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Nonsense Made Intelligible


Glock, Hans-Johann (2015). Nonsense Made Intelligible. Erkenntnis, 80(S1):111-136.

Abstract

My topic is the relation between nonsense and (un-)intelligibility, and the contrast between nonsense and falsehood which played a pivotal role in the rise of analytic philosophy (sct. 1). I shall pursue three lines of inquiry. First I shall briefly consider the positive case, namely linguistic understanding (sct. 2). Secondly, I shall consider the negative case—different breakdowns of understanding and connected forms of failure to make sense (sct. 3–4). Third, I shall criticize three important misconceptions of nonsense and unintelligibility: the austere conception of nonsense propounded by the New Wittgensteinians (scts. 5–6); the “no nonsense position” which roundly denies that there are cases of nonsense—Chomsky’s semantic anomalies or Ryle’s category mistakes–that are grammatically well-formed, without even having the potential for being used to make a truth-apt statement (scts. 7–8); the individualistic conception of language and of semantic mistakes championed by Davidson (scts. 9–10). All three positions, I shall argue, ignore or deny combinatorial nonsense, the fact that perfectly meaningful sentence-components can be combined in a way that may be grammatical, yet without resulting in a sentence that is itself “meaningful”, i.e. endowed with linguistic sense. At a more strategic level, the first and the third position deny or ignore that natural languages are communal historical practices that go beyond idiolects and the employments of expressions in specific contexts and that are guided by semantic rules—standards for the meaningful use of words.

Abstract

My topic is the relation between nonsense and (un-)intelligibility, and the contrast between nonsense and falsehood which played a pivotal role in the rise of analytic philosophy (sct. 1). I shall pursue three lines of inquiry. First I shall briefly consider the positive case, namely linguistic understanding (sct. 2). Secondly, I shall consider the negative case—different breakdowns of understanding and connected forms of failure to make sense (sct. 3–4). Third, I shall criticize three important misconceptions of nonsense and unintelligibility: the austere conception of nonsense propounded by the New Wittgensteinians (scts. 5–6); the “no nonsense position” which roundly denies that there are cases of nonsense—Chomsky’s semantic anomalies or Ryle’s category mistakes–that are grammatically well-formed, without even having the potential for being used to make a truth-apt statement (scts. 7–8); the individualistic conception of language and of semantic mistakes championed by Davidson (scts. 9–10). All three positions, I shall argue, ignore or deny combinatorial nonsense, the fact that perfectly meaningful sentence-components can be combined in a way that may be grammatical, yet without resulting in a sentence that is itself “meaningful”, i.e. endowed with linguistic sense. At a more strategic level, the first and the third position deny or ignore that natural languages are communal historical practices that go beyond idiolects and the employments of expressions in specific contexts and that are guided by semantic rules—standards for the meaningful use of words.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, further contribution
Communities & Collections:National licences > 142-005
Dewey Decimal Classification:Unspecified
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Philosophy
Physical Sciences > Logic
Uncontrolled Keywords:Logic, Philosophy
Language:English
Date:1 March 2015
Deposited On:19 Oct 2021 14:57
Last Modified:25 Apr 2024 01:40
Publisher:Springer
ISSN:0165-0106
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10670-014-9662-5
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Description: Nationallizenz 142-005