What is Cognitive Science

Tensions in Ockham's theory of mental language: equivocation

Dr. Catarina Dutilh Novaes

Thursday, September 21, 2006, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Fordham University, Philosophy and CUNY Graduate Center, Philosophy

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I present some tensions that arise in Ockham�s accountof mental language, related to the notion of thesupposition of mental terms, i.e. what mental termsstand for. The issue is that the properties attributedby Ockham to mental language with respect tosupposition entail that there can be ambiguous mentalsentences. I argue that this fact creates problems ofthree different orders: it seems to contradict otherclaims explicitly made in his text; it undermines theepistemological role that mental language is to play;and it undermines the logical role that mentallanguage is to play in Ockham�s system. Finally, Icontrast Ockham�s position with Buridan�s, who,writing only a few decades after Ockham, explicitlydenies the possibility of ambiguity in mental languageby attributing different properties to the suppositionof mental terms.Besides these philosophical and historicalconsiderations, what is at stake is ultimately thepossibility of ambiguous thoughts. Is it reasonable toassume that at a given moment I may not be entirelysure of the content of my own thought? I take thetensions in Ockham�s account of mental language to besigns, on the conceptual level, of the incongruity ofambiguous thoughts.

Dr. Catarina Dutilh Novaes


"What is Cognitive Science?"

This lunchtime talks series is designed to introduce the University community to issues in Cognitive Science. Cognitive Science is one the the few fields where modern developments in computer science and artificial intelligence promise to shed light on classical problems in psychology and the philosophy of the mind. Ancient questions of how we see the world, understand language, and reason, and questions such as 'how a material system can know about the outside world', are being explored with the powerful new conceptual prosthetics of computer modeling.

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