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Evidence, Experiment and Argument in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language

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Edited By Martin Hinton

This volume is concerned with issues in experimental philosophy and experimental linguistics. Examining experiments in language from a variety of perspectives, it asks what form they should take and what should count as evidence. There is particular focus on the status of linguistic intuitions and the use of language corpora. A number of papers address issues of methodology in experimental work, while other contributions examine the use of thought experiments and what the hypothetical can tell us about the actual. The aim of this collection is to bring together the work of linguists and philosophers in order that they may learn from one another, and to help both groups understand how the use of experimental methods can affect the arguments they employ and the claims they make.
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Lukáš Bielik - Thought Experiments in Semantics

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Lukáš Bielik

Slovak Academy of Sciences

Thought Experiments in Semantics1

1. Introduction

Thought experiments have been widely used in different areas of philosophy – the philosophy of language and semantics being no exception. In general, thought experiments target a thesis or a proposition which seems to be accepted within a given context. They usually make use of our imagination and conjoin it with some form of deductive or inductive reasoning. They present us with a hypothetical scenario (usually, via counterfactual reasoning) in order to evaluate the thesis within that imagined situation.

On the other hand, philosophical disciplines such as the philosophy of language and semantics, represent together a very broad research field. Both these philosophical areas give rise to many different problems, topics, approaches and methodologies related somehow to language. They deal with such distinct questions as, ‘What is the nature of (linguistic) meaning?’, ‘What makes a bunch of sounds a meaningful utterance?’, ‘What does an expression E refer to?’, ‘Are proper names rigid designators?’, ‘Is the extension of natural kind terms determined by the psychological states of the speakers?’, ‘What is an agent related to in belief contexts?’, etc.2

Many papers coming from within these areas appeal to thought experiments. It is quite remarkable that we can track their use as early as Frege’s papers. (For instance, Frege’s imaginary scenarios with Dr. Lauben, Leo Peter and Rudolf Lingens aim...

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