Language and Consciousness

  • Michael Grant


In this brief extract, from The Explicit Animal (1991, 1999), Tallis considers why attempts to naturalise language won’t do. Behaviourists like B.F. Skinner have tried to see language as a form of communication that is essentially the same as that taking place between animals. Signs signify by stimulating behaviour identical to that which would be stimulated by the object itself. Tallis is critical of these kinds of conception — basically because they bypass what is essential about language, its quality of explicitness. The very notion of meaning something depends on intention, and meaning transmitted through signs makes this explicit. Linguistic signs are meant, and for us to understand them depends on us seeing that they are meant. Brief though this extract is, it sums up much that is at the heart of the way Tallis sees language and human consciousness.


Causal Chain Human Language Natural Sign Human Consciousness Linguistic Meaning 
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  1. 1.
    (See Mary Midgley, Beast and Man. The Roots of Human Nature (London: Methuen, 1980), chapter 10, especially pp. 239 et seq.) It is not the material that we use for our communications but the kinds of uses we make of it that distinguishes us from animals.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See for example, H. P. Grice, ‘Meaning’, Philosophical Review, 1987, 66:377–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. His views have been developed by others, notably Jonathan Bennett, ‘Stimulus, Response, Meaning’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 1975, 9:55–88.Google Scholar
  4. Fred Dretske (Explaining Behaviour: Reasons in a World of Causes, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 1988).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Skinner’s views are summarised in B.F. Skinner, ‘The Operational Analysis of Psychological Terms’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1984, 7:547–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Raymond Tallis 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Grant
    • 1
  1. 1.Rutherford CollegeThe University of KentCanterburyUK

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