David's Reviews > Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition

Kant and the Platypus by Umberto Eco
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message 1: by Donna (new)

Donna Only two stars? I'd be fascinated to know why. The title alone seems to me to be worth two stars. I haven't read the book, and I need to know whether to put it on my "to read" shelf!


David I think there were several contributing factors. I'm fascinated by books about the origins and evolution of language, but this one would definitely belong on the "philosophy", rather than the "linguistics" shelf (I suppose the mention of Kant in the title should have been sufficient warning). And, though I have a decent enough training in logic and mathematics, my philosophical chops are non-existent. So that paragraphs like the following just stick in my craw, like an indigestible platypus-burger:

"First of all, so that these most partial notes may be understood, I must clarify what I mean by the term "referring". I intend to exclude a "broad" use of the term, and I think it would be appropriate to limit the notion of referring to what is perhaps more properly describable as cases of designation, that is to utterances that mention particular individuals, groups of individuals, specific facts or sequences of facts, in specific times and places. From now on I shall also be using the generic notion of "individual" for identifiable spatiotemporal segments, such as 25 April 1945, and I shall hold to the golden decision by which nominantur singularia sed universalia significantur."

So, here's the thing. I actually had five years of Latin in high school, so I can reasonably figure out that that last part means something along the lines of 'although the specific is named, the general is to be understood' (e.g. 'the platypus' can be taken to mean that particular platypus over there, but it can also mean 'platypuses in general').

So I can figure it out. But I RESENT HAVING TO. There seems to be no particular reason to lapse into Latin at the point where he does - it smacks of flaunting one's erudition (and, dear God, Umberto has erudition out the wazoo), at the price of potentially losing a significant fraction of one's readers.

So, only two stars from me. Readers with a stronger background in philosophy and a greater tolerance for gratuitous bursts of Latin may react differently.




message 3: by Donna (new)

Donna Many thanks, David. You've saved me a good deal of trouble. I, too, resent having to wade through perplexing prose like that. Life is too short.


message 4: by Ben (new)

Ben So I'm not the only one who find Umberto indefatigable. That's nice to know.


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