Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thought and Meaning

Ken Aizawa and Richard Menary are having a virtual debate about the book "Bounds of Cognition" by Ken and co-author Fred Adams. The issue du jour is whether thoughts have "derived content"; ie, is their "content" (or "meaning") established as a matter of social convention. Menary says yes, Ken says no.

Menary's argument appears to be, in essence, that a thought S is just an unvocalized sentence S and thereby has the meaning of S when S is expressed - vocalized, written, printed, signed, etc. Ken disputes that the thought S is literally the sentence S, but is instead a representation of S (in something he calls "mentalese"). Specifically, Ken says:

Thinking in English is not a matter of sound streams bearing derived content being found in the brain. ... [There is no] token of [a sentence in, say, English] that bears derived content occurring in the brain.