Objects of Inquiry in Philosophy of Language and Linguistics

by Piotr Stalmaszczyk (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 230 Pages


This book investigates possible common objects of inquiry in philosophy of language and literature. The topics discussed include proper names (analyzed from different theoretical perspectives), fictional names, truth in fiction, ontological status and metaphysics of fictional characters, metaphor, representation, interpretation, and other issues connecting research in philosophy of language with philosophy of literature. Theoretical frameworks include Millian semantics, Fregean semantics, hybrid semantics, realism, antirealism, and metaphorical expressivism.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Contributors
  • On Objects of Inquiry in Philosophy of Language and Literature (Piotr Stalmaszczyk)
  • Millians in Wonderland: Fictional Names and Talk About Fiction (Stefano Predelli)
  • On the Metaphoric Uses of (Fictional) Proper Names (Eros Corazza / Christopher Genovesi)
  • Fictional Names and Semantics: Towards a Hybrid View (Daniela Glavaničová)
  • Absorbing Reality into Fiction: The Challenge of Reading Fiction with Reality in Mind (Ben Martin)
  • Can One Refer to and Quantify over Non-existent Intentional Objects (of Hallucination)? (Alberto Voltolini)
  • Metaphor, Truth, and Representation (Richmond Kwesi)
  • Chance, Explanation and Interpretation (Göran Rossholm)
  • Sensible Nonsense: Davidson on Jabberwocky (Marga Reimer)
  • (How) Does Finnegans Wake Mean Something? (C.M.K. Djordjevic)
  • Kafka’s Characters: Gaps and Integrity (Bohumil Fořt)
  • Index
  • Series index

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Eros Corazza

ILCLI, The University of the Basque Country, Donostia, Spain

Basque Foundation for Science, Bilbao, Spain

Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada


C.M.K. Djordjevic

University of Zurich, Switzerland


Bohumil Fořt

Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic


Christopher Genovesi

Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada


Daniela Glavaničová

Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovakia


Richmond Kwesi

University of Ghana, Ghana


Ben Martin

University of Bergen, Norway


Stefano Predelli

University of Nottingham, UK


Marga Reimer

University of Arizona, USA

margareimer78@gmail.com ← 7 | 8 →

Göran Rossholm

Stockholm University, Sweden


Piotr Stalmaszczyk

University of Łódź, Poland


Alberto Voltolini

University of Turin, Italy


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Piotr Stalmaszczyk

University of Łódź, Poland

On Objects of Inquiry in Philosophy of Language and Literature

The first two volumes published in the series Studies in Philosophy of Language and Linguistics concentrated on various topics connected with the semantics of proper names and reference.1 Individual studies discussed abstract names, proper names, definite descriptions, types of reference, identity, and several other important recent developments in the field of (analytic) philosophy of language.

In this volume, the objects of inquiry – the possible common objects of inquiry in philosophy of language and literature – once again include proper names, however, this time with special focus on fictional names; authors also investigate the ontological status of fictional names and fiction, metaphysics of fictional characters, truth in fiction, metaphor, representation, interpretation, sense and nonsense, and other issues which in interesting and inspiring ways interconnect research in philosophy of language and philosophy of literature.

In a recent study devoted to metalinguistic descriptivism, Manuel García-Carpintero has presented the Mill-Frege view, which has two constitutive theses. According to the first, the Millian one, “proper names contribute their referents to the contents of the primary speech acts they help to perform, and are thus rigid designators” (García-Carpintero 2017: 1); according to the second thesis, the Fregean one, “proper names have metalinguistic senses, known by competent speakers on the basis of their competence, which figure in ancillary presuppositions” (García-Carpintero 2017: 1). Further on, García-Carpintero also remarks that “while a language is a general tool to be used in many different circumstances, proper names are intended to serve communicative needs concerning concrete entities circumscribed within a more or less limited spatiotemporal range” (García-Carpintero 2017: 43). Chapters which follow investigate the functions and uses of fictional names, and assume different theoretical perspectives and backgrounds, with Millianism strongly defended in the opening chapter. ← 9 | 10 →

Stefano Predelli concentrates on fictional names and talk about fiction. Predelli defends a Millian semantics for fictional names, consistent with Parsimony (‘frugal metaphysics’, i.e., the desire not to include metaphysically contentious referents) and Intuition (the idea that, say, ‘according to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice conversed with a caterpillar’ is true). His approach, inspired by Lewis’ (1978) storytelling model, is based on the No-Name Hypothesis, i.e., the idea that ‘names from fiction’ are not (referring or empty) proper names, and that they are to be interpreted as merely fictional expressions fictionally employed by a storyteller.2 After an analysis of the un-prefixed talk (‘Alice conversed with a caterpillar’) in terms of re-telling, the author proposes a paratactic analysis of prefixed sentences (‘according to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice conversed with a caterpillar’) grounded on the distinction between the semantic properties of a sentence and the semantic effects achieved by its use. In three appendixes which follow this chapter, Predelli addresses logical issues having to do with translation, narration, and argumentation.

Fictional names and fiction are analysed from different perspectives in the subsequent chapters. Eros Corazza and Christopher Genovesi compare and contrast the metaphorical use of proper names for existing individuals and proper names for fictional entities, Daniela Glavaničová offers a hybrid account for the semantics of fictional names, Ben Martin presents the challenge of reading fiction with reality in mind, and Alberto Voltolini focuses on non-existent intentional objects (of hallucination).

Eros Corazza and Christopher Genovesi investigate how both proper names for existing individuals and proper names for fictional entities can be used metaphorically, even when they appear in argument position. According to the authors, whether a name used metaphorically is a referential or a non-referential term does not affect the proposed interpretation. This follows from the fact that when they are used metaphorically, proper names cease to be, properly speaking, proper names. i.e., they cease to be Millian tools of direct reference. When used in argument position in a simple sentence of the subject/predicate form, the tokened name used metaphorically picks up an individual analogous to the way Donnellan (1966) treats the referential uses of descriptions. That is, just as a description used referentially can pick up an individual independently of the property used to identify it, a proper name used metaphorically in argument position can pick up an individual independently of the latter carrying the name uttered. In such metaphorical uses, the name serves the function of attributing to the individual the speaker has in mind those properties that are relevant in the grasping of the ← 10 | 11 → speaker’s metaphorical meaning. Thus, a name so used loses its individuative (referential) power. Corazza and Genovesi claim that in such uses, reference is guided and fixed, like in Donnellan’s referential use of descriptions, by the individual the speaker has in mind and raises to salience in a communicative interaction. Yet, the account proposed does not undermine the Millian view that proper names are tools of direct reference nor the Fregean view that when a proper name appears in a predicative position it ceases to be a proper name. Finally, the authors accommodate both views and address the question as to why the speaker would want to utter a metaphor in this way, stressing the speaker’s primary intention, which is to convey an attitude toward the intended referent.

Daniela Glavaničová starts with observing that according to the most common view, proper names are expressions that directly refer to individuals named by them. Hence, if proper names are directly referential, and fictional names are genuine proper names, then fictional names should be directly referential too. But, while it is quite straightforward to find the referents for standard proper names of people, it is far from clear how it can be done in the case of fictional names. She remarks that this issue leads from the semantics of fictional names to the metaphysics of fictional characters, and subsequently compares two contemporary approaches to the existence of fictional names. On the one hand, realists suggest that there are such entities, but they are nonconcrete, nonactual or non-existent. On the other hand, antirealists avoid this assumption by suggesting that fictional discourse is not to be taken at face value. Both approaches face some serious troubles, and Glavaničová proposes in her contribution a hybrid account that combines features of realism with features of antirealism. In particular, the semantic distinction between de dicto and de re is employed, and the resulting view suggests de dicto (role) realism and de re antirealism.

As observed by Ben Martin, whereas the interactions with the actual world play a substantial role in the interactions with fictions, the truths of a fiction extend far beyond those stated in its text. To infer these further truths, it is necessary to rely upon a host of previously acquired background assumptions. Establishing what exactly these assumptions are, and how they help extend the truths of a fiction, however, is not a simple matter. Stacie Friend (2017) has recently argued that fictions fundamentally rely upon the actual world for their content, appealing to evidence from the cognitive sciences. According to her Reality Assumption, every proposition which is actually true is also fictionally true, unless otherwise excluded by the fiction. Martin’s chapter challenges Friend’s Reality Assumption, arguing both that the empirical evidence advanced in its favour offers inadequate support, and that the Assumption in its present form inadequately serves its intended function. ← 11 | 12 →

Alberto Voltolini investigates the possibility of referring to and quantifying over non-existent intentional objects of hallucination. He observes that if we refer to and truly quantify over non-existent intentional ordinary objects of hallucination and of thoughts in general, this is because they are full-fledged entities just as existent intentional objects of perception and of other mental states in general. In such a case, metaphysically speaking, both existent and non-existent intentionalia are concrete objects, i.e., objects that may exist; while ontologically speaking, it is false parsimony to allow for concrete existent objects and to reject concrete non-existent objects. Otherwise, either such intentional objects do figure in our overall ontological domain but as entities of phenomenologically unexpected metaphysical kinds, or even better, there really are no such intentionalia, but we just pretend that there are such things, even if our thoughts really fail to be about them and have instead merely proposition-like intentional contents. As a result, Voltolini’s proposal not only is partially ontologically committed to intentional objects, but also it re-evaluates fictionalist treatments of the matter, yet again just partially: just in some cases, it is merely fictionally that we refer to and quantify over such objects.

Investigation into the status of objects of inquiry in philosophy of language and literature is strictly connected with the notions of convention and invention, and with different aspects of interpretation. As pessimistically claimed by Davidson (1986: 446): “We must give up the idea of a clearly defined shared structure which language-users acquire and then apply to cases. And we should try again to say how convention in any important sense is involved in language”. Compare this with Thomas Pavel’s (not necessarily that pessimistic) claim that “Works of fiction more or less dramatically combine incompatible world-structures, play with the impossible, and incessantly speak about the unspeakable” (Pavel 1986: 62). The next chapters concentrate on different aspects of both representation and interpretation in philosophy of language and literature, and the authors frequently take issue with Davidson’s ideas. Richmond Kwesi discusses metaphor, truth, and representation, whereas Göran Rossholm concentrates on chance, explanation and interpretation. Marga Reimer sheds light on ‘sensible nonsense’, C.M.K. Djordjevic follows with an inquiry into the (possible) meaning of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and finally, in the closing essay, Bohumil Fořt focuses on characters in Kafka’s two novels, The Trial and The Castle, using some analytic tools from fictional worlds theory.

Richmond Kwesi examines whether metaphors can be used to make truth-claims; i.e., whether metaphors can be regarded as assertions that can be evaluated as true or false. Some researchers have argued for a negative answer to the ← 12 | 13 → above-mentioned questions. They have claimed, among others, that metaphorical utterances are non-descriptive uses of language, that truth is not the constitutive aim of metaphors, that metaphorical sentences do not have propositional contents, and that metaphorical utterances are neither assertions nor expressions of beliefs. Kwesi discusses a particular view, dubbed by him Metaphorical Expressivism, which exploits the relationship between truth, belief and assertion, and argues for the irrelevancy of truth to metaphors on the premise that metaphorical utterances do not count as assertions and that they do not count as the expression of beliefs. The denial of the truth-evaluability of metaphors on this view is a product of an unmotivated tendency to see truth and meaning in terms of the portrayal of facts and a commitment to two untenable principles: literalism and representationalism.

Göran Rossholm is concerned with chance, explanation and interpretation, and he presents two contrasting theses. According to the first one, literary works generated by chance cannot be given interpretations which reflect the causal background (for instance, authorial intentions) of the work. On the other hand, according to the second thesis, almost all literary interpretations are set in an explanative perspective. These two theses are not contradictory if it is assumed that literature generated by chance constitutes a very small part of the class of literary works. The second thesis does not entail the claim that interpretations explain anything, only that interpretations are fit to be integrated into causal explanations that mirror the contents of the interpretations. The key to this fitness is the concept of simplicity as used in the philosophy of science. However, Rossholm argues that in general, interpreters of literature try to apply their readings to circumstances outside the explanative perspective. Thus, even if literature made by chance is not considered, interpreting literature involves more than explanation.

Marga Reimer analyses different aspects of convention and invention. She investigates ‘sensible nonsense’ against the work of Donald Davidson, and especially his “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs” (1986). In that paper Davidson famously appeals to malapropisms in inveighing against theories of language and linguistic communication that make essential appeal to the notion of convention. In doing so, he makes brief reference to Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem Jabberwocky (1871) suggesting that its relatively “easy”, if partial, interpretability lends further credence to his concerns with such theories. Reimer argues that Carroll’s poem, and nonsense literature more generally, while highlighting the potential for inventive uses of language, also illustrate the unequivocal (if “merely” factual) dependence of linguistic communication, however inventive, on convention. She also suggests that it is more fruitful to view linguistic communication as involving the spectrum ← 13 | 14 → phenomena of convention and invention. Thus, according to this approach, all linguistic utterances can be analyzed in terms of the complementary notions of convention and invention, thereby accommodating the degreed nature of communicative success. Such an approach would have the methodological advantage of allowing for the theoretical possibility of utterances involving 0 degrees of convention – and likewise of utterances involving 0 degrees of invention. In this way, it is possible to accommodate the obvious and theoretically important differences between the kind of communicative success associated with the highly conventional writing of The Wall Street Journal and the kind of dismal communicative failure associated with the highly inventive writing of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

Whereas Reimer refers to Finnegans Wake as a case of (putative) “dismal communicative failure”, C.M.K. Djordjevic inquiries into the book’s possible meaning. He reflects on texts often considered as “abnormal”, and argues that limiting the scope of linguistic and philosophical inquiry to non-problematic cases restricts and may distort language, meaning, and understanding in important ways. Hence, more energy should be devoted to “abnormal” cases and Djordjevic concentrates on a highly abnormal case, i.e., James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. He considers several arguments from thinkers – ranging from literary critics to philosophers – about the (alleged) meaning of Finnegans Wake, and next puts forward three tests that can determine if some x should be considered meaningful. Djordjevic further argues that Finnegans Wake passes all three. He also demonstrates that neither a referential nor an intentionalist theory of semantic meaning can coherently and cogently explain how Finnegans Wake manages to mean anything, and finally he considers some interesting avenues for possible research that may be occluded by a focus on more standard cases of texts.

Biographical notes

Piotr Stalmaszczyk (Volume editor)

Piotr Stalmaszczyk is a professor of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Lodz (Poland), where he holds the Chair of English and General Linguistics. His research is concerned predominantly with linguistic methodology and the philosophy of language and linguistics.


Title: Objects of Inquiry in Philosophy of Language and Linguistics