- Kent Bach
Kent Bach (born 1943) is a Professor of Philosophy at
San Francisco State University. His primary areas of research include the philosophy of language, linguisticsand epistemology. He is the author of three books: "Exit-existentialism: A philosophy of self-awareness", "Linguistic Communication and Speech Acts", and "Thought and Reference" published by Wadsworth, the MIT Press, and Oxford University Press, respectively. He is also the author of many publications in professional, peer-reviewed journals of analytic philosophy.
Philosophy of language
Some of Bach's most interesting and original writings in the philosophy of language have tended to focus on the problems and puzzles that arise from so-called
propositional attitudeattributions, in particular belief attributions. Such attributions (or "reports") take the form "A believes that p" where "A" is the subject to whom a belief is attributed and "p" represents the sentence, proposition(or, more vaguely still, "content") that is supposed to be believed by "A".
In "A Puzzle About Belief Reports" and "Do Belief Reports Report Beliefs?", Bach argues that there is a false assumption underlying all of the traditional forms of explanation of the nature of belief reports: they all implicitly endorse something that he refers to as the "Specification Assumption". This is basically the idea that the "that"- clauses of belief reports ("that William will take the train tomorrow", "that the sun will rise tomorrow morning") specify (i.e. directly refer to) propositions (or sentences) that the believer believes. Bach suggests that "that"-clauses do not specify but merely "describe" or "characterize" what a person believes.
He argues his thesis by first invoking several classic puzzles which have confounded philosophers of language since the time of Frege. The first type of puzzle is a variation on the classic problem of the substitution of co-referential terms in the context of attitude attributions. A simple illustration is the following pair of sentences:
#"Lois Lane believes that Clark Kent is a wimp".
#"Lois Lane believes that Superman is a wimp".
The simple substitution of one co-referring term for another would seem to transform the truth-value (and hence the content) of the sentence from true to false. But this should be impossible if we are faithful to a few simple and reasonable assumptions that are commonly accepted among philosophers:
direct reference, semantic compositionality and "semantic innocence". Direct reference is the principle that singular terms contribute their referents to the propositions expressed by the sentences which contain them. Compositionality is the ideas that the meaning of a composite expression is derived from the parts which make it up. Semantic innocence is the principle that "embedding" a term or name in a "that" clause should not change its semantic value.
Given these basic assumptions how is it possible that the truth value of a sentence in the context of an attribution can change - that is, how is
semantic opacitypossible? Bach sketches four historical approaches to the resolving the problem and demonstrates each of their inadequacies. The first approach is that of Frege himself. Frege claimed that the reference of a term in the context of a belief report (or any other attitude attribution) was no longer its "customary" reference but rather its sense (see sense and reference). While this proposal maintains compositionality, however, it obviously violates the aforementioned principle of semantic innocence. Terms do not have the same reference in attitude attribution contexts that they do in ordinary sentence contexts. Bach illustrates "why" this is a problem by providing an example sentence that involves anaphoraand that leads to serious problems for the Fregean view:
:(An)"Lois Lane believes that Clark Kent is a wimp, but he is not".
Here, the pronoun "he" is being used, as linguists say, anaphorically: its meaning is derived from the proper name which it is standing in for (in this case, "Clark Kent"). It seems clear, then, that the "he" used in this sentence refers (and quite directly) to Clark Kent. Frege's theory would predict that it refers to the "name" Clark Kent, the "sense" of the term in the terminology of Frege. Consequently, Frege's theory "denies semantic innocence" and this makes it ring somewhat counterintuitive.
Bach next considers what he calls, the "metalinguistic" or "sententialist" view. On this view, a sentence embedded in a "that"-clause refers to some sort of sentence, whether the sentence itself or a sentence in some
language of thoughtdepends on the specifics of the theory. However that may be, this view also violates the principle of semantic innocence: the referents of terms change from ordinary contexts (where they are objects in the external world) to attitude report contexts (where they are linguistic items. Hence, it has the same problem as Frege's, as well as several others.
The so-called "hidden indexical" theory maintains that the difference in truth value (and content) between sentences "1" and "2" above has nothing to do with what they say about "what" Lois Lane believes, but with what they implicitly say about "how" she believes it. The two sentences do not differ in their contents, the singular proposition expressed by the statement that Superman/Clark Kent is a wimp, but by some implicitly referred to way of taking the proposition. In Bach's view this approach violates the principle of compositionality. There is no syntactical place in the sentence "A believes that G is F" for some "unarticulated constituent" or "hidden indexical". He also points out that sentences such as "Joe is ready" and "Fred has finished", which are missing an argument, are not necessarily sentences that express propositions with unarticulated constituents. They may simply be semantically incomplete and hence not express propositions at all.
The last position that Bach considers is the so-called "neo-Russelian" theory. Neo-Russelians attempt to solve the problem by rejecting the "anti-substitution intuition". They insist that sentences such as "1" and "2" actually have the same contents and that there is no transformation in truth values at all. Similarly, if "the Joker realizes that Bruce Wayne is rich" is true, then it is also true that "the Joker realizes that Batman is rich"; if "the Joker doubts that Bruce Wayne is a threat" is true, then so is the statement that "the Joker doubts that Batman is a threat" and so forth. These consequences make the neo-Rusellian theory seem extremely awkward and counterintuitive.
Bach's own, alternative solution is to reject the Specification Assumption discussed at the beginning. He further illustrates the problems associated with this assumption by way of another famous philosophical puzzle: Kripke's "Paderewski" puzzle, which does not involve substitution.
:(a)"Peter believes that Paderewski had musical talent".:(b)"Peter disbelieves that Paderewski had musical talent".
Kripke's puzzle arises from the fact that Peter takes Paderewski to be two different individuals: one a statesman and the other a pianist. In fact, they are one and the same person. According to Bach's "descriptivist" view, sentence "a" here "describes" Peter as believing something and sentence "b" describes him as believing something else. Since the "that"-clauses do not specify what the two things are that Peter believes (they do not refer to one specific object), then they are not necessarily the same thing. The condition for the truth of a belief report is that the believer must believe "something" such that the proposition expressed by the "that" clause turns out to be true.
Attempts have been made to resolve the Paderewski puzzle by suggesting that the "that"-clauses involved are not sufficiently specific and that if all contextually relevant information were provided in detail, then we could eventually determine exactly what it is that Peter believes and disbelieves. However, as Bach shows, this leads to an infinite regress. We could add information to the sentences "a" and "b" which further specifies that "Peter believes that Paderewski "the pianist" has musical talent" and "Peter disbelieves that Paderewski "the statesmen" has musical talent". But let us suppose that Peter hears a recording of Paderewski playing Mozart and is impressed with the performance. Later, he hears a recording of Paderewski playing Keith Jarret and is disgusted by the performance. Given that we have the same individual Paderewski and that Peter still does not know that it is the same individual in the two cases, we would have to say that "Peter believes that Paderewski the "classical pianist" has musical talent" and that "Peter disbelieves that Paderewski the "jazz pianist" has musical talent". This specification might not suffice either. Suppose that Peter now hears Paderewski play Beethoven and is not impressed. We would have to say "Peter believes that Paderewki "the classical pianist playing Mozart"...".As Bach puts it, "that clauses are not inherently capable of specifying their contents fully".
Bach versus Fodor
In his "Review of Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong", Bach takes
Jerry Fodorto task for his criticisms of lexical semanticsand polysemy. Fodor claims that there is no lexical structure to such verbs as "keep", "get", "make" and "put". He suggests that, alternatively, "keep" simply expresses the concept KEEP (Fodor capitalizes concepts to distinguish them from properties, names or other such entities). If there is a straightforward one-to-one mapping between individual words and concepts, "keep your clothes on", "keep your receipt" and "keep washing your hands" will all share the same concept of KEEP under Fodor's theory. This concept presumably locks on to the unique external property of keeping. But, if this is true, then RETAIN must pick out a different property in RETAIN YOUR RECEIPT, since one can't retain one's clothes or retain washing one's hands. Fodor's theory also has a problem explaining how the concept FAST contributes, "differently", to the contents of FAST CAR, FAST DRIVER, FAST TRACK, and FAST TIME. Whether or not the differing interpretations of "fast" in these sentences are specified in the semantics of English, or are the result of pragmatic inference, is a matter of debate.
What makes Fodor's view of concepts extremely difficult to digest for many critics is simply his insistence that such a large, perhaps implausible, number of them are primitive and undefinable. For example, Fodor considers such concepts as BACHELOR, EFFECT, ISLAND, TRAPEZOID, VIXEN, and WEEK to be all primitive, innate and unanalyzable because they all fall into the category of what he calls "lexical concepts" (those for which our language has a single word). Against this view, Bach argues that the concept VIXEN is almost certainly composed out of the concepts FEMALE and FOX, BACHELOR out of SINGLE and MALE, and so on.
*Bach, Kent, "Exit-existentialism;: A philosophy of self-awareness", Wadsworth Pub. Co, 1973. ISBN 0-534-00309-5
*Bach, Kent and Harnish, Robert M., "Linguistic Communication and Speech Acts", The MIT Press, 1982. ISBN 0-262-52078-8
*Bach, Kent, "Thought and Reference", Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-824077-5
* [http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~kbach/ Kent Bach's home page]
* [http://www.wineanorak.com/philosophy_of_wine2.htm Kent Bach on the philosophy of wine]
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