Friday, July 27, 2007

Cognitive Versus Non-Cognitive Approaches

“When we assert what we take to be a fact (or deny what is alleged to be a fact), we are using language cognitively. ‘The population of China is one billion,’ ‘This is a hot summer,’ ‘Two plus two make four,’ ‘He is not here’ are cognitive utterances. Indeed, we can define a cognitive (or informative or indicative) sentence as one that is either true or false.”

Thus the statement that the god Ganesha in Hinduism is depicted with an elephant’s trunk represents an example of the cognitive use of language. “There are, however, other types of utterances which are neither true nor false because they fulfill a different function from that of endeavoring to describe facts.” When it is proposed that the trunk of Ganesha connotes a limp phallus, this statement cannot be said to be true or false in the sense of his possessing a trunk but should we ask whether such a claim is cognitive or non-cognitive, the “query at once divides into two:

(1) Are such sentences intended by their users to be construed cognitively?
(2) Is their logical character such that they can, in fact, regardless of intention, be either true or false.”

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