Methodological Pluralism, C’est What?

METAPHYSICAL PLURALISM about linguistics says that its object of study is a metaphysical hybrid. In contrast to its exclusionary siblings, Pluralism regarding ontology holds that languages have physical, psychical, abstract and social/normative facets. In that regard, languages are like many objects of ordinary experience: hijabs, craft brews, the song ‘Single Ladies’. METHODOLOGICAL PLURALISM is also to be contrasted with its exclusionary brethren. Roughly, the Physicalist about methodology restricts the linguist to observations that can be made by a “field linguist”. (See Bloomfield and Quine.) One could see a Social-Norms theorist making the same move, but taking the data to be norm-laden speech acts rather than bodily motions. The Platonist allows only intuitions of native speakers about “linguistic properties and relations”: e.g., grammaticality, ambiguity, analyticity. (See Katz and Scott Soames.) Interestingly, these folks are methodologically exclusionary precisely because they are ontologically exclusionary: they suppose that the kind of thing natural languages are somehow fixes how one should find out about them. I, along with folks like Louise Antony and Jerry Fodor, say that it doesn’t matter what ontology one endorses: regardless, when it comes to investigative tools, let those proverbial thousand flowers bloom.

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3 responses

  1. Some scholarly sources on Exclusionary Methodologies:
    PHYSICALISM:
    – Bloomfield, Leonard (1930). “Language or Ideas?” Language 12(2): 89-95. Reprinted in J.J. Katz (ed.)(1985). The Philosophy of Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 19-25.
    – Quine, W.V.O. (1987). “Indeterminacy of Translation Again”. Journal of Philosophy 84(1): 5-10.
    PLATONISM:
    – Katz, Jerry (1981). Language and Other Abstract Objects. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, Chs. 3, 5 and 6.
    – Soames, Scott (1984). “Linguistics and Psychology”. Linguistics and Philosophy 7: 155-179.

  2. Some sources on Methodological Pluralism:
    – Fodor, Jerry (1981). “Some Notes on What Linguistics Is About”. In N. Block (ed.) Readings in Philosophy of Psychology, Volume 2. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 197-207. Reprinted in J.J. Katz (ed.)(1985). The Philosophy of Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 146-160.
    – Antony, Louise (2003). “Rabbit-Pots and Supernovas: On the Relevance of Psychological Data to Linguistic Theory”. In A. Barber (ed.) Epistemology of Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 47-68.

  3. I’m reminded of Fodor’s remark, in the opening pages of Concepts, that “when philosophers take a strong line on a methodological issue there’s almost sure to be a metaphysical context.”

    Myself, I just don’t understand Platonism, or how it helps; if there are such things as abstract objects, they outstrip what is specifically linguistic, and a theory of such objects could scarcely be a theory of language.

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