Thoughts, sentences, and unities

John Collins

in The Unity of Linguistic Meaning

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199694846
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191732027 | DOI:
Thoughts, sentences, and unities

Show Summary Details


It is traditional to distinguish sentences from propositions. The distinction is accepted but it is argued that language has an interest in its own right as regards the unity problem insofar as sentences (syntactic structures) encode meaningful unities. Two arguments from Jerry Fodor are considered and rejected that seek to show that the structure and content of sentences are inherited from antecedent thoughts. The first claims that sentences are inexplicit and incomplete relative to their contents. This is true, if we have in mind a ‘surface’ conception of language, but is not at all obvious if by language we mean syntactic structure. Against this latter though, Fodor suggests that thoughts cannot be ambiguous, but their vehicles always can be. In response, it is argued that syntax cannot ever be ambiguous either, for, appropriately conceived, syntax is not vehicular, but a structural condition on mental states.

Keywords: propositions; language; compositionality; ambiguity; Jerry Fodor; facts

Chapter.  9306 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.