Benjamin Jantzen

Linguistic phenomenalism asserts that statements about physical objects are equivalent in meaning to claims about actual and possible sensations. Like the T. rex, it represents both the pinnacle and the last gasp of an old and prominent lineage. Or so the story goes. I contend that though it may have failed in execution, linguistic phenomenalism contained the germ of a viable empiricist semantics. I call this empiricist theory of meaning 'Semantic Phenomenalism' -- or SP -- to distinguish it from its evolutionary predecessors. In this talk, I sketch out the new theory of SP and demonstrate its immunity to all or most of the cardinal objections to linguistic phenomenalism. Chief among these is the supposed impossibility of providing an explicit translation of material-object claims into claims about sensation. By way of rebuttal, I show that ostensible references to the most basic material-object terms can be taken to refer to collections of actual and possible experiences that, in conjunction with a set of transformations definable in experiential terms (such as moving while fixing one’s gaze), constitute a realization of the Euclidean Group. In other words, I provide what no phenomenalist has given before: a concrete scheme for explicating the meaning of material-object language.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Semantic Phenomenalism: What Mill meant, Helmholtz heralded, and Ayer almost got right
114 Cocke Hall
Institutional Affiliation: 
Virginia Tech
Semester Offered: