Croatian Journal of Philosophy

Volume 6, Issue 3, 2006

Philosophy of Linguistics

Georges Rey
Pages 549-569

Conventions, Intuitions and Linguistic Inexistents
A Reply to Devitt

Elsewhere I have argued that standard theories of linguistic competence are committed to taking seriously talk of “representations of” standard linguistic entities (“SLEs”), such as NPs, VPs, morphemes, phonemes, syntactic and phonetic features. However, it is very doubtful there are tokens of these “things” in space and time. Moreover, even if were, their existence would be completely inessential to the needs of either communication or serious linguistic theory. Their existence is an illusion: an extremely stable perceptual state we regularly enter as a result of being stimulated by the wave forms we regularly produce when we execute our intentions to utter such tokens (a view I call “Folieism”). In his Ignorance of Language, Michael Devitt objects to this view, arguing that, “On Rey’s view, communication seems to rest on miraculous guesses.” I argue here that my view is not prey to his objections, and actually affords a scientifically more plausible view than his “empiricist” alternative. Specifically, I reply to his objections that my view couldn’t explain the conventionality of language and success of communication (§2.1), that I am faced with intractable difficulties surrounding the identity of intentional inexistents (§2.2), and that, contrary to my view, SLEs can be relationally defined (§2.3). Not only can Folieism survive Devitt’s objections, but (§3) it also provides a more satisfactory account of the role of linguistic intuitions than the “empirical” account on which he insists.