Thinking of ‘Not’

  • F. J. Pelletier
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 72)


A certain direction in cognitive science has been to try to “ground” public language statements in some species of mental representation. A central tenet of this trend is that communication—that is, public language—succeeds (when it does) because the elements of this public language are in some way correlated with mental items of both the speaker and the audience so that the mental state evoked in the audience by the use of that piece of public language is the one that the speaker wanted to evoke. The “meaning”, therefore, of an utterance—and of the parts of an utterance, such as individual sentences and their parts, such as the individual words, etc.—is, in this view, some mental item. Successful communication requires that there be widespread agreement amongst speakers of the same public language as to the mental entities that are correlated with any particular public words.


Cognitivist Theory Semantic Theory Public Language Negative Sentence Mental Entity 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Again, we do not pause here to consider the critiques leveled by realists against this view of meaning. My goal here is instead to explain the theory.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The puzzle goes even further. Consider any two positive sentences, S1 and S2, that have been given some meaning by correspondence to a combination of mental items. These two sentences correspond to different mental combinations if and only if the sentence “S1 does not mean the same as S2” is true. Yet this is a negative sentence, and therefore cannot be true by the argument mentioned in the text. So S1 and S2 cannot correspond to different mental items, and so they mean the same thing. But this is true for every positive sentence. So therefore, all meaningful sentences correspond to the same mental item, and they all mean the same thing! Cognitivists really must solve the “problem of predicate negation” if they are to have any logically coherent theory.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    At least in finite cases. The formula presupposes that we can always find “those tilings that are different from a.” But the complement of a set, here the complement of the set containing just a, is not always well-defined in a setting of an infinite number of items. But I presume most cognitivist theories would hold that the mental inventory is finite, and so that this is a well-defined notion.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    It does not have to manifest any member of the group at all, for the object in question may be, for example, a number. And then the entire applicability group is inapplicable. But if some member of the group applies to the object, then no other member of that same group can apply.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Of course, people do find negations more difficult to deal with (especially in reasoning) than positives, and perhaps this would argue against analysis (3) and in favor of analysis (1) and analysis (2).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. J. Pelletier
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

Personalised recommendations