Mind, Code and Context
Essays in Pragmatics
By T. Givon
Psychology Press – 1989 – 472 pages
Scholars concerned with the phenomenon of mind have searched through history for a principled yet non-reductionist approach to the study of knowledge, communication, and behavior. Pragmatics has been a recurrent theme in Western epistemology, tracing itself back from pre-Socratic dialectics and Aristotle's bio- functionalism, all the way to Wittgenstein's content-dependent semantics.
This book's treatment of pragmatics as an analytic method focuses on the central role of context in determining the perception, organization, and communication of experience. As a bioadaptive strategy, pragmatics straddles the middle ground between absolute categories and the non-discrete gradation of experience, reflecting closely the organism's own evolutionary compromises. In parallel, pragmatic reasoning can be shown to play a pivotal role in the process of empirical science, through the selection of relevant facts, the abduction of likely hypotheses, and the construction of non-trivial explanations.
In this volume, Professor Givon offers pragmatics as both an analytic method and a strategic intellectual framework. He points out its relevance to our understanding of traditional problems in philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, cognitive psychology, neuro-biology, and evolution. Finally, the application of pragmatics to the study of the mind and behavior constitutes an implicit challenge to the current tenets of artificial intelligence.
"…provides a ready and much-needed antidote to an excessive concern with modular linguistic systems and to the promissory notes of the computational approach….an important book. Givon will force many to think anew about contextual effects in language and in other forms of communication. He may even prove to be as potent a force as Chomsky has been."
"…presents the most explicit statement to date of the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of his approach."
"….it makes an entertaining read….provides an extra dimension to Givon's work which is interesting to readers who are already to some extent 'in the know' about Givon's work of the past two decades."
—Language in Society
Contents: Introduction. Categories and Prototypes: Between Plato and Wittgenstein. The Linguistic Code and the Iconicity of Grammar. Propositional Modalities: Truth, Certainty, Intent and Information. The Pragmatics of Reference: Existence, Referential Intent and Thematic Import. The Pragmatics of Anaphoric Reference: Definiteness and Topicality. Fact, Logic and Method: The Pragmatics of Science. Adaptive Behavior, Group Variability and the Genetic Code: The Pragmatics of Bio-Evolution. Modes of Knowledge and Modes of Processing: The Routinization of Behavior and Information. Language, Culture, and Translation. The Mystic as Pragmatist: Lao Tse and Taoism.