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Books, xxii + 166 pp. £ 18.99 (hbk), £ 10.73 (pbk). ISBN: 978 184887 119 9 (hbk), 1848871198 (pbk) Ali Paya National Research Institute for Science Policy (Iran) & Centre for the Study of Democracy, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages, University of Westminster (UK)
Analytic philosophy in its rather short history which marginally exceeds a century has undergone many changes. It started its life mostly in terms of a ‘linguistic turn’; an instrument for analysis of the language of scientific theories as well the ordinary language used by people in everyday life. But it has long moved away from its mostly ‘philosophy of language’ period to deal with real issues and phenomena in various fields; from science to society and from art to religion. This change of tack has enabled analytic philosophy to make great contributions to our understanding of various aspects of reality which cannot be explored by empirical means. Analytic philosophers through their vigorous analyses of conceptual issues concerning entities, processes, phenomena, theories, and methodologies pertinent to various field of study which fall under the general category of ‘first order knowledge’ and through highlighting mistaken ideas, approaches, and assumptions in each of these fields have improved and enriched our reservoir of knowledge. Many of practioners in this tradition, perhaps to some extent in contrast to their counterparts in the continent of Europe and in what is generally known as ‘continental philosophy’, have had official training in other fields of knowledge such as natural and social sciences, mathematics and logic apart from their expert knowledge in philosophy. This augmented intellectual horizon has enabled analytic philosophers to enter into meaningful and fruitful dialogues with practioners in other fields such as science and religion. Moreover, familiarity with science, maths and logic has impacted upon the style of philosophising of analytic philosophers: They are more rational and critical in their philosophical investigations and tend to favour piecemeal examinations of evidence to grand system buildings which resembles the epic yarns of story-tellers. The above characteristics allows one to draw parallels between the rational tradition of philosophising during the Golden Period of Islamic Civilization in which philosophers such as Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, and Tusi were well versed in the sciences of their days (especially medicine and astronomy), fully acquainted with logic, and at home with various philosophical doctrines. It seems this rich and diverse background played an important role in the healthy development of the rational tradition of Islamic philosophy. Decline of scientific spirit in the Islamic lands and rupture between scientific investigations and philosophical speculations adversely impacted upon the intellectual ecosystem in Muslim countries by the end of the Golden Age.
All the approaches to meaning seem to have some merit in bringing to light some aspects of the complex notion. an unconquered territory. Tallis has already explored some aspects of the central issue of this project in his other works including The Hand: A Philosophical Inquiry into Human Being (Edinburgh University Press. has proved to be a very hard theoretical nut to crack. poets. as well as ordinary people in the street are also interested in the issue. and as far as one can judge by the available evidence. and The Knowing Animal: A Philosophical Inquiry into Knowledge and Truth (Edinburgh University Press. from the dawn of philosophy has been the following: what is the relation between language and the world (which includes texts and other sorts of information-bearers)? This question can be formulated in many different ways each would highlight some aspects of the main problem. the nature of art and cultural criticism1. But nothing that could be called a theory has elicited much agreement … It may be 1 Cf. and books on literary theory. 2004). it can be asked that how do we manage to use language to communicate with others. a competent practitioner in both professions. what is the meaning of meaning? Concern about the meaning of the words and terms is not restricted to philosophers alone. For example. political and religious) of the act pointing. Meaning. and politicians. I am: a Philosophical Inquiry into Firstperson Being (Edinburgh University Press. various aspects of meaning and the relationship between the signifier and the signified. In the words of one analytic philosopher who has surveyed the development of philosophy of language and mind between 1950 o 1990: ‘The torrent of talk about a theory of meaning has … come to seem a bit naïve. at great length. philosophical. wears. The metadiscussion of what might be involved in a theory of meaning has been of genuine philosophical interest. discuss. at least. Michelangelo’s Finger is part of a more comprehensive project whose aim is to shed light on delicate relationship between mind and body and the way human being manage to acquire knowledge about themselves and the world. The question which Tallis has set for himself to investigate is various aspects and implications (e. and somewhat like the great figures of Islamic philosophy during the Golden Age of Islamic civilisation.raymondtallis. and especially despite concerted efforts of the philosophers of language in the twentieth century to decipher the secrets of this perplexing entity. The expert in usul al-fiqh for example. He is also a literary man: apart from many titles in the philosophy of mind and philosophical anthropology he has published three volumes of poetry.g.Raymond Tallis. http://www. judges and fuqha. how can sets of sound waves or strings of symbols which constitute our language represent the world and its furniture. 2004). by and large.com 2 . in the good old tradition of analytic philosophy. 2003). it has remained. writers. From a philosophical point of view a major question which has vexed the minds of great philosophers and thinkers in the West and in the East. Despite centuries of intellectual efforts to make sense of this phenomenon. including the Islamic lands. however. Jurists. two hats: he is a philosopher and a medical doctor.
St. pp. some other philosophers have also produced similar arguments in rejecting the notion transmission of meaning by means of ‘ostensive definition’. But it is here that Tallis. one needs to take into account the fuller picture: ‘So. argues that contrary to what Wittgenstein and others have said about the act of pointing. The theory. it would be impossible to indicate to our interlocutor which aspect of the referent we have in mind when referring (pointing) to it in its totality. Philosophers of language who have worked on meaning have usually wanted – and even presumed that they must have – a theory that reduces meaning to something more basic or scientifically “respectable. a house.2” A case which nicely displays the complexity of the notion of meaning and philosophers’ disagreement over various aspects of this mysterious concept is a theory about the way we understand the meaning of words. a horse.that the problem is too complex and simply needs more time. But the notion may not be suitable to such explanation or reduction. The Philosophical Review. However. 26-7. 101. Now. to appreciate its role. Various associate subnotions may be more suitable. It is called the theory of meaning by ostension. their referents. Augustine overstated the role of stand-alone pointing in language acquisition. Wittgenstein went on to suggest an alternative theory for meaning acquisition: he suggested that meaning is learnt through using words in particular ‘forms of life’ and within the boundaries of particular ‘language games’. We may point to an actual ice cream in response to the question asked by our little child who is asking what ice cream means. it is not the case ostension plays no role in teaching ‘meanings’ of words. among others. Wittgenstein’s argument seems to be commonsensical and therefore cogent. … While it is too much to expect of the 2 Tyler Burge. says that we acquire meaning of the words through the act of showing. a chair. Or the notion (s) of meaning may be too basic – so that a theory of meaning may be less appropriate than theories that make use of various notion of meaning. Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations ascribes this theory to. 3 . whether an ice cream. Or it may be that … a theory of meaning in anything like the accepted sense is not possible.” They have wanted a theory that explains what meaning is in other terms. Augustine and then moves on to show that why the theory does not and cannot work: any object. Vol. “Philosophy of Language and Mind: 1950 – 1990”. and it is metalled by other cognitive activities and capacities) “to language”. or pointing towards. a tree. … has too many (in fact infinitely many) aspects. making use of recent developments in cognitive psychology and neurosciences and especially studies on the ways newly born babies develop their language skills. 1992. There may be no general notion of meaning that will serve as explanadum. while St. In fact. ostension does allow visible objects to be associated with certain word sounds and “this is the royal road” (but not the only route. While there is no way that the complex syntactical and semantic system that is language could be pointed out … pointing does play an important role in bringing language to bear on the here and now. It may be too multifaceted. No. in a nutshell.
Tallis’ book. his accessible language does not mean that he has lowered his analytical guard and has resorted to sloppy arguments. it is clearly an enormously important aid to the process of inducting a child into common human cosmos…’3 Tallis notes that pointing is so important in the cognitive development of children that ‘failure of this neurodevelopmental landmark. takes us ‘beyond this world … beyond sense experience – to the ultimate Hidden – the idea of God who sustains our days and underpins all that is. may be an ominous sign. 4 . while the author has developed his technical ideas in some of his other works (some of which were referred to above) in this book he has the lay reader in mind. Michelangelo’s Finger. particularly in the context of apparently otherwise normal physical and mental development. has been written in a way which is accessible to non-specialist readers. by the way.’ (p. In fact. and the index finger and the thumb. Michelangelo’s Finger is a rich work full of thoughtful ideas which succeeds in introducing readers to an extended network of inter-related concepts in different intellectual fields and provides them with useful theoretical tools for making better sense of many of the everyday phenomena. 85-6. 3 Raymond Taliss. pp.’ (p.unaided index finger … to point literally to the link between the words and the meanings they have. 139). 54) He rightly emphasises on the role our hands in general. entitled “The Transcendent Animal: Pointing and the Beyond”. Tallis argues that the very act of pointing which is. while containing many interesting and profound ideas. play in developing our cognitive abilities: poor hand-brain coordination hampers proper and holistic cognitive development of the individual. peculiar to human beings and no other animal shares it with us. However. the Creator hidden behind his Creation. In the last chapter of the book. and nonpointinh children may go on to develop features of autism.