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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Classical German Philosophy

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Department of Philosophy | Classical German Philosophy | Research | The Content and Nature of Thought: A Semantic Relationist Approach to Language and the Mind

The Content and Nature of Thought: A Semantic Relationist Approach to Language and the Mind


Han Wezenberg

PhD Project


The thesis evaluates the potential of Fine's Semantic Relationism for a cognitivist approach to language and thought. Its primary aim is to champion Relationism as the adequate semantic theory for the content of the language of thought, by bringing out the advantages of the theory over its main non-holistic rivals: Referentialism and Fregeanism. It seeks to show that Relationism can address all the semantic problems that arise for the language of thought, unlike Referentialism, and that it can do so in a way that avoids the substantial ontological difficulties that affect Fregeanism. The main result is a vindication of the adopted semantic theory and a concomitant corroboration of the viability of the language of thought hypothesis.

Based on a Relationist semantics, the thesis then proposes an alternative approach to concepts and propositions that differs to a varying degree from all such presently available theories, including Fine's own. The intended outcome is a conception of concepts and propositions as mental representation types, that is, language of thought symbol and 'sentence' types respectively, that are type-individuated by their semantic content as specified by Semantic Relationism. A major subsequent objective is to highlight the various advantages of this view over its rivals in terms of both explanatory potential and ontological plausibility.

The thesis develops its overall linguistic picture by focusing predominantly on three closely related debates: (i) the general challenge posed by Frege Puzzles (or Frege Cases) for thought and belief, Kripke's Puzzle notably included, (ii) the problem regarding the proper type-individuation of language of thought symbol tokens, and (iii) the debate about the ontological nature of concepts and propositions. By developing a viable and coherent Relationist view in response to these problems, the thesis considerably expands the expedient ambit of Fine's semantic theory, and thus offers additional linguistic and philosophical support for it.


E-mail: hanwezenberg(at)gmx.net