. . . Taylor’s book is a richly informative and admirable attempt to delineate “the full shape of the human linguistic capacity” (as its subtitle has it). More than that, it affords a model of what it is to be a genuine philosopher: at an age when most philosophers have either given up altogether or else fallen into dogmatically repeating views that they have long since held, Taylor continues an open-minded search for the right answers, drawing not only on the older literature from philosophy and several other disciplines that he has long since mastered but also on a wealth of newer literature from an equally wide range of sources.
The importance of language!
Fresh takes on artificial intelligence. Machines that think: the best thing since the discovery of fire or the biggest threat to humanity since the atomic bomb? Responding to the annual Edge question, almost 200 thinkers, including TED speakers such as Susan Blackmore and Mark Pagel, weigh in on the deceptively distant possibility of superintelligent machines, both from a technological stance and from a moral one. (Watch Susan’s TED Talk, “Memes and ‘temes’ “ and Mark’s, “How language transformed humanity”.)
This is a long and thematically rich book, with several different strands not always strongly interconnected. In one respect the lack of close connections is all to the good, since the more outlandish positions do not negatively impact the main, entirely plausible thesis of the book. On the other hand, that thesis, central to the humanistic view of literature that Richard Gaskin favors, is not as well and tightly defended as it might be. The main thesis is that many fictional literary works refer to the real world in ways that allow us to learn important truths from them, and that this cognitive value is also part of the literary or aesthetic value of those works. A second almost equally central thesis is that literary works have an objective meaning established at the time of their creation, and that critics or interpreters seek to reveal that meaning. In defending these claims Gaskin argues forcefully against reader response theorists, deconstructionists, the politicization of literary criticism, and skeptics in the analytic tradition regarding the cognitive value of literature.
The main part of the book begins with some spooky idealist metaphysics, albeit linguistic idealism developed also in an earlier book. According to this position, propositions as the referents of sentences are the primary constituents of the world. The “world is a product of language. . . . essentially propositionally structured . . . essentially the referent of language.” (7) Objects and properties exist in the world only derivatively as theoretically posited elements in linguistically structured propositions. The “world is the transcendental creation of language. . . . composed of entities which are in some sense meanings.” (13-14) The world is constituted by our linguistic practices: the “ordinary world of objects and properties is not external to language.” (292) Continue reading