LLI Meeting: March 21, 2014

This week, Friday March 21st, 2014, we will have Linda Cochrane of Concordia University give a talk entitled, “Water is not H20″ (abstract below).

Linda Cochrane is a PhD candidate at Concordia University, with BA’s in mathematics and philosophy, a graduate diploma in computer science, and an MA in philosophy. Her dissertation is multidisciplinary combining philosophy, psychology, and linguistics.

We will meet at the usual date and location, this Friday, March 21st, at 1 to 2:30pm in VSSM5220.

Abstract: Water is not H2O
Plato famously wrote that real universals “carve nature at its joints”. A similar idea is widely supported today by many scientists, philosophers, and others in their claim that mind-independent, naturally-occurring categories (natural kinds) exist in the external world, there for us to discover. Extending this idea, linguistic philosophers claim that the meaning of words (at least of natural kind terms) is simply their real world reference, and many philosophers of mind claim that the content of the related concepts just is the external referent. While I am willing to accept the existence of a mind-independent world, I assert that the “externalist” position should be rejected and argue instead for an “internalism” which holds, in part, that we cannot know the world-as-it-is and that we construct a portrayal of the world. Noam Chomsky used the “poverty of the stimulus” argument to support the existence of an innate language acquisition device. Likewise, the poverty of the stimuli we receive through our sensory receptors is insufficient to support the “externalist” position. We thus require innate capacities and categories, along with our innate and acquired concepts, theories, and belief systems, to impose structure on what William James called “one great blooming, buzzing confusion.”  In arguing for my position, I present a model of a hybrid cognitive architecture which is, I deem, more consistent with the results of current biological and neuroscientific studies. As an illustration, I use the two, oft-used examples of natural kind concepts: WATER and H2O.

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