• unenlightened
    5.3k
    Here's a curiosity. I only noticed yesterday that the underlined words should be swapped around.Srap Tasmaner

    I recognise the truth of your observation, and can see informally how it follows from a correct interpretation of the context, in the context of the other occurrences of the two words in the passage. But this is surely the death knell for any complete description.

    We know what he meant. But we only know it after a long discussion has led us to understand at depth what he needs to have meant in the context of the whole paper. A nice derangement indeed! Do you think it was deliberate?
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    Do you think it was deliberate?unenlightened

    No. But I'm inclined to doubt it was Davidson's mistake. It's just amusing.

    PhilPapers links to another version (mostly) available through Google Books; it has the same transposition. The paper seems to have appeared simultaneously here (in what looks like a collection devoted to Grice) and in Lepore's collection devoted to Davidson (both 1986). Unfortunately the latter cannot be previewed in Google Books, so I can't check that one.

    Someone made a mistake (later taken up by this reprint in The Essential Davidson) but it's unclear who.

    But this is surely the death knell for any complete description.unenlightened

    Complete description of what?
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    I think "efficiency" is a key term that is missing here, as in efficiently using words to communicate, and that includes being able to interpret similarly sounding, shaped, and typed words in the improper context, as meaning the words that the they sound like in the proper context, so that they don't have to be repeated.Harry Hindu

    You may have something here. We regularly produce speech errors (I haven't found a solid source on the frequency). Why? Why isn't our speech production better at its job?

    I would guess the answer is it's too slow and too expensive. Perfect is the enemy of good.

    Given that speech errors are predictable, why don't we detect them more often?

    Well, to what end? The choices seem to be:

    • guess, hopefully well
    • consciously work through the options and try to deduce the correct word, weighing evidence, etc.
    • in conversation, you could produce speech of your own, asking for clarification and then you have to deal with the speech produced in response

    The fastest and cheapest on this list is clearly the first, and we do have plenty of reason to think we are good at the guessing. (As Kahneman says, System 1 is a machine for jumping to conclusions, so it's raring to go.) So in essence you can just expect the guessing solution to swallow the error detection pass entirely.
  • creativesoul
    9.2k
    If Davidson is claiming that people generally have "complex theories" about the rules of language use, which he says in the passage you quoted that I responded to he assumes "must be about right" then I would say that is an inapt use of 'theory'. for the reasons I already gave.Janus

    There's a bit of a misunderstanding between us, and it seems to be growing. Let's see if we can resolve that prior to continuing, for if we cannot, further discussion will result in futility. The passage you mention(copied below) was Davidson's report of the standard description of linguistic competence at the time. That standard is not Davidson's, although he does overtly accept some responsibility for it.

    If his report is accurate, then the standard description of linguistic competence at that time was...

    ...in the case of language the hearer shares a complex system or theory with the speaker, a system which makes possible the articulation of logical relations between utterances, and explains the ability to interpret novel utterances in an organized way. This answer has been suggested, in one form or another, by many philosophers and linguists, and I assume it must in some sense be right. The difficulty lies in getting clear about what this sense is...

    To that you replied...

    Most speakers and hearers probably don't entertain any "complex theories" at all. A complex theory may be able to be formulated after the fact based on analysis of practice...Janus

    If Davidson's report is accurate, then you're objecting to the standard description of linguistic competence.

    Are you denying the accuracy of the report, or are you questioning the standard description itself?
  • creativesoul
    9.2k
    I suggest that you carefully read the aforementioned pages to better understand what Davidson is doing with "theory".creativesoul

    I've already read the paper. What do YOU think he's doing with it?Janus

    Since you've claimed Davidson is using the term "theory" in an 'inapt' manner, I've thought about it and decided that you could not be more wrong, my friend. Whether or not Davidson uses a term in an inapt manner is determined by whether or not his use of that particular term is suitable and/or appropriate for the circumstances. Given that he's painstakingly setting out how a standard description of linguistic competence is inadequate, and he's proposing his own solution to that problem, then his use of "theory" is perfectly appropriate and/or suitable to the situation at hand.

    One may say that he's using the term 'loosely', because the strict scientific sense of "theory" differs greatly from his use in the paper. That would be a mischaracterization, to say the least. He's using it to describe how successful communication with speech happens, and he's doing so in a rather exquisitely explicit fashion. He's setting out a rather nuanced, but perfectly understandable notion/sense of "theory". To understand what Davidson is claiming, one must - at the very least - grant his use/definition of the term.

    Any failure to do that will most assuredly result in misunderstanding. A reader who sincerely desires to understand another, particularly when there are novel language uses at hand, must be ready to think anew. Below are just a couple of relevant excerpts from the paper which provide more than enough information for the astute reader to readily understand what Davidson means when he uses the term "theory".

    From the pages suggested earlier...

    To say that an explicit theory for interpreting a speaker is a model of the interpreter’s linguistic competence is not to suggest that the interpreter knows any such theory...

    In any case, claims about what would constitute a satisfactory theory are not, as I said, claims about the propositional knowledge of an interpreter, nor are they claims about the details of the inner workings of some part of the brain. They are rather claims about what must be said to give a satisfactory description of the competence of the interpreter. We cannot describe what an interpreter can do except by appeal to a recursive theory of a certain sort. It does not add anything to this thesis to say that if the theory does correctly describe the competence of an interpreter, some mechanism in the interpreter must correspond to the theory.

    Principle (2) says that for communication to succeed, a systematic method of interpretation must be shared. (I shall henceforth assume there is no harm in calling such a method a theory, as if the interpreter were using the theory we use to describe his competence...

    According to Davidson, the problem is this: what interpreter and speaker share(the understanding of the speaker's words), to the extent that communication succeeds, is not learned and so is not a language governed by rules or conventions known to speaker and interpreter in advance; but what the speaker and interpreter know in advance is not (necessarily) shared, and so is not a language governed by shared rules or conventions. What is shared is, as before, the passing theory(the understanding of the speaker's words); what is given in advance is the prior theory, or anything on which it may in turn be based.

    All the things Davidson assumes an interpreter knows or can do depend on his having a mature set of concepts, and being at home with the business of linguistic communication. His problem is to describe what is involved in the idea of ‘having a language’. He finds that none of the proposals satisfy the demand for a description of an ability that speaker and interpreter share and that is adequate to interpretation.

    My take is that Davidson posits "prior" and "passing" theories as a means of satisfying that demand.
  • Janus
    9.6k
    If Davidson's report is accurate, then you're objecting to the standard description of linguistic competence.

    Are you denying the accuracy of the report, or are you questioning the standard description itself?
    creativesoul

    Firstly I would question just whose standard description this could be, and whether there really is a "standard description" at all. I'm not saying there is not , but I'm far from convinced there is.

    As I said before this description uses "complex theory" in what I think is an inapt way, since I don't believe most speakers and hearers do entertain any complex theory. If Davidson means something like Heidegger's "background understanding" or Wittgenstein's "hinge propositions" or even what I would call an a basic implicit understanding then why use the term 'theory'?

    To say that an explicit theory for interpreting a speaker is a model of the interpreter’s linguistic competence is not to suggest that the interpreter knows any such theory...

    How can it be an explicit theory if the interpreter knows no such theory? If it were an explication of an implicit theory (or much better " implicit understanding") which would make far more sense, then the waters have been unnecessarily muddied.

    We cannot describe what an interpreter can do except by appeal to a recursive theory of a certain sort.

    I'm going to be blunt: this sound like complete bullshit to me. If we can describe what an interpreter can do then we would have a description, not a theory. A theory would be an explanation of how the interpreter can do what she does.

    As far as your subsequent explication goes; I would say that Davidson is probably not trying to say what you seem to think he is. But then it isn't clear to me what he is trying to say at all, and after attempting to read and understand the paper I can only conclude that either he isn't saying much at all, or else I lack the background to understand him. In either case I would say his capacity for clear exposition is somewhat lacking. I've encountered the same problem before when attempting to get anything out of "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme" (I think that's the correct name of the paper, but in any case you probably know which work of his I'm referring to).

    If you think Davidson's eccentric use of "complex theory" actually serves some purpose more usefully than what I think would be a more apt expression like 'implicit understanding' would, then I'd be happy to hear about it.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    theoryJanus

    It's just shoptalk.

    "Theory of meaning for a language" is just Davidson-speak for a semantics for that language.

    Not expected to be something you're aware of unless something goes wrong that needs attention to fix.
  • Janus
    9.6k
    It's just shoptalk.

    "Theory of meaning for a language" is just Davidson-speak for a semantics for that language.

    Not expected to be something you're aware of unless something goes wrong that needs attention to fix.
    Srap Tasmaner

    Fair enough, but in that case the inappropriate usage of 'theory' is not for any actual purpose, and is potentially misleading for the novice.

    So, it seems inaccurate to say that the ordinary speaker and hearer have complex theories of meaning, because, to me at least, 'theory of meaning' suggests an explanation for how meaning is conveyed in communication, and I don't think most speakers and hearers think about any such thing; they just communicate without worrying about how they do it, or how they are able to do it.
  • Isaac
    3.3k
    We regularly produce speech errors (I haven't found a solid source on the frequency)Srap Tasmaner

    About 1 in every 1,000 words for adults - according to Garnham A, Shillcock R, Brown GDA, Mill AID, Cutler A. Slips of the tongue in the London–Lund corpus of spontaneous speech. Linguistics. 1981.

    Why isn't our speech production better at its job?Srap Tasmaner

    Basically the processes involved in speech production are carried out in parallel as opposed to in series, one of these is the action potential for the motor functions associated with speech production (mouth, breath and gesture). Since some of these functions are started before sentence construction at the conceptual end is even finished, words are selected from 'broad neighbourhoods' as a best guess pending more clear information as to the meaning of the whole sentence. That's why malapropisms are usually similar sounding (or occasionally meaning) words, because a selection has been initiated without the full context of the proposed sentence. Such components are usually held in working memory before the full sentence is articulated and so most of the time no mistakes are made, but if the working memory is occupied or the construction is particularly fast this doesn't always work.

    Why do we process in parallel and not series? Possibly efficiency, as you say, but the high necessity of working memory involvement rather negates that theory, it's possibly even less efficient. Possibly it points to the fact that word selection and grammar are secondary to general communication and have been 'tacked on' in evolutionary terms.
  • creativesoul
    9.2k
    ...it points to the fact that word selection and grammar are secondary to general communication...Isaac

    :up:
  • unenlightened
    5.3k
    Complete description of what?Srap Tasmaner

    Of interpretation; of meaning; of the way language works.

    Perhaps I wasn't clear enough. You spotted a mistake that resulted in something that is either a contradiction or just nonsense. But if one reads the passage out of context - without already knowing the direction of the paper, then one could not tell whether it was the underlined words that needed to be swapped, or the previous occurrences, thus:

    Someone who grasps the fact that Mrs Malaprop means ‘epithet’ when she says ‘epitaph’ must give ‘epithet’ all the powers ‘epitaph’ has for many other people. Only a full recursive theory can do justice to these powers. These remarks do not depend on supposing Mrs Malaprop will always make this ‘mistake’; once is enough to summon up a passing theory assigning a new role to ‘epitaph’.
    — p. 262, my underlining

    To make the distinction between your correction and mine, one needs a "rule" that refers back to Mrs Malaprop's actual saying, or the title of the paper at least. The best one can do is to resort to a 'rule of thumb' along the lines of 'charity' whereby one tries to maximise the good sense and consistency of the speaker given that 'something has gone wrong somewhere'.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.6k
    While I agree that that is the usual meaning of the term, the substituted words need not rhyme or sound similar. The etymology of malapropism renders it close to 'misappropriate'. And in relation to this discussion concerning how we are able to understand what is meant when a misappropriate word is substituted for an appropriate one, rhyming or not seems pretty much irrelevant.Janus
    Trivial nonsense. Trying to solve the problem of interpreting what is meant by an unintended word that sounds like the word that was intended is done differently that interpreting what is meant by an unintended word that doesn't sound like what was intended. You're talking about two different processes for solving the problem of interpreting what was meant because of the relationship, or association between the word that wasn't intended and the one that was (the unintended word sounds like the intended word vs not sounding like the intended word).

    This is why I asked earlier: If I told you to dance the Flamenco and you danced the Macarena, then is that an error in language-use or dance-use? If I told you to dance the Flamenco and you stood on one leg like a flamingo, is that an error in language-use or dance-use? What is being misunderstood - language, or dances?

    So, I was right. We are talking past each other. I'm talking about one problem and you're talking about another as if it can be solved by the same process that solves the other. One process involves comparing sounds, the other involves comparing what the words point to.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.6k
    You may have something here. We regularly produce speech errors (I haven't found a solid source on the frequency). Why? Why isn't our speech production better at its job?

    I would guess the answer is it's too slow and too expensive. Perfect is the enemy of good.
    Srap Tasmaner

    About 1 in every 1,000 words for adults - according to Garnham A, Shillcock R, Brown GDA, Mill AID, Cutler A. Slips of the tongue in the London–Lund corpus of spontaneous speech. Linguistics. 1981.Isaac
    I'm not sure about this stat or how it interprets "speech errors", and what impact speech impairments have here, but it if this is correct it seems to indicate that our speech production is 99.999% accurate, so I think that qualifies as good, but not perfect. It seems like it might actually be better than the accuracy of computers communicating with each other and they follow strict protocols.

    Why do we process in parallel and not series? Possibly efficiency, as you say, but the high necessity of working memory involvement rather negates that theory, it's possibly even less efficient. Possibly it points to the fact that word selection and grammar are secondary to general communication and have been 'tacked on' in evolutionary terms.Isaac
    The high necessity of working memory indicates that learning how people use words is very useful for survival, so extra energy that is used to extrapolate what is communicated from sounds and scribbles is necessary for survival. Even though if what is actually said isn't important, how certain scribbles and sounds were used to communicate is. Every use is knowledge acquired about how to use scribbles and sounds to communicate.

    The comparison of sounds, and their similarities and differences, happens within consciousness.
    — Harry Hindu

    According to whom?
    Isaac
    According to conscious beings, like myself. It is not only observable in my mind that sounds are compared, but logical in that you can only compare what appears in consciousness.

    Scientists say that there are no colors out in the world. Colors only exist in the mind. That means that the only place that colors can be compared is in the mind. The same goes with shape and sound. Seems obvious to me, unless you're a p-zombie.

    Not only do colors, shapes and sounds exist only in the mind, but the process of comparing is a mental process and therefore only happens in the mind.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.6k
    Threads such as this tend to squabbling minutia towards their demise. We might all agree on the resilience of language in the face of apparent error and misuse, and the impossibility of an algorithmic account of how one understands what has been said.Banno
    It was minutia from the get-go considering the assumptions built into the OP.

    If not an algorithmic account, then what reasons would you have for interpreting some sound our scribble in some way? It seems like you can only go by experience, which is information. Processing information is an algorithmic process. You use past experiences (information) to interpret (process) present information - the meaning of some scribble or sound seen or heard at that moment.

    An algorithm is a method for solving a problem. When each of us hears the use of a specific malapropism, do we not use the same method to solve the problem of interpreting what was meant?
  • creativesoul
    9.2k


    If you want to better understand what Davidson is getting at, like I do, then perhaps we could use our discussion to our mutual benefit. Rather than reading him through a highly suspicious and critical lens, like we're both prone to doing, perhaps we could bounce his words - and the discourse in this thread - off of one another as a means for doing so?

    :smile:

    I'm down.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.6k

    To better understand what someone is getting at when they use language is to ask that person what they meant. You'd have to go to Davidson.

    Part of the process of understanding what others are getting at when they use language is to paraphrase what they said, or what you think they meant in the case of a malapropism, and they either agree or rephrase, but that would have to come from from the original user of the words. Anything else could only be second-hand guessing as to what they were getting at.
  • bongo fury
    694
    The creatures dominant on this planet hold a great many beliefs, beyond the findings of their excellent sciences. Perhaps most fundamental, deeper even than religion, is their belief in the reality of their symbol systems, such as language, art, and money. Prowess in such make-believe probably accounts for their dominance. Many other creatures attain sophistication in the conduct of some fairly fixed and innate system of communication, able to convey the location of food sources for example. But they are like Searle's Chinese room: automata. Humans alone seem equipped to entertain what we might call "passing theories" of reference, guessing and second-guessing possible novel (and completely pretended) correlations of symbols with objects: cave floor with tundra, rock with mammoth, pebble with bait, etc.

    In principle, we can imagine creatures able to maintain such theories in an entirely hypothetical mode: second, third and nth degree-guessing. (Lewis.) However, the utility of and need for belief (or suspension of disbelief) in this respect, is easy enough to credit. Shared enough, passing theories thus solidify into "conventions" or "prior theories". Solid enough, they obscure or trivialise the level of semantic skill attained, so that even philosophers are able to catch each other out taking them (and it) too literally or inflexibly.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    whether it was the underlined words that needed to be swapped, or the previous occurrencesunenlightened

    That occurred to me, but there's also the "assigning a new role to 'epitaph'" at the end of the passage.

    (Just for jollies, I emailed Lepore yesterday to ask about this. I don't think I'd be breaking confidence to quote in full the response I received this morning: "Thanks.")

    But if one reads the passage out of context - without already knowing the direction of the paper, then one could not tell ...unenlightened

    I'm okay saying that a lot of this is above my paygrade. TGW used to say that a lot of philosophy is just bad linguistics; that only means we ought to be careful distinguishing the sorts of things linguistics is good at figuring out, or could conceivably figure out, from philosophical conclusions we might draw from those results. That said --

    I can't think of a reason not to assume that speech production and speech perception grew up together, however that happened. It makes sense that such a combined system would find its way to Postel's law: be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you receive. Both are relatively slow and expensive though -- how conservative must I be? how liberal? So we'd expect them to move toward each other a bit, maybe quite a bit: I need only send as much as you require; you need only require as much as I send. And there again it's clear that we're looking at a system that has to adjust both sides systematically to find some workable equilibrium. That we have machinery that found such an equilibrium seems clear enough to me.

    And that machinery allows for speech errors, context dependence of various sorts, and so on.

    I think there's a hope, we might say, among philosophers that we could talk about language use, and reason about it, roughly the way we talk about any other acquired skill. Children aren't born with language, and later on they have it, so "acquisition" has occurred. We think about how a skill is built up through consciously labored over practice and ends with reliable and unconscious habit, and how it's possible to sort of run the tape backward and show what learnable specific steps are involved in playing the violin, writing code, driving a car, cooking dinner or eating it with utensils.

    Only language is way harder than those. Teaching my kids how to drive, I can readily break down the various things I do and give them specific advice about what to do and how to do it. That takes some effort and attention, but it's not that hard, and I get to stop before I would have to tell them how to make their foot push down on something or how to make their hands hold onto something. To explain language use, to really explain it, we seem to need to go all the way down. There is no comfortable stopping point. And we cannot just slow down speaking or understanding and observe the steps we take when we're doing it because those steps turn out mostly never to have been conscious and are incapable of being made conscious. Attention to how you speak isn't quite worthless -- there are clues you can pick up -- but it's nowhere near as useful as attention to what you do when you're driving is for explaining that.

    All that to say, I'm not sure any model of how we speak or how we understand speech that a philosopher could come up is much worth thinking about. Psycholinguistics will do its best and, if we're interested, that's what we should pay attention to.

    If the existence of speech errors and their success tells us that some philosopher's view of meaning is faulty, I guess I can go along with that, but it's not like we should have expected it to work anyway if it wasn't grounded in science to start with.

    So here's the question for me. Is this paper more like Jerry Fodor storming into the biology department to tell everyone there that natural selection is a bogus, circular concept? Or is it a contribution to formal semantics intended to be a piece of (something that aspires to be a) science? Or is it a piece of philosophy drawing conclusions from what we've learned from the work of linguistics? It's not the last one, for sure; it might be the second, and I think it's widely taken to be; but it looks more and more to me like the first.

    The only thing in it I still find interesting is the argument from "getting away with it", which strikes me as of genuine philosophical interest, and a move I'd consider, no doubt too harshly, as typically Davidsonian.
  • Janus
    9.6k
    Trying to solve the problem of interpreting what is meant by an unintended word that sounds like the word that was intended is done differently that interpreting what is meant by an unintended word that doesn't sound like what was intended. You're talking about two different processes for solving the problem of interpreting what was meant because of the relationship, or association between the word that wasn't intended and the one that was (the unintended word sounds like the intended word vs not sounding like the intended word).Harry Hindu

    You should read more carefully. I've already said several times that the meaning of sentences containing malapropisms or inappropriate words is derived by association. Rhyming or similarity of sound are kinds of association and association of ideas is another. That's obvious to anyone who thinks about it for a few moments. The question is can you come up with anything more interesting or enlightening to say about it than that? Does the paper we are supposed to be critiquing manage to come up with any such thing? Not as far as I can tell.
  • Janus
    9.6k
    I'm down.creativesoul

    I appreciate your enthusiasm. I will admit I've only read through the paper once and skimming at that. I find Davidson very difficult to read. Usually I skim first when reading philosophical work and usually interesting ideas jump out at me, and then I read in more depth.

    With this paper, and I've found it before with Davidson, this doesn't happen, and then I become reluctant to spend precious time trying to mine something I'm fairly convinced is not there. If you want to excavate and you find anything that looks promising Id be happy to bounce it around with you.
  • Banno
    10k
    (Just for jollies, I emailed Lepore yesterday to ask about this. I don't think I'd be breaking confidence to quote in full the response I received this morning: "Thanks.")Srap Tasmaner

    So was he thanking you for acknowledging his joke?

    Recursion is the bait in the fly trap.

    Thank you for following along on this little escapade. Your posts have made banging my nose on the inside of the bottle more interesting than it might otherwise have been.
  • Banno
    10k
    Processing information is an algorithmic process.Harry Hindu

    What should one understand by this?

    An algorithmic process is one that follows explicit rules; I'm suggesting that the rules must be explicit, since in order to recognise that he process one is following is algorithmic, one must recognise the rules one is following.

    What's the rule one follows in recognising the joke ‘We need a few laughs to break up the monogamy’? Is it the very same rule we follow when we laugh at ‘We’re all cremated equal’?

    Or are we to say that in recognising the joke, one is not processing information?

    Experience is information, I'm told; processing information is algorithmic; an algorithm is a method for solving a malapropism.

    So what, exactly, is the algorithm being used?

    Or is Harry's use of "algorithm" itself a malapropism?
  • Janus
    9.6k
    Or is Harry's use of "algorithm" itself a malapropism?Banno

    According to Harry a malapropism must sound like or rhyme with the word it has replaced. Can you think of any candidates?
  • Banno
    10k
    No; hence my puzzlement.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    An algorithmic processBanno

    That looks like an infelicitous phrase to me.

    Algorithm is very high-level, perhaps as high as you can get before purpose.

    Below there's implementation, and separately there's execution.

    The rules described in an algorithm don't necessarily appear in an implementation in an identifiable way, but are virtually present in it, structurally. Certainly if you go down far enough, they're nowhere to be seen.

    That's to say, speaking of algorithms is always descriptive, descriptive at an awfully high level, and capable of directly attaching to the purpose of the algorithm. Describing something biological as implementing an algorithm is either picturesque or it's just to propose a model.
  • Banno
    10k
    That looks like an infelicitous phrase to me.Srap Tasmaner

    It seems so.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k


    I'm just thinking we need to be careful here, and that phrase might have been conflating three different things.

    There's no reason to avoid talking in terms of algorithms if you know for sure what you're getting into and what you're claiming.

    A guy moving a stack of 4x4s by picking one up, carrying it across the yard, putting it down, and then coming back for the next one -- sure, he's got an algorithm. Linguistics models are full of algorithms too.
  • Banno
    10k
    So how to interpret Harry's utterance?

    When each of us hears the use of a specific malapropism, do we not use the same method to solve the problem of interpreting what was meant?Harry Hindu

    Seems to me that the word method here is... problematic. In interpreting "That's a lovely soup latrine" I don't know what I did, nor even that I did anything that might have lead to that interpretation. It seems to me that I saw the utterance as a reference to the quality of the soup; no steps were involved, as in an algorithm. Harry might be supposing that there is some hidden algorithm happening in my subconscious, and that it is this that is "the same method"... but if it is hidden, how could he know it is algorithmic, and how could he know that you and I and he use the same one?
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    Just to gesture back at the context of this paper again...

    Chomsky somewhere said his entire life's work is organized around two problems:
    1. Plato's Problem: how do we know so much, given so little evidence?
    2. Orwell's Problem: why do we know so little, given so much evidence?

    The observation that leads to Chomsky proposing the idea of linguistic competence is that children land, to greater and lesser degrees, on the same language, no matter the sample of the language they were exposed to (unless it's really degenerate), no two samples being the same, and despite the inevitable presence of errors in that sample.

    The existence of speech errors was one of the motivators for the idea of competence in the first place, so it's just really odd for Davidson to come along thirty years later and say, "But what about speech errors?"
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k


    I dunno. The way we all encountered that sentence, not just in the context of philosophical discussion, but even set off specially by itself as an example for us to consider, it's all terribly artificial.

    Obviously this is true for our reactions to Davidson's examples. What you'd want is research.

    What everyone is inclined to talk about is how they'd analyze a word substitution, but then draw conclusions about how we naturally hear and understand them. Waste of time.

    Davidson's reliance on examples from fiction, humor, poetry, and very self-conscious philosophical discussion, does not inspire confidence.
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