevant space for the desired intermediate position.