, Volume 65, Issue 1, pp 71–96 | Cite as

On the Metaphysics of Linguistics



Mind–body dualism has rarely been an issue in the generative study of mind; Chomsky himself has long claimed it to be incoherent and unformulable. We first present and defend this negative argument but then suggest that the generative enterprise may license a rather novel and internalist view of the mind and its place in nature, different from all of, (i) the commonly assumed functionalist metaphysics of generative linguistics, (ii) physicalism, and (iii) Chomsky’s negative stance. Our argument departs from the empirical observation that the linguistic mind gives rise to hierarchies of semantic complexity that we argue (only) follow from constraints of an essentially mathematical kind. We assume that the faculty of language tightly correlates with the mathematical capacity both formally and in evolution, the latter plausibly arising as an abstraction from the former, as a kind of specialized output. On this basis, and since the semantic hierarchies in question are mirrored in the syntactic complexity of the expression involved, we posit the existence of a higher-dimensional syntax structured on the model of the hierarchy of numbers, in order to explain the semantic facts in question. If so, syntax does not have a physicalist interpretation any more than the hierarchy of number-theoretic spaces does.


Lexical Item Successor Function Language Faculty Generative Grammar Mass Noun 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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We wish to thank Carlo Cecchetto, Rob Chametzky, and Helmut Weiss for their generous and inquisitive comments on these highly unusual subjects.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDurham UniversityDurhamUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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