"Show Me How You Do That Trick": Reconciling Linguistic Naturalism and Normativism
Auch, Adam Edmund Oscar
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This dissertation is about two attitudes we might have in thinking about language. Linguistic naturalism is an attitude premised on the claim that language is a natural phenomenon, capable of being studied using methods familiar from the natural sciences. Linguistic normativism, on the other hand, is an attitude taking language to be a distinctly social and normative phenomenon that must be investigated by methods distinct from those used in the natural sciences. In this dissertation, I investigate three points at which these attitudes appear to come into conflict: justifying advice about language, determining the metaphysical character of linguistic content, and deciding on a proper methodology for linguistic study. My goal is to show that, contrary to appearances, these attitudes are capable of being reconciled with each other. In the first chapter, I briefly introduce linguistic naturalism and normativism. In Chapter 2, I consider how these attitudes bear on a practical question: What justifies advice about grammar and usage? I begin by considering the two most popular answers to the question, before arguing that neither succeeds in producing a satisfying account of advice. Instead, I argue for a hybrid model that requires adopting normativist and naturalist attitudes at different stages in the advice-giving process. In Chapter 3, I turn my attention to semantics and defend the claim that linguistic meaning is, in some real sense, a normative phenomenon, concluding with an investigation of Robert Brandom’s normativist-pragmatist semantics. In Chapter 4, I examine and critique another approach to meaning—the naturalist, internalist semantics provided by Noam Chomsky and James McGilvray. In Chapter 5, I explore the common methodological assumptions underlying Chomskian and Brandomian approaches to meaning, arguing that a common antipathy to a representationalist order of explanation provides the basis for a reconciliation of our normativist and naturalist attitudes to language. In Chapter 6, I argue that such reconciliation is best pursued if we start from the assumption that all projects of linguistic study involve doing some naturalist and some normativist work. In the final chapter, I briefly consider examples of other phenomena sharing the same natural-normative character as language.