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The Unity of Linguistic Meaning$
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John Collins

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199694846

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199694846.001.0001

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Thoughts, sentences, and unities

Thoughts, sentences, and unities

(p.1) 1 Thoughts, sentences, and unities
The Unity of Linguistic Meaning

John Collins

Oxford University Press

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

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