Join to Simply Philosophy online community. Open your mind, post your thoughts, think critically!
Metaphysics / Philosophy


This post is part of the series Words and Concepts

Other posts in this series:

  1. Intentionality and Reasoning
  2. Intentionality and Rational Action
  3. Thoughts (Current)
  4. Recognition and Concept Formation

I had previously distinguished between words and concepts by showing that concepts necessarily represent what they are concepts of while words may always but never necessarily do so. This distinction allows us to determine if something is a word or a concept. In order to finish understanding what words and concepts are, we must examine thoughts. Thoughts are always words because we use one element of our speech to represent other elements and this has interesting implications for how we acquire concepts.

The simplest kind of thought is always a demonstrative thought. We point out a feature of our experience by giving it a name – even if that name is just “that”. But when we call something “that” we distinguish it from other things that we have called “that” as well. If we did not, then we would be able to point out only one thing, and pointing would be useless afterwards. But the only way of distinguishing between one thing we have called “that” and another is by representing them differently. We might choose to represent the color blue by “blue” and green by “green”. Alternatively, we might choose to represent them with another element of our experience. Rather than picking words (which are either sounds or visual markings) we might choose to use any other element of experience we wished to use.

It is in this sense that we can use private words. We might be the only person who actually knows what element of our experience we are using to represent our experiences. A translator could, given sufficient time and resources, eventually discover these representations. So private simply means that only one person knows what these associations are.

If we are using one element of experience to represent another, then those elements of experience that are representing others are words. We could have used different elements of experience to represent what we are representing instead. Given what the previous post proved, that means that thoughts are always in the form of words.

Since all thoughts are in the form of words, several interesting conclusions are formed. Without any experience it is impossible for anyone to think. This is true because thinking requires words and words are representations which require experiences of one think to represent another thing. The second interesting conclusion is that recognition of a concept cannot be arrived at by means of reasoning. This is because reasoning is a form of thought. Since reasoning to a concept requires possessing that concept already, this is impossible. Therefore, the initial recognition of a concept cannot be arrived at by means of reasoning. Therefore, recognition of a concept must be after experience but before that experience is named by a concept.

The nature of recognition of concepts is next, and will complete our series on concepts.

Continue reading this series:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>