An extremely confusing and confused book. While the style itself is not difficult, enabling effortless decoding of individual sentences, the argumenta...moreAn extremely confusing and confused book. While the style itself is not difficult, enabling effortless decoding of individual sentences, the argumentation and the usage of terminology and technical philosophical devices is puzzling. This is perhaps partly due to me not being particularly familiar with the subject matter (I have taken a course on the philosophy of language, have encountered many arguments about mental content and the meaning of meaning, but have only very brief acquaintance with normativity and meta-ethics, the latter of which is used in an analogous fashion in parts of the book), but the problems I encountered in trying to understand this book are clearly not solely due to my own lack of understanding. This is not an unsubstantiated claim. I read this for a seminar on this book in which we carefully went through every last chapter in detail, one at a time. The seminar was attended by several PhDs in philosophy, and everyone had the same problems. Instead of spending our time on discussing the strength of Gibbard's arguments, we found ourselves constantly trying to figure just what he was even trying to say. The text seems to have gone through absolutely no editorial process: there is often no seeming logical connection between chapters, technical devices are used without any apparent motivation for the theory being elaborated, and there are just tons and tons of spelling as well as grammatical errors. There are some interesting discussions here and there, but the overall theory eludes me except for the fact that I understand his program to be one in which meaning is normative and tied to "planning" (in a sense, readily acknowledged by Gibbard himself, that diverges from the ordinary meaning of the word) such that "plans" are somehow fundamental and left unanalyzed, with meaning arising from them (in stark contrast to the obviously more sensible way to handle meaning in which sentences require meaning in order to be used to form plans). I understand these general points (though I can't begin to comprehend how anyone could consider them sensible), but apart from that, there is no obvious connection between this overall theory and the various specific discussions found in the book. Sometimes when reading some advanced or fairly advanced book on philosophy, especially when it comes to technical matters (and this is not one of those books) I have the experience of understanding the overall project, grasp the different steps of the argumentation on a conceptual level, but can have trouble understanding the details. Here, I had almost the exact opposite experience. I do not understand the motivation for using the concepts Gibbard uses to motivate his project, but I do understand the details as long as I don't try to think too much about how these are supposed to support his thesis that meaning is normative and grounded in "plans". Had I read this on my own, I would have concluded that I simply lacked the basic requirements for understanding the subject matter. Hearing from several PhDs with extensive knowledge about the subject matter that they had almost as much trouble understanding just what Gibbard is even doing though, leads me to the conclusion that not even Gibbard himself could answer that question...(less)
As for introductory books (of which I feel like I've read quite a lot recently, maybe due to recalling writing much about introductory works in my rev...moreAs for introductory books (of which I feel like I've read quite a lot recently, maybe due to recalling writing much about introductory works in my reviews here as of late) this one stands out for me. The typical approach I've encountered elsewhere always seems to involve something along the lines of trying to outline the central issues of the subject and then to say something of the division of the subject into different parts which deal with different kinds of questions (as for example, an introductory book on epistemology might do by dividing the subject into the areas of definitions of knowledge, skeptical challenges, epistemic value and so forth) or which involve different increasingly advanced extensions or variants of basic theoretical frameworks (as one might do in an introductory book on logic in dealing first with the propositional calculus and then deal with the predicate calculus, other possible extensions and variations, all the while treating the two different aspects of syntax and semantics, or proof theory and model theory, for these different calculi). In this typical approach, the subject is mainly divided into these different areas which are then dealt with, one after the other, with many citations in some books, dealing with the different views expressed by different authors, and no citations at all or very few in other books, relying instead of the author's own views on how to best present the central questions of the subject to a newcomer.
In Morris' introductory work, with which we are concerned at the present, we certainly do find a general characterization of the subject in the beginning, but the division of the rest of the book is not motivated by any division of areas claimed to be central within the subject, but rather by considering some central texts on the subject. Every chapter deals with one or two texts that form the basis of the chapter, and then goes on to attempt an explanation of these texts with a critical eye. The texts are given one or more possible interpretations, with the implications of those interpretations dealt with so that the reasonableness of the views expressed in the texts is challenged. In evaluating the texts, Morris relies on both his own conclusions and the views expressed by others in other publications which can be relevant to the evaluation in, it seems to me, in one of two ways: (1) they can be texts which are written in direct response to the main texts of the chapter; and (2) they can be alternative views that need be considered in order to come to any conclusions at all regarding the plausibility of the views expressed in the main texts.
Morris performs this task, of explaining these important texts and the things needed to be taken into consideration both in understanding and evaluating them, expertly, leaving little to be desired either in the way of presentation or the argumentation (or, indeed, in pedagogical terms), but there is still something in the approach which I find somewhat confusing. It is not that there is no overall structure to the book, the central theme could be said to be meaning (and maybe it's the central theme of philosophy of language overall) and there is a progression in the issues dealt with: first comes a theory of language based on Locke which is used, it seems, mainly as a target which had to be dealt with before the modern conception of language within philosophy was formed; then comes Frege who lays out perhaps the basis for a treatment of language on philosophical terms with which every later philosopher has to deal; and after that, the book goes on to deal with more and more complications to the picture of meaning proposed by the Fregean account in a way that leads to a progression in complication regarding the issues, with several directions to precious chapters of the book.
My problem with the approach is rather that in focusing the chapters on specific texts dealing with rather specific issues, the overall structure is obscured. I found that I as a reader was left with a confusion, after reading the book, regarding the question of what the major areas are within the subject of the philosophy of language, regarding how to divide the subject into different areas in the way for which I found myself to be able to account after reading William's introduction to epistemology. The subject seems now to be very messy and without clear distinctions between different considerations within it. There's a certain obviousness to this statement: any subject will, on a closer look, refuse to be divided neatly into different separable areas, the areas will all interconnect. Though this will certainly be the case, my attempt at explaining why this statement was obvious relies upon the phrase "on a closer look". As a simplification, introductory books tend to do divide their subjects into such areas, while also (at least in good introductory books) noting that the areas will in fact interconnect and that this will be encountered during the reading of the text. Nevertheless, I think such broad simplified divisions serve a purpose, at least pedagogically: they structure the subject so that one feels that one can account for different kinds of questions dealt with within the subject. After reading Morris, I feel no ability to divide the philosophy of language into any such areas, it all seems to be about meaning, in some sense of the word, and in that it seems to involve a lot of discussions about how meaning is generally to be understood (are we speaking only of reference or is Fregean Sense also relevant?), how a theory of meaning is supposed to look in general, and how interpretation and translation fits into this picture. This last example might seem to be something different than the others, but really only comes up in trying to deal with meaning. So it all is concerned with meaning, and lots of different specific question concerning meaning, but Morris does nothing to show how these different questions could be divided into different areas.
These complaints might not have anything to do with Morris specifically, it might be that philosophy of language is different from, for example, epistemology in just this sense: that it refuses such division. If indeed this is the case, Morris should have noted as much in his introduction, but I remember no such commentary. Furthermore, the focus on specific texts can lead the reader to feel like the issues dealt with in the book are those specific texts rather than the more general issues dealt with in those texts. Perhaps the focus should instead have been on these different issues where the discussion of these issues within the philosophy of language could be exemplified by certain important and influential texts, after having the author try to first clarify the issues at hand at a more general point than that arising from a focus on a specific text at the outset. Concerns such as this leads me to feel somewhat critical towards the book as an introduction because it fails to supply the reader with a general understanding of the structure of the subject, but while I still feel like I've gotten a really well presented and argued account of some of the seemingly central issues within the philosophy of language, I still feel inclined to say that it was in some way a good introduction. I therefore feel a bit divided as to what to think of the book overall, it's really good, but I'm not sure the approach is well suited for an introductory text. Four out of five stars it is, then. It comes highly recommended, but if (or rather, when) I read another (or several other) introductory book (or books) on the philosophy of language which do approach the introduction of the subject in the way which I would prefer, I might be more inclined to recommend them as introductions to the subject than the current text.(less)
This is a very nice treatment on basic classical logic with a strong focus on language and translation. New logical notations are always motivated by...moreThis is a very nice treatment on basic classical logic with a strong focus on language and translation. New logical notations are always motivated by being needed to represent expressions in natural language not capable of being represented in the notation presented thus far. This creates a very nice pedagogical approach where, beginning with propositional logic, the logical language is extended in several iterations all of which start with showing how some sentences in natural language can be represented in the logical notation developed so far, and ending with some sentences not capable of being treated, leading to the next iteration in which new notational capabilities are introduces to allow further capabilities. This leads to a richer and richer logical language, from propositional logic, via monadic predicate logic (here called property predicate logic), polyadic predicate logic (relational predicate logic) up to predicate logic with identity.
The path from basic propositional logic up to predicate logic with identity seems fairly standard for introductory logic texts, but the heavy use of language not only as a tool for creating examples, a pedagogical tool, but as a way of motivating the continuing expansions of the logical language, is seemingly less common. This focus on language is pretty far reaching. Much time is spent discussing the proper logical form for various grammatical forms (the subject of definite descriptions and Russell's treatment of them in terms of logical form is one example). All of this is very interesting and might be a good way to understand the use of the logical language for those who have trouble seeing the motivations behind the formalisms when reading more strictly technical texts (I will be the first one to admit that my experience with introductory logic texts written by mathematicians can be rather puzzling), but the focus on language might be a bit too heavy for am introduction to logic. Including the appendix, the text comes to 355 pages, which seems a bit excessive considering how little of actual logic it contains. There is no discussion of proof systems other than truth trees (semantic tableaux), there is virtually nothing about semantics for logic (only a few words are dedicated to extracting counter models from open truth trees, which gives some sense of what a model is, but not a single word is dedicated to hinting at even the existence of the field of model theory), and nothing (as far as I can remember, but feel free to correct me if I am mistaken) is said about richer logical languages. The last chapter talks about verb modifiers and towards the end semms to hint a little bit towards modal logic (when talking about the “event approach” and mentioning that the example “The president possibly lied to the people” is probably best rephrased as “It is possible that the president lied to the people” before trying to figure out how it could be formalised in logic) but it is never mentioned explicitly. (Modality is mentioned in the appendix, but only as a feature of natural language, there is no mention of modal logic.)
These things single it out as an introductory text in my experience. It seems that the heavy focus on natural language and translations made sure there was no room to even mention some more advanced topics in logic, some metalogical results and some richer logical systems (I don't believe second order logic is mentioned either). This is surely a conscious decision, but I'm not sure it's the right one for an introductory course to logic, even if it is taught in a philosophy department (and surely not if it is taught in a mathematics or computer science department).
Perhaps it is better seen as a book filling a niche. Since the other introductory texts I have encountered do treat other logical systems, several different proof systems and some metalogical results (or at least mention them), there might be need for a logic text that ignores these in favor of more linguistic focus. At my university, there is a program in philosophy and linguistics and perhaps this is a perfect introductory text in logic for them.
In any case, the seemingly negative opinions expressed above are only slightly and hesitatingly negative, they should perhaps be seen more as a form of pusslement over the approach taken in this book than a dismissal of it.(less)