Stephen Neale, 11 March 2007
9 January 1958|
University College London|
|Philosophy of language|
Stephen Roy Albert Neale (born 9 January 1958) is a British philosopher and specialist in the philosophy of language who has written extensively about meaning, information, interpretation, and communication, and more generally about issues at the intersection of philosophy and linguistics. Neale is currently Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics and holder of the John H. Kornblith Family Chair in the Philosophy of Science and Values at the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY).
Neale completed his B. Phil in Linguistics at University College London working with linguist Deirdre Wilson. He completed his PhD in Philosophy at Stanford University with philosopher John Perry as his dissertation advisor.
He is one of the world's leading authorities on Bertrand Russell's Theory of Descriptions, on the philosophies of Paul Grice and Donald Davidson, and on the intricacies of formal arguments in logic known as slingshots. His best known writings are the books Descriptions (1990) and Facing Facts (2001), and the articles "Meaning, Grammar, and Indeterminacy" (1987), "Paul Grice and the Philosophy of Language" (1992), "Term limits" (1993), "No Plagiarism Here!" (2001).
Philosophers of language who have written their PhD dissertations under Neale's supervision include Pierre Baumann (University of Puerto Rico), Herman Cappelen (University of Oslo), Josh Dever (University of Texas, Austin), Eli Dresner (Tel Aviv University), Daniel Harris (CUNY), Angel Pinillos (Arizona State University), and Elmar Unnsteinsson (University College Dublin).
Neale's writings are primarily in the philosophy of language, construed broadly enough to intersect with generative linguistics, the philosophy of mind, cognitive science, philosophical logic, and formal logic. A realist (rather than a pragmatist) position on truth runs through his work, although he appears to be agnostic about the explanatory value of appeals to individual facts in philosophical talk about truth.
Traditional accounts of interpretation are marred, Neale claims, by (1) a failure to engage correctly with the epistemic asymmetry of the situations in which producers and consumers of language find themselves; (2) a consequent failure to distinguish adequately the metaphysical question of what determines what a speaker (or writer) means on a given occasion from the epistemological question of how that particular meaning is identified; (3) a failure to appreciate the severity of constraints on the formation of linguistic intentions; (4) failures to appreciate pervasive forms of underdeterminaton (such as those examined by pragmatists and relevance theorists); (5) failures to recognise that genuine indeterminacy of the sort associated with what speakers (and writers) imply incomplete descriptions, and on a slingshot argument originally used by Kurt Gödel.
Neale is an intentionalist and a pragmatist about the interpretation of speech and writing, and to this extent his work is rooted firmly in the Gricean tradition. While probably a Quinean in his attitude towards indeterminacy in the realm of meaning, Neale is a Chomskyan and a Fodorian in his stance on what they say (for example, when they use incomplete definite descriptions); (6) inappropriate reliance on formal notions of context deriving from indexical logics, (7) unwarranted faith in transcendent notions of "what is said", "what is implied" and "what is referred to"; and metaphysics, theory of legal interpretation, and literary theory. Philosophical problems about interpretation, context, information content, structure, and representation form the nexus of Neale's work. He has vigorously defended Russell's Theory of Descriptions, descriptive theories of anaphora, Paul Grice's intention-based theory of meaning, and a general approach to meaning and interpretation he calls "linguistic pragmatism". His most influential work to date has been on the underdetermination and indeterminacy associated with uses of so-called attitude towards syntax and mental representation. Aspects of syntactic theory (8) a quite general overestimation of the role traditional compositional semantics can play in explanations of how humans use language to represent the world and communicate.
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