Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Date: Sat, 11 Jun 2005 11:28:23 -0800 From: Bernadine Raiskums Subject: Varieties of Meaning
AUTHOR: Millikan, Ruth Garrett TITLE: Varieties of Meaning SUBTITLE: The 2002 Jean Nicod Lectures PUBLISHER: MIT Press YEAR: 2004
Bernadine W. Raiskums, Union Institute and University
This book comprises the subject matter of Ruth Garrett Millikan's 2002 Jean Nicod Lectures on three different kinds of meaning -- to have in mind, to intend, and to signify -- and their relation to each other in terms of purposefulness and functionality, essentiality and explicity, intentionality or unintentionality, natural truthfulness and falseness.
The lecture material is presented in nineteen chapters in four parts preceded by a series forward and a preface. Part I, Purposes and Cross- Purposes, includes two chapters that discuss 'meaning' as people's 'purposes' and 'cross-purposes' expressed in their behaviors, body parts, artifacts, and the signs they use. Part II, Natural Signs and Intentional Signs, includes five chapters that recognize and describe previously unacknowledged 'locally recurrent' natural signs, along with ('context free') natural signs, varieties of intentional signs, and ways in which representations themselves are represented. Part III, Outer Intentional Signs, includes five chapters that concern perception and interpretation continuities between the ways local natural signs and public language, or outer intentional signs, are read. Finally, Part IV, Inner Intentional Signs, includes seven chapters that discuss perception and thought as inner intentional signs or 'inner representations'.
Millikan's conceptualization of the complex relationships among varieties of meaning is presented in a rather convoluted writing style, which may tend to slow the reader's grasping of these relationships. However, her insertions of questions for the reader's consideration help lead the reader into the conceptualizations. Further, her use of common scenarios and stories, often involving animals and their ways of making meaning, rather delightfully illustrate the concepts that she presents.
PART I: Purposes and Cross-Purposes
Chapter 1: Purposes and Cross-purposes of Humans. Millikan's opening scenario involves a person's conscious attempt to not blink, which seems at cross-purposes with the biological blink reflex. The subsequent questions encourage the reader to consider the meaning or purposes, and motives or intent, of conscious and reflexive behaviors. Millikan follows up by relating a conscious intention, e.g., not to blink, with a purpose of the whole person; and by relating a biological reflex, e.g., the eye- blink, with a lower-level 'subpersonal' purpose. She then announces that her objective in this chapter is to persuade the reader that no interesting theoretical line can be drawn between these two kinds of purposes. She illustrates how all levels of purpose -- those of learned behaviors and unlearned behaviors -- appear to be 'natural purposes' in that they have their origins in adaptation by some form of natural selection in spite of the fact that the behaviors are sometimes at cross- purposes. In order to see what this chapter has to do with the title of the book, the reader might need to revisit the preface in which the author relates purposes to varieties of meaning.
Chapter 2: Purposes and Cross-purposes of Memes. Opening with a discussion of natural selection and evolution, Millikan goes on to state that her objective in this chapter is to discuss selection and replication of reproduced cultural artifacts (such as language systems). Millikan credits Richard Dawkins (1976) with having invented the term "memes" to stand for items that are reproduced by imitation rather than by genetics. She asserts that the social coordination purpose of a meme accounts for its continuing to be reproduced while other memes die out. Millikan agrees with Dawkins that just as conditioned behaviors and rationally selected purposes can cross with the genes that enabled them, so can natural purposes of memes emerge and cross with those at lower levels or with other psychological purposes.
PART II: Natural Signs and Intentional Signs
Chapter 3: Local Natural Signs and Information. Millikan begins this chapter by defining a natural sign as something from which you can learn something else by tracking in thought a connection that exists in nature based upon prior knowledge or experience. She contrasts local natural signs with her proposed description of a 'locally recurrent' natural sign. (In the subsequent chapter, she alerts the reader that she will, then on, use the term "local natural sign" to stand for "locally recurrent natural sign".) Through illustration, she leads the reader to reflect on what things count as natural signs and their meanings in everyday life and to recognize that high correlation is not enough to make one thing mean another; what it means must correspond to its actual cause or a probability of one. She clarifies that no causal connection is necessary between a locally recurrent sign and the 'affair' or 'world affair' that it signifies. In order to see what this chapter has to do with the title of the book, the reader might need to revisit the preface in which the author relates signs to varieties of meaning.
Chapter 4: Productivity and Embedding in Natural Signs. In this chapter, Millikan applies to natural signs two features that are well known to characterize intentional signs, but are not generally recognized to characterize natural signs. She describes these two features as productivity and embedding. She follows by explaining two kinds of embedding that occur in natural language. She first illustrates simpler cases in which linguistic signs involve 'defining descriptions' to represent things not directly, but by intentionally representing properties that are natural signs of these things. She next illustrates the more complex kind of embedding in which linguistic signs intentionally represent other representations as representations, and the represented representations, if they are intentional representations, may or may not be signs of anything real. Millikan here posits that linguistic signs of this latter kind are what produce the phenomenon of intensionality (with an 's'), which is to be the subject of chapter 7.
Chapter 5: Teleosemantic Theories. Millikan states that in this chapter she will explore the relations of locally recurrent signs and local natural information to intentional signs. She describes and contrasts teleological theories, which theorize content of mental representation; intentionality, which is understood as the property of 'ofnesss' or 'aboutness' and is not explained by a teleological theory; natural signs which represent facts about things and cannot be false; and teleosemantic theories, which theorize only how representations can be false or mistaken (representing nothing). Upon this discussion, Millikan attempts to diffuse the confusion that she asserts passed through Chisholm's (1967) interpretation of Franz Brentano's writings on intentionality in which he included both the concept of teleology and the concept that is now considered separately as 'teleosemantics'. She explains why 'teleosemantics' must piggyback on a naturalist theory of the content of mental representation; e.g. natural signs, in order to address not only false representation, but also to address intentional representation.
Chapter 6: Intentionality. In this chapter, Millikan examines Dretske's proposal that natural signs, because their function is to carry natural information, are intentional representations. She argues that intentional signs need no probability of one nor even a particularly high probability, and that the producers of intentional representation do not have as their purpose to produce natural sign but simply produce natural signs when they perform their functions in their normal way and produce only true intentional signs when they perform their functions by accident. Millikan next posits that 'cooperative' intentional signs are produced by systems designed to make natural signs for use by cooperating interpreting systems, and from this point forward uses the term "intentional sign" to mean cooperative intentional sign unless indicated otherwise. She here provides three figures to illustrate her theories of intentional representation by producers for consumers, i.e., descriptive representations, directive representations, and what she calls "pushmi- pullyus" which both describe and direct.
Chapter 7: Intensionality. Millikan discusses phenomena that give rise to linguistic contexts that are 'intensional' by describing only differences in purposes and differences in semantic mapping functions that map either natural or intentional signs onto the extensional affairs that they signify. She describes Sellars's 'means rubric' and Davidson's assumption that beliefs, wishes, intentions, and so forth are mental representations that can, in some sense, play the same roles as linguistic representations. Both Sellars and Davidson, Millikan asserts, suggest that representation of a representation is done by holding up another representation that is similar to it in relevant ways. Then she argues that which ways are relevant is generally determined pragmatically rather than grammatically and that this results in intensionality. She also defends the view that modal contexts, which are best analyzed as containing representations of representations, are intensional contexts. However she argues against descriptions of causes, natural explanations and natural purposes as creating intensional contexts.
PART III: Outer Intentional Signs
Chapter 8: Linguistic Signs Emerge from Natural Signs. Millikan begins Part III on outer intentional signs by comparing the evolution of conventional language signs from natural signs to the discussion in the first chapter of evolution of higher-level purposes from lower-level purposes. She explains her views that ontogenetic ritualization is more responsible than imitative learning for acquisition of communicative signals and that when such signals become intentional signs, they do not necessarily lose their natural-sign character. She revisits the two ways described in the second chapter in which words and sentences can acquire proper functions or purposes, emphasizing that these different origins of purpose sometimes cause linguistic tokens to conflict in purpose. Finally, she argues that conventional signs used for their conventional purposes usually are read in exactly the same way that natural signs are read.
Chapter 9: Direct Perception through Language. Building on her argument that perception is a way of translating natural signs into intentional signs, in this chapter Millikan argues that understanding language is simply another form of sensory perception of the world. She defends her argument by explaining why, in routine cases, perception of the world through the medium of language can sensibly called "direct perception" rather than "indirect perception". She reconceives use of these phrases in terms of translation rather than inference. She follows with an argument that coming to believe something by being told it is so, in the typical case, is a translative psychological processing formation of a direct perceptual belief equivalent to that of coming to believe something by seeing it.
Chapter 10: Tracking the Domains of Conventional Signs. In this chapter, Millikan targets the contemporary neo-Gricean school of pragmatics by arguing that just as no intentional representations of retinal images intervene between physical objects and the seeing of those objects, no representations of speaker intentions in speaking need intervene between world affairs spoken of by speakers and hearers' understandings of their words. After recognizing limitations, she explains how reading a conventional sign is mainly a matter of tracking its natural domain; i.e. cognitive systems, and how such tracking occurs by following the focus of one another's minds during ordinary conversation.
Chapter 11: Varieties of the Semantics-Pragmatics Distinction. Millikan claims here to address the three different broad and poorly overlapping criteria that have been used to draw the traditionally troubled distinction between semantics and pragmatics. She first speaks to the study of semantics that has been equated by some with the study of truth or satisfaction conditions as opposed to the study of the 'force' of linguistic utterances. She next speaks to the tradition that equates the study of semantics with the study of the meanings and considers language forms apart from the contexts in which they occur. Finally, Millikan argues that the line between conventional and nonconventional uses of language is vague and the semantics-pragmatics distinction is necessarily vague as well.
Chapter 12: Demonstratives, Indexicals, and a Bit More about Descriptions. Millikan begins the chapter by referring back to earlier discussions to weave in her conceptualizations of 'narrow linguistic aspects' of linguistic signs as parts or aspects of more complete or 'wide linguistic signs'. She provides examples of where an aspect of context is part of a wide conventional linguistic sign and there is a filler or variable entered into the syntax of the narrow linguistic part of the sign that holds a place open for that aspect of context to fill. She suggests that the term "indexical" be reserved for lexicalized and grammaticalized elements of a public language whose job it is to indicate explicitly how elements of a context are to be positioned within the mappings of wide conventional signs. She next argues that, when indicated by conventional forms of demonstration, the referents of demonstratives are reflexive signs that stand for themselves conventionally. Millikan concludes this chapter with an argument that the puzzle about definite descriptions is easily resolved if something not currently observed, but merely known about, can stand for itself.
PART IV: Inner Intentional Signs
Chapter 13: Inner Pushmi-pullyus. In this chapter, Millikan elaborates on discussion initiated in chapter 6 about 'pushmi-pullyu' signs, which are undifferentiated between presenting facts and directing activities appropriate to those facts; i.e. representing facts and giving directions or representing goals at once. Asserting that these signs are the most common intentional signs occurring inside organisms, she examines their relations to various successors or more sophisticated signs. Millikan refers to contemporary ecological psychologists' explanations of 'basic perception' and 'perception-action cycles' to support her use of the phrase "perception of an affordance". Her discussion addresses variation of articulation, abstraction, and proximal and distal affairs. Millikan provides rather ridiculous examples of animal behaviors which demonstrate the animals' lack of ability to understand the purposes of their behaviors or to articulate into segments behavior-governing pushmi-pullyu representations for recombination in order to achieve purposive goals under changed circumstances.
Chapter 14: Detaching Representations of Objects. Millikan begins this chapter by comparing the evolution of inner representations to evolution in general in that as the representations become more articulate, complex functions are built up from the specialized functions of the articulated parts. She uses examples to demonstrate and explain the animal's ability to 'disassemble, tune the parts, and recombine' while grasping its extended activities as a series of transitions from one objective situation into the next objective situation affording this or that. She also uses examples to demonstrate the different ways objects and their relations to oneself are perceived and argues the need for both egocentric and allocentric distinction and coordination between representations of affording objects and affording situations. Finally, she emphasizes that objective perceptual representations that represent objects apart from their momentary enabling relations to the acting animal are partial affordances (pure fact representations) that are not dedicated to any particular purpose but available for combination in the production of actions with new purposes.
Chapter 15: Space and Time. In this chapter, Millikan addresses the epistemic importance of supplementing or extending current perception by stored knowledge of semifactual representations of the spatial and temporal layout of currently unperceived parts of the home domain. She explains mapping representations of territories and patterning representations of conditional probabilities of ordered occurrences that characterize the environment. Through examples and references to evidence of scientific experiments, she demonstrates animals' abilities, which are not fully explained by classical principles of conditioning, to construct and store these representations and to later recognize their current relation to some part of the object, objective situation, or relation to it.
Chapter 16: Detaching Goal State Representations. Millikan takes the reader, in this chapter, from the purposes of pushmi-pullyu representations to identification of goal state representations and 'confident intentions'. She illustrates how the purpose of goal state representation is a step beyond predicting the outcome of previously learned dispositions to follow affordances. The step beyond is in using representations of future events as a guiding goal to adjust current activity in order to meet that goal. Millikan clarifies the distinction between a descriptive pushmi representation of coming events, the directive pullyu representation that guides one's motions, and a goal- state representation that is a projected goal of where one will end up as a result of that motion and that guides the planning and knowing when it has reached the goal. She posits that unlike the pushmi-pullyu representations, the two faces of a confident intention are both written in the same code so that the same aspect of the representation can both produce action and represent a future state of affairs. In order to see what this chapter has to do with the title of the book, the reader might need to revisit the preface in which the author relates representations and intentions to varieties of meaning.
Chapter 17: Generating Goal State Representations. This short chapter responds to natural questions that emerge from the previous one: Where do representations of projected goal states come from? What is their origin; what prompts them? Millikan introduces yet another animal story and refers back to previous stories to illustrate that an animal does not just happen to perceive and hence act on affordances. She asserts that depending on its current needs and its current environment, the animal's nervous system is primed to register certain kinds of inputs more easily. She compares the process to practical reasoning in that it is a trial and error search for affordances, and it involves putting together partial knowledge from prior experiences and representations of possible parts of a complete path until it envisions and constructs a complete path to the goal.
Chapter 18: Limitations on Nonhuman Thought. Despite the title of this chapter, Millikan speaks less to limitations on nonhuman thought, which ties representations and behaviors to things that have proved useful in historical experiences of the species, and speaks more to the expanded capabilities of human thought, which she describes as collections and memories of facts for which neither we nor our ancestors have yet found any practical uses. She suggests ways in which the representational capacities of humans may differ in degree and probably in kind from those of nonhuman animals. By use of stories, she illustrates how animals that have only practical concerns perceive only similarities among representations in their world; while humans find importance for theoretical purposes in the additional recognition of differences among representations and concepts.
Chapter 19: Conjectures on Human Thought. In this final chapter, Millikan sketches how distinctively cognitive systems, unlike action-guiding perceptual systems, articulate representations into subject and predicate and are also sensitive to an internal negation transformation. She describes how the ability to recognize contraries of a property, and to recognize them as being incompatible, is required in order to test one's abilities to identify subjects of theoretical judgment, and vice versa. She goes on to describe how language enables learning to identify suitable subjects for theoretical judgment and the predicate contrary spaces that complement them. She contends that this development of theoretical concepts and theoretical knowledge make it possible to represent time as dated rather than as a mere set of conditional probabilities concerning temporal relations. She further argues that this representation makes possible conception, planning, and carrying out of projects that purposefully change the future in unprecedented ways, rather than merely repeating past successes; i.e., we can purposefully and knowingly make what will exist in the future different from what has existed in the past.
That this book comprises the subject matter of Ruth Garrett Millikan's 2002 Jean Nicod Lectures, along with the numerous references to prior authoritative literature, leaves no doubt in the reader's mind as to the merit of the material presented. However some of the author's unsupported assertions; e.g. that animals cannot see themselves in mirrors, appear questionable. That this fascinating material was originally intended to be delivered in intellectual lectures may explain why it is presented in a writing style that makes it difficult for the uninitiated reader to grasp.
Although Millikan often makes clear statements of her objectives for a chapter or section, her digressions, such as into rather technical explanations or arguments with other theorists, tend to divert the reader's attention and detract from accomplishment of those stated objectives. Although Millikan often makes clear statements purporting to explain the transition from one idea to another or from one chapter to another, the statements do not clearly explain those transitions. Millikan's comments about getting ahead of her story demonstrate that she recognizes her tendency to refer back to previous chapters and forward to subsequent chapters, which might have been easier to follow if the index were more complete. While Millikan more or less summarized her objectives and theories in the preface, liberally illustrated her points with delightful animal stories, and provided three figures to depict intentional representations, a matrix or other graphical representations might have further facilitated the reader's understanding of the complex relationships among varieties of meaning that Millikan conceptualized. Finally, Millikan's uniquely stipulated usage of terminology might have been easier to track if the book included a glossary of key terms.
Chisholm, R. M. (1967) "Brentano, Franz." In P. Edwards, (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 1, 365-368. New York: Collier Macmillan.
Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Bernadine W. Raiskums is a Ph.D. candidate pursuing independent studies through the Union Institute and University. Her interests concern communication and community. Her doctoral focus is on relationships among interdisciplinary communication, language, and general semantics across the sub-fields that comprise the field of adult education. Her dissertation is a conceptual analysis of the term "critical" in ordinary language and specifically in the literature of adult education.