Skip to main content

Compositionality, Context, Categories and the Indeterminacy of Translation

Abstract

The doctrine that meanings are entitieswith a determinate and independent reality is often believed tohave been undermined by Quine's thought experiment of radicaltranslation, which results in an argument for the indeterminacy oftranslation. This paper argues to the contrary. Starting fromQuine's assumption that the meanings of observation sentences arestimulus meanings, i.e., set-theoretical constructions of neuronalstates uniquely determined by inter-subjectively observable facts,the paper shows that this meaning assignment, up to isomorphism,is uniquely extendable to all expressions that occur inobservation sentences. To do so, a theorem recently proven byHodges is used. To derive the conclusion, one only has to assumethat languages are compositional, abide by a generalized contextprinciple and by what I call the category principle. Theseassumptions originating in Frege and Husserl are coherent withQuine's overall position. It is concluded that Quine'snaturalistic approach does not justify scepticism with regard tomeaning, but should rather result in a view that affiliatessemantics with neuroscience.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

REFERENCES

  • Ajdukiewicz, K.: 1935, 'Die syntaktische Konnexität', Studia philosophica: commentarii Societatis Philosophicae Polonorum 1, 1-27.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bar-Hillel, Y.: 1950, 'On Syntactical Categories', Journal of Symbolic Logic 15, 1-16.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dummett, M.: 1981, Frege: Philosophy of Language, 2nd edn, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Frege, G.: 1884, Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik: eine logisch-mathematische Untersuchung über den Begriff der Zahl, M. & H. Marcus, Breslau.

    Google Scholar 

  • Frege, G.: 1976, 'Logische Untersuchungen. Dritter Teil. Gedankengefüge', in G. Patzig (ed.), Logische Untersuchungen, 2nd edn, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, pp. 72-91.

    Google Scholar 

  • Frege, G.: 1979, 'Logic in Mathematics', in H. Hermes, F. Kambartel, and F. Kaulbach (eds.), Gottlob Frege. Posthumous Writings, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 203-250.

    Google Scholar 

  • Frege, G.: 1980, 'Brief an Jourdain', in G. Gabriel, F. Kambartel, and C. Thiel (eds.), Gottlob Freges Briefwechsel mit D. Hilbert, E. Husserl, B. Russell, sowie ausgewählte Einzelbriefe Freges, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg, pp. 110-112.

    Google Scholar 

  • Frege, G.: 1983, 'Booles rechnende Logik und die Begriffsschrift', in H. Hermes, F. Kambartel, and F. Kaulbach (eds.), Gottlob Frege. Nachgelassene Schriften, 2nd edn, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg, pp. 9-52.

    Google Scholar 

  • Higginbotham, J.: 1985, 'On Semantics', Linguistic Inquiry 16, 547-593.

    Google Scholar 

  • Higginbotham, J.: 2003, 'On Compositionality and Its Consequences', unpublished manuscript.

  • Hodges,W.: 2001, 'Formal Features of Compositionality', Journal of Logic, Language and Information 10, 7-28.

    Google Scholar 

  • Husserl, E.: 1970, Logical Investigations, Vol. II, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

    Google Scholar 

  • Janssen, T.: 1986, Foundations and Applications of Montague Grammar. Part 1: Philosophy, Framework, Computer Science, Centrum voorWiskunde en Informatica, Amsterdam.

    Google Scholar 

  • Janssen, T.: 1997, 'Compositionality', in J. van Benthem and A. ter Meulen (eds.), Handbook of Logic and Language, Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp. 417-473.

    Google Scholar 

  • Janssen, T.: 2001, 'Frege, Contextuality and Compositionality', Journal of Logic, Language and Information 10, 115-136.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnston, M. and F. Busa: 1999, 'Qualia Structure and the Compositional Interpretation of Compounds', in E. Viegas (ed.), Breadth and Depth of Semantic Lexicons, Vol. 10 of Text, Speech and Technology, Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp. 167-188.

    Google Scholar 

  • Le?niewski, S.: 1929, 'Grundzüge eines neuen Systems der Grundlagen der Mathematik', Fundamenta Mathematicae 14, 1-81.

    Google Scholar 

  • Massey, G. J.: 1979, 'Indeterminacy, Inscrutability, and Ontological Relativity', in B. C. van Fraassen (ed.), Studies in Ontology, Vol. 9 of American Philosophical Quaterly/Monograph Series, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 43-55.

    Google Scholar 

  • Milner, R.: 1977, 'Fully Abstract Models of the Typed Lambda-Calculus', Theoretical Computer Sciences 4, 1-22.

    Google Scholar 

  • Montague, R.: 1974, 'Universal Grammar', in R. H. Thomason (ed.), Formal Philosophy. Selected Papers of Richard Montague, Yale University Press, New Haven, pp. 222-246.

    Google Scholar 

  • Partee, B., A. ter Meulen, and R. Wall: 1990, Mathematical Methods in Linguistics, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pelletier, F. J.: 2000, 'Semantic Compositionality: Free Algebras and the Argument from Ambiguity', in M. Faller, S. Kaufmann, and M. Pauly (eds.), Formalizing the Dynamics of Information, CSLI Press, Stanford, CA, pp. 207-218.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pelletier, F. J.: 2001, 'Did Frege believe Frege's Principle?', Journal of Logic, Language and Information 10, 87-114.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pelletier, J.: 1984, 'Six Problems in 'Translational Equivalence”', Logique et Analyse 108, 423-434.

    Google Scholar 

  • Plotkin, G. D.: 1977, 'LCF Considered as a Programming Language', Theoretical Computer Sciences 5, 223-255.

    Google Scholar 

  • Putnam, H.: 1975, 'The Refutation of Conventionalism', in Mind, Language and Reality, Vol. 2 of Philosophical Papers, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 153-191.

    Google Scholar 

  • Putnam, H.: 1983, 'Models and Reality', in Realism and Reason, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 1-25.

    Google Scholar 

  • Putnam, H.: 1986, 'Meaning Holism', in L. Hahn and P. A. Schilpp (eds.), The Philosophy of W. V. Quine, Open Court, La Salle, IL, pp. 405-425.

    Google Scholar 

  • Quine, W. V.: 1960, Word and Object, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Quine, W. V.: 1961, 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism', in From a Logical Point of View, 2nd edn, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 20-46.

    Google Scholar 

  • Quine, W. V.: 1970, 'On the Reasons for the Indeterminacy of Translation', Journal of Philosophy 67, 178-183.

    Google Scholar 

  • Quine, W. V.: 1986, 'Reply to Hilary Putnam', in L. E. Hahn and P. A. Schilpp (eds.), The Philosophy of W. V. Quine, Open Court, La Salle, IL, pp. 427-431.

    Google Scholar 

  • Quine, W. V.: 1990, Pursuit of Truth, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Russell, B.: 1905, 'On Denonting', Mind 14, 479-493.

    Google Scholar 

  • Russell, B.: 1908, 'Mathematical Logic as Based on the Theory of Types', American Journal of Mathematics 30, 222-262.

    Google Scholar 

  • von Heusinger, K.: 1991, 'Kategoriale Unifikationsgrammatik', Technical Report 37, University of Konstanz, Konstanz.

  • Werning, M.: 2003, 'Synchrony and Composition: Toward a Cognitive Architecture between Classicism and Connectionism', in B. Löwe, W. Malzkorn, and T. Räsch (eds.), Applications of Mathematical Logic in Philosophy and Linguistics, Trends in Logic, Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp. 261-278.

    Google Scholar 

  • Werning, M.: 2004b, 'The Temporal Dimension of Thought: Cortical Foundations of Predicative Representation', Synthese. Forthcoming.

  • Wright, C.: 1997, 'The Indeterminacy of Translation', in B. Hale and C. Wright (eds.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Language, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 397-426.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Werning, M. Compositionality, Context, Categories and the Indeterminacy of Translation. Erkenntnis 60, 145–178 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:ERKE.0000012876.85940.b3

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/B:ERKE.0000012876.85940.b3

Keywords

  • Thought Experiment
  • Independent Reality
  • Observable Fact
  • Category Principle
  • Observation Sentence