Jason asked if I was holding back whole theories of language, logic, and signification that I had in mind. Well, sort of. I'm one of those people who find blank canvasses intimidating, so I cut them up into tiny squares and fill in each one, day by day, over the years. Obviously this tends to obscure the "big picture".So, here is a brief attempt, before breakfast, to summarise the program I have been working on for some years.
Starting from the top, I suppose my target is the sort of anti-materialist argument that goes roughly as follows. "We cannot characterise a thought properly unless we specify what it is a thought of. But a thought can be of something external to the mind. But brain states are physical states that can be completely characterised without reference to anything external to the mind. Therefore, there can be no adequate explanation of thought in terms of brain states." It sometimes seems to me that the Maverick Philosopher's entire program is devoted to justifying this argument, and my entire program to refuting it. So my entire program is devoting to establishing or giving conclusive evidence for the following, broadly materialist principle.
(1) We can characterise thought and understanding entirely without reference to any external object.
To reduce this large problem to a slghtly smaller one, I make the following assumption:
(2) Significare sequitur intelligere.If we can explain signification without reference to external objects, then likewise we can explain thought and understanding.
I don't have any arguments for this, I simply take it for granted. It was a fundamental principle in medieval philosophy of language, and was also fundamental to the Fregean theory of language that emerged in the early twentieth century (via Russell) and came to dominate analytic philosophy for a long time. Now to establish (1), we need to establish that:
(3) We can explain signification without reference to external objects.
This requires unravelling a set of tightly-knit problems surrounding truth, existence, reference, identity, individuation, and the problem of universals. Roughly, this means establishing the following theses
(4) Reference is not a real relation between a proper name and some object 'referred to'.
What I mean here is that in the sentence "'Socrates' refers to Socrates", the verb phrase 'refers to' is logically intransitive. I.e. it takes a grammatical accusative but not a logical one. The sentence can be true without there being any such thing as Socrates.
(5) Existence is not a property
This is to avoid any unpleasant diversion into a neo-Meinongian theory of reference, according to which we can refer to non-existent objects, and which could be one interpretation of (4) above.
(6) Identity is not a relation
This is to avoid any unpleasant diversion into the sense-reference distinction, and to support the theory of individuation required by (4) above.
(7) The truth conditions of singular sentences can be explained without reference to external objects
This is to sidestep the objection that the meaning of a sentence includes its truth conditions, and the truth conditions of singular sentences cannot be explained without reference to external objects. This is the bit I have been discussing in the most recent set of posts, as well as many earlier ones. I don't believe we can overcome this objection unless we can justify some Ramseyan theory of truth, including the following claim
(8) Assertion is a semantic component of a sentence
I have argued this one repeatedly with the Maverick over the years. I think he dimly sees how it is repugnant to (1). For example, it means rejecting the whole notion of a 'truthmaker', in his sense.
A small prize for anyone who can identify the title of this post. Later, I will pull together some links from 6 years of posts to illustrate the theses above. Now breakfast calls.