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The Institutions of Meaning

The Institutions of Meaning

Vincent Descombes
Translated by Stephen Adam Schwartz
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Institutions of Meaning
    Book Description:

    Holism maintains that a phenomenon is more than the sum of its parts. Yet analysis--a mental process crucial to comprehension--involves dismantling the whole to grasp it piecemeal and relationally. Wading through such quandaries, Vincent Descombes guides readers to a deepened appreciation of the entity that enables understanding: the human mind.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-41997-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Preface to the English Translation
    (pp. xi-xxxii)
  4. PART I Intentionalist Conceptions of Mind

    • 1 The Intentionality of the Mental
      (pp. 3-46)

      This book aims to present and defend a holistic conception of mind. As the words “intentionality” and “intentionalist” are specialized philosophical terms, they will require a more thorough explanation than a mere definition might provide. In this chapter, I hope to provide the necessary technical vocabulary. But before doing that, I should provide some justification for the effort that will be required to come to a sufficiently clear notion of intentionality.

      Why should our approach to contentious questions about the mind proceed by way of considerations of intentionality? There are two reasons, both of which derive from the state of...

    • 2 The Paradox of the Intentional Object
      (pp. 47-64)

      The question remains: do we have the right to use the intentional passive form? Grammatically, we do. What about logically?

      What is the phenomenological response? It appears at first glance to have as its principal aim to explain to us the legitimacy of the use of the intentional passive. It says that things are indeed what are perceived, conceived, loved, and hoped for. When there is perception, something is perceived and what is perceived is, for example, the house, not an image or idea of the house. When there is love, something is loved: it is Juliet that Romeo loves,...

    • 3 A Holistic Conception of Intentionality
      (pp. 65-92)

      We have just considered one of the most elaborate solutions yet provided to the problem that concerns us. It is perhaps worthwhile to take our bearings before seeing whether there might not be some other solution.

      All intentionalist philosophies of mind draw a distinction between natural relations (of a thing to other things; for example, of a living thing to the things around it) and intentional relations (first of a sign to an object and then, by extension, of an act to an object).

      The School of Brentano (by which we mean not Brentano’s disciples so much as all those...

  5. PART II The Anthropological Holism of the Mental

    • 4 The Question of Holism
      (pp. 95-122)

      The expression “mental holism” is frequently encountered today in texts in the philosophy of mind. The concept is a technical one in which the word “holism” does not have precisely the same meaning that it does in other fields—for example in the philosophy of biology or in social theory.¹ I will therefore begin by introducing it.

      In fact, in discussions of mental holism, holism is understood in a way that is particular to American philosophy. The notion is nevertheless, as we shall see, still useful outside of the confines of that tradition. Given the importance of the theme of...

    • 5 The Illusion of Collective Individuals
      (pp. 123-154)

      Collectivist holism derives its concept of totality from the logical form of collective predication. My question here is, what is a collective totality? Let us take, for example, a team. It is made up of members who can be enumerated. But a team can also carry out work, win victories, and go places, just as individual actors can. A team would then be an individual of sorts, since properties of an individual kind can be attributed to it. What Péguy once called “the party of forty-year-old men” is not itself forty years old, but the sports team that won the...

    • 6 The Order of Meaning
      (pp. 155-185)

      How is it that all attempts to constitute a concrete whole out of individuals fail? Are committees and teams not collective actors whose composition can be given by listing out the names of the individuals that make them up? It ought to be possible to account for such a simple fact.

      The fact of a team’s formation is quite ordinary, so it can only be our thought about this fact that is unclear. The question is not whether a group of people can form a team together but rather whether we have the right metaphysics of complex beings. The doctrines...

    • 7 The Logic of Relations
      (pp. 186-210)

      The aim of this chapter is to seek to clarify the principle of structural holism by looking at the logic of relations. As we have seen, this principle holds that there is a primacy of the relation over the terms it relates. This primacy is obviously formal and not material. It is traditionally explained as follows.

      A relation that precedes its terms is a relation that formally constitutes them as what they are. The precedence of these relations over their terms is expressed by means of a distinction between two classes or two kinds of relations, those that are external...

    • 8 The Subject of Triadic Relations
      (pp. 211-237)

      Let us remind ourselves of what distinguishes a real relation from a relation of reason, looking to the work of Charles Sanders Peirce for an explanation of the distinction. Peirce not only gave a great deal of reflection to the traditional doctrines on the question but also established a new logic of relations that, although couched in an idiosyncratic terminology, has since been integrated into modern, post-Fregean logic. In mentioning this distinction, Peirce claims that it derives from medieval logic; but we will see that he has clearly modified the classical conception so as to be more in line with...

    • 9 Essays on the Gift
      (pp. 238-269)

      The relation of the gift, which associates a giver (a donor) and a recipient (a donee) by means of a thing given is not one example among others of a triadic relation. It is, rather, the paradigm case in the Platonic sense, a model that allows us to understand by analogy other relations of the same type. It provides a schema that can be applied to a good many other cases. This can be observed if we consider the syntax of the verbs that Tesnière refers to as “trivalent.” In fact, according to him, the verbs whose grammatical form is...

    • 10 Objective Mind
      (pp. 270-313)

      It is now possible to move to the question of the consequences of the holistic stance on language and the mind [esprit].¹ Recall that the critiques of holism within the philosophy of mind had raised this crucial question: does a holistic conception of the sign not render mysterious the most basic facts of communication? I cannot understand any of your speech if I am not familiar with all of it. This amounts to saying: I cannot understand you until I have plumbed the depths of your mind, until I have become like you and, ultimately, untilIam no longer...

    • 11 Distinguishing Thoughts
      (pp. 314-340)

      We can now return to the general problem: what is it for two people to have the same thought about a particular question or object?

      Our question is one in the metaphysics of the comparison of thoughts. When someone wonders whether two people have the same thought, is the question analogous to wondering whether they have the same car? Or is it, rather, analogous to the question of whether they have the same internal state? Or, finally, is it an equivalence from the perspective of a system, similar to receiving the same grade on the same examination or the fact...

  6. Works Cited
    (pp. 341-350)
  7. Index
    (pp. 351-360)