PHL 474 Language and Thought (3 credits)
Rene Descartes held a view called "mind-body dualism," according to which human persons are fundamentally thinking substances that are somehow causally linked to particular physical substances: bodies. One of his reasons for holding this view was that he believed that the human faculty of language could never, even in principle, be adequately explained by any purely physical description of things. Language, as he saw it, is evidence of mind, and indeed he believed that where language is absent, mind is also absent. Creatures without language are, in Descartes’ view, mindless organic automata. Few today would defend Descartes’ view in all details, but the general sense that language is an important "mark of the mental" has not gone away. Instead, it has given rise to a cluster of narrower but interesting and important questions: Are certain kinds of mental states impossible without language? Does the specific language that we speak influence our thoughts in some way? Do our innate tendencies of thought force our languages to take certain forms?