Constructivism and Linguistics?
Posted: 13 April 2010 01:49 AM   [ Ignore ]
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To begin with my wife is a die-hard objectivist and I apparently am very much not. So I’ve been reading a lot of Ayn Rand to better understand her philosophical point of view. I thought, who knows maybe I’ll come to agree. Instead I learned a great deal more about my own philosophical point of view. There was very little in Ayn Rand’s objectivism that I could agree with. Anyway I woke up in the middle of the night and found myself pursuing a line of thought that I ended up calling constructivism for lack of a term. I thought this term probably already existed so I had to get up and find out if it did and if it lined up with what I had been thinking. To my delight it did, and it did!
This brings me to my question. Before I got up and discovered I was not alone in my thinking, my train of thought had led me to linguistics. And this is where I seemed to get away from constructivism, or perhaps not. I’m told (I haven’t read them) that Wittgenstein and Chomsky take a linguistic approach to philosophy, but who else? And is this approach strictly related to constructivism? Or is it at all? Where do I go from here? Any suggestions?

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Posted: 13 April 2010 04:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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rayne - 13 April 2010 01:49 AM

To begin with my wife is a die-hard objectivist and I apparently am very much not. So I’ve been reading a lot of Ayn Rand to better understand her philosophical point of view. I thought, who knows maybe I’ll come to agree. Instead I learned a great deal more about my own philosophical point of view. There was very little in Ayn Rand’s objectivism that I could agree with. Anyway I woke up in the middle of the night and found myself pursuing a line of thought that I ended up calling constructivism for lack of a term. I thought this term probably already existed so I had to get up and find out if it did and if it lined up with what I had been thinking. To my delight it did, and it did!
This brings me to my question. Before I got up and discovered I was not alone in my thinking, my train of thought had led me to linguistics. And this is where I seemed to get away from constructivism, or perhaps not. I’m told (I haven’t read them) that Wittgenstein and Chomsky take a linguistic approach to philosophy, but who else? And is this approach strictly related to constructivism? Or is it at all? Where do I go from here? Any suggestions?

You’re asking some enormous questions, rayne. I can only sketch a few short responses now.

(1) In general you’re right to contrast “objectivism” with “constructivism”; those are typically contrasting terms in philosophy. However, Ayn Rand’s “objectivism” is really just the name of her philosophy (which happens to be objectivist). There are many other objectivist philosophies that have nothing to do with Rand—indeed, virtually all of them are so. Rand’s philosophy has been accused of being cult-like in its practice, and morally bankrupt in its specifics, accusations I think have a great deal of merit. But those have nothing to do with its being objectivist.

(2) The linguistic turn in philosophy goes back at least to the middle of the last century, with the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle. They saw their task as one of the logical analysis of language, which was intended basically to demonstrate that abstruse metaphysical speculations (such as those of many famous european philosophers) were not only false, but meaningless. This tack is now seen as largely passé in analytic schools of philosophy in the US, having been replaced by a somewhat more open view towards careful metaphysical speculations and a closer alliance to the sciences, with linguistics and logic being one of many rather than the only ones.

(3) Positivists aren’t constructivists in any important sense. Constructivism is basically the position that we make stuff up rather than discovering it in the world. The positivists did not believe that of the sciences in general. Constructivism is generally held in certain schools of post-modernist thought, or in areas of more competent philosophy with topics that are believed not to be objective in nature (e.g., aesthetics, morality, culture, etc.)

(4) Chomsky did write some about philosophy, most particularly papers that were taken to have demolished strict behaviorism about the mind. But he never was a philosopher. His main aim is strictly linguistic: to come up with a theory that explains all of human language.

If you are interested in learning more about philosophy, I recommend the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the web. Not all its subjects are completed yet, but the ones that are generally provide good if detailed intros.

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Posted: 13 April 2010 12:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks Doug. I have only begun looking into philosophy over the past year. I was inspired by Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy (and several epic arguments with my wife ). So over the past year I have gobbled up most of the Greeks and other major works up to the enlightenment, with a sprinkling of pop philosophy along the way. Ayn Rand is particularly annoying to me. And unfortunately she is all I know of objectivism. Having been raised in a fundamentalist Christian home I couldn’t help but note the similarities in attitude.
I guess what I’m really asking for is some reading recommendations. I would love to find some works that are specifically critical of Ayn Rand.

The link I was trying to make between constructivism and linguistics (and I’m probably being too simplistic) is that language itself is a construct. This made me think of the problem of qualia and that led me back to the constructivist idea of our knowledge of reality being constrained by our experience. I see language as being kind of like the observer effect. Since language is the only way in which we can relate or relate to our experience and yet is an experience in itself how does this affect our knowledge of reality, truth etc? I think I will have to check out the logical positivists now.

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Posted: 13 April 2010 01:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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rayne - 13 April 2010 12:58 PM

Thanks Doug. I have only begun looking into philosophy over the past year. I was inspired by Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy (and several epic arguments with my wife ). So over the past year I have gobbled up most of the Greeks and other major works up to the enlightenment, with a sprinkling of pop philosophy along the way. Ayn Rand is particularly annoying to me. And unfortunately she is all I know of objectivism. Having been raised in a fundamentalist Christian home I couldn’t help but note the similarities in attitude.
I guess what I’m really asking for is some reading recommendations. I would love to find some works that are specifically critical of Ayn Rand.

Reading recommendations, you can’t go too wrong with Russell. He was a great writer and a great thinker, although his more “popular” philosophy books from the second half of his life are not considered particularly rigorous.

For other philosophers, Dan Dennett is also a fine writer, though a bit long winded.

Re. criticisms of Rand, I’m sure I’ve seen several, but can’t recall where. She is not taken seriously among virtually all practicing academic philosophers, so they basically ignore her. But I’m sure that during her heyday there were critiques.

rayne - 13 April 2010 12:58 PM

The link I was trying to make between constructivism and linguistics (and I’m probably being too simplistic) is that language itself is a construct. This made me think of the problem of qualia and that led me back to the constructivist idea of our knowledge of reality being constrained by our experience. I see language as being kind of like the observer effect. Since language is the only way in which we can relate or relate to our experience and yet is an experience in itself how does this affect our knowledge of reality, truth etc? I think I will have to check out the logical positivists now.

I think if you’re interested in issues of language and truth, you must read Steven Pinker’s fabulous book The Language Instinct. Pinker was a prodigy linguist and is still one of the brightest stars of cognitive science. His research is in language acquisition in particular.

His view, backed up by copious research, is that language is instinctual for humans like spinning webs is instinctual for spiders. He also does touch on some issues of constructivism.

Re. the Logical Positivists, I wouldn’t recommend them for anyone who wasn’t an academic philosopher. They were not typically great writers, and much of what they wrote has been superseded.

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Posted: 13 April 2010 01:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Re: The Language Instinct
That sounds right up my alley, thanks for that.

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Posted: 13 April 2010 03:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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rayne - 13 April 2010 12:58 PM

I guess what I’m really asking for is some reading recommendations. I would love to find some works that are specifically critical of Ayn Rand.


Try this one:  “Why I am not an Objectivist”

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Posted: 13 April 2010 07:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Although they don’t have anything to do with philosophy, you may want to pick up a copy of a fairly old book on semantics, “Language in Thought and Action” by S. I. Hayakawa.  Possibly still available in a used book store.  Another oldie that’s difficult is “General Semantics” by Alfred Korzybski.

Occam

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Posted: 16 February 2011 11:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Le Thanh - 16 February 2011 09:30 AM
Pragmatic Naturalist - 13 April 2010 03:49 PM
rayne - 13 April 2010 12:58 PM

I guess what I’m really asking for is some reading recommendations. I would love to find some works that are specifically critical of Ayn Rand.


Try this one:  [Edited to remove linkspam]

thanks but why i cant go to that link

the link is split, place cursor over the word Objectivist.

Moreover, who modified PM’s quote?      Not good… grrr

[ Edited: 16 February 2011 11:42 AM by dougsmith ]
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Posted: 16 February 2011 11:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Write4U, it was a spammer, trying to get linkspam hidden in a doctored quote.

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Posted: 16 February 2011 12:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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You might want to read some J. L. Austin, specifically Sense and Sensibilia and How to Do Things with Words.  He’s quite good at showing how philosophers can confuse themselves and others by their use of language.

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Posted: 16 February 2011 12:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Massimo Pigliucci has made some recent blogs critiquing Objectivism:

http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2010/10/about-objectivism-part-i-metaphysics.html

http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2010/11/about-objectivism-part-ii-epistemology.html

http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2010/11/about-objectivism-part-iii-ethics.html

http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2010/12/about-objectivism-part-iv-politics.html

Some objections raised by the guy from The Atheist Experience:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbsMJx_t20w

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s52wZSFYJh8&feature=related

Here’s a great video I recently saw from Steven Pinker:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-son3EJTrU

Here’s the whole talk:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBpetDxIEMU

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Posted: 22 March 2011 09:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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dougsmith - 13 April 2010 01:12 PM

I think if you’re interested in issues of language and truth, you must read Steven Pinker’s fabulous book The Language Instinct. Pinker was a prodigy linguist and is still one of the brightest stars of cognitive science. His research is in language acquisition in particular.

His view, backed up by copious research, is that language is instinctual for humans like spinning webs is instinctual for spiders. He also does touch on some issues of constructivism.

After reading Pinker’s book you should also read Michael Tomasello’s book review ‘Language is Not an Instinct.’ While Pinker’s book is an excellent introduction to linguistics and the Chomskian perspective, it does give a biased view on many of the major themes of modern linguistics. For example, it presents generative grammar and nativism as proven theories while the truth is that there is a great deal of debate and disagreement within the linguistic community regarding these subjects.

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Posted: 22 March 2011 09:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Gallant Skeptic - 22 March 2011 09:05 AM
dougsmith - 13 April 2010 01:12 PM

I think if you’re interested in issues of language and truth, you must read Steven Pinker’s fabulous book The Language Instinct. Pinker was a prodigy linguist and is still one of the brightest stars of cognitive science. His research is in language acquisition in particular.

His view, backed up by copious research, is that language is instinctual for humans like spinning webs is instinctual for spiders. He also does touch on some issues of constructivism.

After reading Pinker’s book you should also read Michael Tomasello’s book review ‘Language is Not an Instinct.’ While Pinker’s book is an excellent introduction to linguistics and the Chomskian perspective, it does give a biased view on many of the major themes of modern linguistics. For example, it presents generative grammar and nativism as proven theories while the truth is that there is a great deal of debate and disagreement within the linguistic community regarding these subjects.

Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve given Tomasello’s paper a quick look. It is interesting and valuable, particularly to point out areas of further elaboration, but I don’t find it persuasive as an attack on Pinker’s program.

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Posted: 23 March 2011 12:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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dougsmith - 22 March 2011 09:32 AM
Gallant Skeptic - 22 March 2011 09:05 AM
dougsmith - 13 April 2010 01:12 PM

I think if you’re interested in issues of language and truth, you must read Steven Pinker’s fabulous book The Language Instinct. Pinker was a prodigy linguist and is still one of the brightest stars of cognitive science. His research is in language acquisition in particular.

His view, backed up by copious research, is that language is instinctual for humans like spinning webs is instinctual for spiders. He also does touch on some issues of constructivism.

After reading Pinker’s book you should also read Michael Tomasello’s book review ‘Language is Not an Instinct.’ While Pinker’s book is an excellent introduction to linguistics and the Chomskian perspective, it does give a biased view on many of the major themes of modern linguistics. For example, it presents generative grammar and nativism as proven theories while the truth is that there is a great deal of debate and disagreement within the linguistic community regarding these subjects.

Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve given Tomasello’s paper a quick look. It is interesting and valuable, particularly to point out areas of further elaboration, but I don’t find it persuasive as an attack on Pinker’s program.

Don’t get me wrong; I loved Pinker’s book when I first read it. After reading The Language Instinct I was sold for quite some time on the Chomskian, nativist perspective of language. However, having studied more linguistics, I see some of the shortcomings of Pinker’s book. For the most part, Pinker makes everything seem too black and white. He presents the topics as if there is a consensus amongst the linguist community when there is in fact fervent disagreement between scholars.

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Posted: 19 May 2011 06:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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saltonsteve - 19 May 2011 04:58 AM

Positivists do not in any significant constructivist. Constructivism is the basic position is that we do things, rather than find it in the world. Positivism do not think that in general science. Constructivism is generally believed that post-modernism in some schools, or even the concept of capacity in the region that can not be the subject of objectivity.

Spambot I guess?

Stephen

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Posted: 19 May 2011 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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StephenLawrence - 19 May 2011 06:00 AM
saltonsteve - 19 May 2011 04:58 AM

Positivists do not in any significant constructivist. Constructivism is the basic position is that we do things, rather than find it in the world. Positivism do not think that in general science. Constructivism is generally believed that post-modernism in some schools, or even the concept of capacity in the region that can not be the subject of objectivity.

Spambot I guess?

Stephen

Yep, good guess. Gone.

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