Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Notes on Ludlow: Chs. 1-2

**WARNING: Technical Post**

A lot of my dissertation is going to be about the debate between the tensed and tenseless views of time. Roughly, the main idea behind the tensed view is that reality itself is fundamentally tensed - there is an absolute, single present and absolute past and future and any description of reality must fundamentally be tensed as well. The tenseless view, on the other hand, sees talk of past, present and future as reducible to talk about various times merely being earlier or later or simultaneous and views tense as merely linguistic - reality itself is not in any way fundamentally tensed. So perhaps when I say 'We are eating now' at 6pm what makes that true or false is whether we are eating at 6pm - there's no need to talk about anything being present or past or whatever.

So for research I've been reading Peter Ludlow's Semantics, Tense, and Time and I must say that so far I am fairly unimpressed. He seems to just be regurgitating old tensed theorist arguments against tenseless theory. For one thing, many of his characterizations of the tenseless theory (which he calls the 'B-theory'), are controversial or misleading at best. No reasonable tenseless theorist, for instance, would characterize their own view as saying "time is simply a sequence of unchanging and tenseless events" (p1) - tenseless, yes; unchanging, no. Nor would they agree that the opposite view is characterized by thinking that "it is fundamental to the notion of time that events [...] have genuine temporal status" (pp2-3) as if the tenseless theory somehow denied this. I don't remember where he says this, but he also characterizes the distinction between the two theories by saying that, unlike the tensed theory, the tenseless theory denies the reality of "genuine change" - a characterization that no tenseless theorist would accept.

Chapter 1 seemed to be rather confused (and this confusion seems to follow through the rest of the book) in that, while Ludlow maintains that the only real language is our innate biological internal I-language (and that public, E-language does not exist), he persistently - in this chapter and in others - seems to treat I-language as if it were English. But that seems implausible since I-language is supposed to be part of our biological endowment whereas the grammar of English and connections between the world and English words definitely is not. We certainly use English words to express our internal representations of the world but I'm not sure that it follows that my I-language is simply English. Ludlow says he thinks he is following Chomsky here but I don't know enough personally about what he says to tell whether that's true. If I-language is just English, then I would have to disagree with Ludlow about it being our Language of Thought. After all, I think we learn English by using mental representations in the first place and this would be impossible if all representation had to be in English to start with. And if I-language is English after all it's not so clear that all our representations are really linguistic in character rather than also geometric or map-like or imagistic or whatever. After all, if animals don't have I-language then, given the similarities in our brains, it seems likely that, in addition to the linguistic representational capacities our brains have, we would also have more primitive forms of representation in common with more primitively brained organisms.

In chapter 2 Ludlow champions a view of semantics on which the job of semantic theory is to tell us what people know when they know the meanings of sentences. This in itself, I think, tells against the idea that my internal representational system is fundamentally English. After all, assuming Ludlow is correct, I learn English by learning the semantic rules for English which I then represent in my mind. But my representation of the rules, if in English, are themselves in need of interpretation and require that I know and represent some further rules in order to know what they mean. But (since global holism is false) this can't keep going on. So if I must know rules for every representation in English I must have some rules I know that aren't in English. But then we must ask about the semantics of these representations. The bottom line is that I must ultimately have some representations that do not require my knowledge of their semantic rules in order to use them competently. Otherwise, my semantic rules would either be circular or I'd be off on an infinite regress. So while showing what rules people know when they know the meaning of a sentence is useful for semantics, it cannot be the entire semantic story (if it is part of it all, which can be disputed - see some of Scott Soames' work for lots and lots of criticism of this view of semantic theory).

Ludlow thinks that semantic theory should take the form of a system of axioms (maybe with axioms like ' "Ted" refers to Ted', etc.) which can in turn be used to derive a system of sentences which give us the truth-conditions (so, for instance, one such sentence would be '"Snow is white" is true iff snow is white') for all the sentences of the language in question. He then supports the view that the truth-conditions derived in such a theory for various expressions will be such that each of them ' "shows" or "displays" the sense of the expressions' (p42). By this, he seems to say a few pages later, he means that the right hand side of the biconditional (the "iff" statement) will have the sense of the expression referred to on the left hand side. What this amounts to will depend on what the notion of sense amounts to. Sense might include functional, cognitive, or practical role, determination of reference or truth, the form taken, etc. The more sense encompasses, however, the more unclear it is that this sort of semantic theory has all the metaphysical ramifications that Ludlow is going to want out of it. The less it includes, on the other hand, the more unclear it is that it includes everything we would want our semantics to include. But he can't have it both ways, it seems.

More tomorrow.

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