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How does men differ from everything else on earth. The University of Chicago presents the 1966 Britannica lecture series. The difference of man and the difference it makes. Our guest speaker for this series of five lectures about the position of man in the natural world is Mortimer J Adler director of the Institute for philosophical research. Today's lecture the third of the series is titled language and thought a long and varied sequence of philosophers from Plato and Aristotle in antiquity to Kant and Hegel in modern times all hold the view that man differs in kind from other animals with only one of two exceptions. These philosophers also regarded that difference in kind as radical in character as based on an underlying difference in the constitution of man and of other living things. Again with one of two exceptions they recognize that this involved a fundamental discontinuity in nature. In contrast to the pre Darwinian philosophers the philosophers to whom I now
turn and proceed within the general context of evolutionary theory. They are all in varying degrees acquainted with the relevant scientific data. Some of them explicitly comment on it and recent experimental work and criticize the theories advanced to explain the phenomena described for them the question is certainly a mixed one and they can hardly be dismissed as incompetent by reason of ignorance. This group includes William James John doing his que sera of an earlier generation. Jonathan Bennett Peter Gaytan Wilford sellers currently at work Bennett and Gage are Oxford and Cambridge man both influenced by the work of that consign sellers as pressure of loss with the University of Minnesota and with them because of their affinities and view views. I would group MacDonald personally a British neurologist and Lesley white an American sociologist. All these men explicitly assert that men and other animals different kind and most of them because Sarah Bennett Geech sellers Christine White do
sell in the explicit context of discussing or diverting to the distinction between a difference in kind and a difference in degree. This is all explicit all concur. In their description of the two behavioral indices of the difference in kind between men and other animals. One is man's directly observable linguistic behavior totally absent in other animals. The other is man's transcendence of the immediate situation directly observable in the actions of man with regard to objects past or future or non-temporal that do not exist in the perceptual field of the moment. They contrast this with the behavior of all other animals which as most students of animal behavior concede and some notably Shala in Kurla explicitly affirm is confined to the immediate or slightly delayed reactions to stimuli in the present perceptual field. John Dewey says I caught up with the animals and experienced parishes as it happens and each new Doing
our suffering stands alone. Man lives not like the beasts of the field. In a world of purely physical things but in a world of signs and symbols it is this which marks the difference between reality and humanity between culture and merely physical nature. The fact that men can make this is another referring to a point made by Jonathan Bennett an extraordinary little book called rationality. The fact that men can make and make separately universal statements and also dated statements indicates according to Bennett that transcendence of that which is both present and particular. He contrasts this with the pattern of present stimulus and present or slightly delayed response that characterizes the entire repertoire of animal behavior. All these writers then explain the phenomena as described man's linguistic behavior and his behavior with respect to objects not present in his immediate environment by reference to his possession of abilities that cannot be directly observed
but which in their judgment must be inferred in order to explain the behavior in question. They attribute to man and to man alone. The power of conceptual thought. The power that man exercises in the making of judgments and arguments how that man without which man could not deal with things not present to his senses. But while in the view in view of this they concur in asserting an underlying psychological difference in common between men and other animals. They do not all agree that this difference in kind is radical rather than superficial because Sarah and Bennett simply fail to discuss this point in terms of his views on other subjects. William James can be presumed I say presume because that in what might be said presume to favor the position that the difference in kind is radical as do we on the contrary can be similarly presumed to regard this in official and three of these offices cellars Christly and white. Give us explicit
indications that in their view a little man's difference does not involve a basic discontinuity in nature or in phylogenetic develop. On the critical side these writers make two contributions to the contemporary consideration of the mixed question about marriage. First and foremost is that distinction between might what might be called two modes of meaning or significance. This has its roots as well as I do see presently a direct critical impact on the use by the comparative psychologists of the word symbol as if it were you never truly applicable applicable to the words of human language on the one hand and what the psychologists call the non-verbal symbols in animal behavior. On the other both William James and Leslie what I call attention to the fact that only men invent or institute signs by convention.
Whereas the only signs animals respond to or employ are natural elements in their experience or behavior. White and crisply introduce a distinction in signifiers between what they call signs in animal behavior and what they call symbols in human behavior. This distinction is much more clearly expressed by case Syria in terms of I much prefer his. I'm going to adopt his language his terminology in terms of the signals signals that function operative and animal behavior and the symbols that function as designated as describe it as our reference in human behavior. Having pointed out that signs which have an objective reference all meaning are totally absent from animal behavior. Because 0 then goes on to say. I quote symbols in the proper sense of the term cannot be reduced to mere signals signals and symbols belong to
two different universes of this cause a signal is a part of the physical world of being. A symbol is a part of the human world of meaning signals operators symbols are designated us. Let me comment briefly. The words sign and symbol are so variously used in the literature and so misused. But I will in what follows employ other terms to express the critical distinction that is serious here making. I will use just these two words. Signals I take his areas where he signals and the study using that Terrill word symbol that is used in every possible sense. I would use the word designator. I would use signals and designators for the two distinct kinds of signifiers things that signify each with a different mode of meaning or signification that non-verbal symbols signals that non-verbal signals operate of an animal behavior and human behavior as well as a fact beyond question. But there is no
evidence whatsoever of the functioning of designators except in the human linguistic behavior in human behavior. All the designated we find are words or other conventionally instituted signify as icons images. And we do not find any conventionally instituted designators in animal behavior. I will amplify this critical point in the concluding sections of this lecture. The second critical point made by the contemporary philosophers and by such scientists is Christly and white. In addition it is the shock distinction between perceptual and conceptual thought and I cannot. And his eyes enough the importance of understanding and paying attention to this distinction this distinction is implicitly involved in the point already made about man's transcendence of the immediate situation or about present a relatively
short duration precisely because they are incapable of conceptual thought. Animals are limited to perceptions of the moment and their short term residues revert reverberating memory images are also incapable not only of senses Senden sense making that include statements about the past in the future and about relations without any temporal reference at all but they are also incapable of any behavior that is not rooted in the perceptually apprehended present situation. I have used the word thought in quotation marks with measured equivocation to cover both perceptual and conceptual thought in order to express the critical point here being considered. The question is not whether animals can think in the sense of learning from experience. Generalizing discriminating. Solving problems by trial and error or by inside the evidence is both plain and ample that animals can think. In the sense in
which I use the word it is equally plain that in order to do such thinking they need nothing beyond their perceptual attainments and the residues of such attainments. That is why the power of perceptual thought suffices to explain the entire range of animal behavior. The critical question is whether animals can think in the sense of thinking about objects that are not perceptually present as well as about those that are and whether. With regard to such objects they can think about them in a variety of ways. I think that such and such is the case or is not the case. I think that if so and so is the case then such as such is not the case. Among the authors we are here considering William James and his principles of psychology is of course a most astute observer and analyst of the difference between perceptual and conceptual thought. But two of the more recent writings
each and Bennett not only sharpen the distinction but also ably defend it with reference to experiments on animal generalization and problem solving. They clearly point out what is factitious and fallacious in the interpretation of the experimental findings offered by the comparative psychologists. So much for the opinions of the contemporary philosophers which I've just reviewed in order to give you the background of the of the present discussion. Let me now amplify what they say by adding my own criticism of the position of the comparative psychologists. The question is what theoretical constructs are needed to explain the behavior of non linguistic animals. I have to get that question clear. What theoretical constructs are needed.
That means what unobserved entities what unobserved process is a fact is that must be inferred or theoretically constructed I need to explain the behavior of non linguistic animals. I've already pointed out the distinction the importance of the distinction between description and explanation between giving an account of the phenomena observed and making an effort to explain what has been observed by having recourse to theoretical constructs factors or processes that are not observable but which must be positive or inferred for explanatory purposes. One of the most time honored rules of scientific theory of theorizing is Ockham's principle of parsimony with respect to theoretical constructs Ockham's rule is do not posit any theoretical entity any observer unobserved agents properties factors or processes. That is any theoretical entity that is not indispensable
to the explanation of the phenomena observed. The perceptual calendar in that blood Morgan laid down for the study of human animal behavior is simply this very special case of this general scientific principle of parsimony. Don't make up hypotheses constructs infer that these any more than you need what you need you need but beyond that don't make up any adventitious ones are necessary ones to explain the behavior that you have before or the phenomena. As Lloyd Morgan's calendar stated it appears to enjoin comparative psychologists against anthropomorphic interpretations of animal behavior. It says repeated do not posit the operation of a hive. That is a human psychological ability. If animal behavior can be explained in terms of a lower psychological ability one that is common to man and other animals. But when it is seen as a special case of Ockham's principle the injunction lied Mark Morgan ruled that injunction to be stated more
generally as follows in the explanation of the havior animal. All human do not posit any theoretical construct any absurd unobserved factor or process that cannot be shown to be necessary to explain the phenomena. While the comparative psychologists write in falling like Morgan's can in a row they would have been right to follow it if they had correctly understood it. The trouble is that they mis understood the rule. They read the and it is an injunction to find nothing but a difference in degree between the abilities of Man and other animals and to do this what they did was to posit the same unobserved explanatory factors or process in both cases whereas the rule is do not posit higher ones and less than necessary. They forgot the unless. What are the theoretical country constructs needed to explain the behavior of non linguistic animals. What theoretical constructs are needed to explain the behavior of linguistic animals. And those two
questions and compass the whole problem. For example. Some of the comparative psychologists thought that they could explain animal behavior without positing certain ideational factors and so they excluded these factors from the explanation of the behavior that some of them went to the extreme of thinking that they needed no conceptual apparatus at all except the conditioned reflex or stimulus response. Others attributed these same ideational factors to animals because they found the necessary in explaining human behavior. Either way this amounts to begging the question. And whether the difference between human and animal behavior is one of degree or cond with respect to the explanatory factors involved. The rude word Morgan's rule correctly understood and is Morgan himself applied it calls for the following procedure. First separate the description of both animal and human behavior from the intrusion of all explanatory theorizing. Then with respect to animal behavior as described by an employee
no unnecessary theoretical constructs without regard to such their letter are theoretical constructs as may be necessary to explain unity forget about human behavior just look at animal behavior what do you need to explain it. And then in the case of human behavior proceed in the same way. Employ whatever theoretical constructs may be necessary without regard to the way you explain or behavior. Then you will have begged no questions and I followed Lloyd Morgan's rule perfectly. The violation by the comparative psychologists of his rule of sound scientific procedure is further complicated by equivocation in the use of such critical words as concept abstraction and symbol. As time mounted and as basic as Ockham's principle of parsimony with respect to theoretical constructs is is the rule rather is the rule in scientific discourse always to use technical or analytical terms in one sense and one sense only and if that senses departed from in the least respect. So introduce a new or a
modified term for the new or differing sense of the terms mentioned above. The concept abstraction and symbol represent basic theoretical constructs in psychology. They are all unobserved and explanatory fact is all the terms of the same sought percept all perception memory and imagination none of these things can be observed. These terms are require a quite different order from stimulus and response. Both of which represent things directly observable to the scientist who is attempting to describe behavior. You must also be pointed out that the scientists use those terms as stimulus in response descriptively stays on the same level when for explanatory purposes he refers to mediating factors or processes in the central nervous system. What are such things as inhibition and reinforcement. But when he refers to ideational factors as operated between stimulus and response
he moves to another level and mixes to analytical about vocabularies. That should be kept distinct I not not propose to criticize the psychologists use of the term concept and abstraction in dealing with animal behavior. And I will say for the last section of this lecture a criticism of his use of the term symbol. The criticism I'm going to make now will reveal I hope reveal to you his equivocation in the use of these terms that is using it with a differing sense without knowing the difference in sense. If a psychologist were to avoid equivocation if we were to avoid equivocation in the use of these terms concepts and extraction he would then be unable to justify his use of the theoretical constructs constructs which these terms represent. I will show this by examining the experimental findings to be explained and then analyzing the explanation of them given by most comparative psychologists.
I say most because there is one exception. That was a book by Mary Naylor called Principles of animal psychology published as long ago as nine thousand thirty five. There are no exceptions of recent date. One of the experimental findings in a call for an explanation which the comparative psychologists think require as a concept and abstraction as theoretical constructs. The first group of findings are those derived from delayed reaction and Dettori experiments. The descriptive findings can be summarized as follows. The animal prevented from reacting immediately to a present stimulus. Subsequently reacts in the absence of a stimulus in a way that it would have reacted to the stimulus at the time it was present had not been prevented from doing so. The interval of the delayed reaction the interval of the delayed reaction varies from extremely short intervals measured in seconds to a day or two at the most. In a few exceptional
cases. Can the behavior you describe be explained without the use of any psychological constructs whatsoever in certain passages though not throughout the writings have hall. And I was good and others say that to explain such behavior it is necessary to posit only mediating factors or processes in the central nervous system. What hed what hed as a head calls Norrell. All you moral sense these mediating factors involving more than merely connected action on the part of the central nervous system. Explain the action of the effect on others at a time later than the activation of the receptors can be a bit on the observed periphery of the animal's behavior. As indicated above the psychologist mentioned and many others especially those like hunter who first devised the delayed reaction experiment are not content with this level of explanation. They want to give a psychological as well as a
neurological explanation of the behavior. To do this they think it is necessary to introduce on the psychological plane something they call These are their words a representative are ideational factor as the psychological counterpart of the mediating factor in the central nervous system wall. Because in the absence of the original stimulus they should say in psychological terms with the sister they should say with the sation of perception on the animals part of some psychological effect of taking the place of the perception must be operative to explain what the animal does after the elapse of a relatively short time ago. They call this fact representative because it takes the place of it operates in place of the perception that is no longer operating but is it necessary to regard this represented a factor as an idea or a concept. Only if ideas are concepts which
may be represented the fact is in certain types of human behavior are the only representative factors that can be appealed to for explanatory purposes. But as men point out this is simply not the case. Memory images either an immediate reverberating memory or in recall after long intervals suffice to explain the describe behavior. No other theoretical constructs are needed except perhaps that of an emotional or appetitive drive that activates the memory. In the case of the delayed reaction after an interval longer than seconds since in the explanation of human behavior memory images are perceptual residues and concepts are not. It is a violation of law don't like Morgans rule to use concepts as distinct from perceptual rep residues when they are not necessary for the explanation of behavior described. The second group of findings are those derived from experiments on equivalent and non equivalent stimuli. I'm generalization and transfer an animal maze
learning learning cues discriminating and solving multiple choice problems. The descriptive findings can be summarized as follows. The animal who by learning or otherwise reacts to a particular stimulus in a particular way transfers that same reaction to other stimuli which are not the same that is not identical but only similar in certain respects. The amount of variation in the second a thick effect of stimulus measures the degree of similarity required for the different stimulate to function as equivalent. Can this behavior as described be explained without the use of any psychological constructs whatsoever. Thank question yes. Like the late reaction it can be explained in neurological terms that at least is the claim of McMullen pets to great neurologists and computer technologies. It is also the claim of those who have built machines all through the computer where built machines that simulate the action of the central nervous system
in the perception of shapes and in pattern recognition. Unfortunately it must also be part of the house that these same neurologists and computer technologists are not content to stay on that level of explanation and insist upon introducing such terms as abstraction on knowing universals into the treatment of the phenomena. The title of a purely neurological essay by McAllen pets is I quote how we know universals. But notice that the that's the title The subtitle is the perception of auditory and visual phone. I could write a book on that title and subtitle. The pair are joined again. The neurologist a computer technologist by comparative psychology is again with the exception of Meg and Nayla who not only make these experimental findings the basis for attributing abstraction to animals but also think they have evidence here for concept formation
on the part of animals. They fail to prove their contention for two reasons. First they use the word abstraction equivocally failing to take note of the two distinct senses in which that word can be used in the field of perception. Abstraction occurs by selecting part of the sensory presentation and giving that selected pock are aspect of the sensory field or total stimulus operate of dominance to the neglect of other parts or aspects of the sensory field. Let us call this result a perceptual abstraction and note that it is. It is operated only with respect to a sensory presentation that is operated at the same time. If there are memory residues of perceptual abstractions these should be call non-monic or imaginative abstractions for the generalized memory image is nothing but a residue of the generalized perception reviving a selected aspect of the original sensory presentation. In
contrast conceptual abstractions However they a full hour operate in a pot from as well as in relation to selected aspects of the sensory field for example. Such conceptual abstractions as justice or danger on the one hand and chromatic color or body on the other of this difference by itself and there are many many other differences requires us to qualify the word abstraction by two prefixes conceptual and perceptual in order to avoid using it equivocally when we say perceptual abstraction and conceptual abstraction we should know we are talking about abstraction in the same sense. Second from the proposition that animals are abstract and they do abstract. The psychologist then attempt to infer the conclusion that animals form concepts. The assertion that animals have Stracke is not itself an accurate if it is understood to a certain more than this that what animals perceive in sensory
presentations is usually a selected part or aspect of the total presentation. I mean all in all levels fairly low in the mammalian order. Animals can react to triangular shapes differing in size differing in color they react to triangular aren't like that experiment over and over again. They have I think they have a perceptual abstraction of what is triangular shape. That doesn't mean they have the concept I'm going to try to show you what a triangle is. In other words perceptual abstraction in the precise sense indicated is a justifiable theoretical construct to explain psychologically the experimental findings the perceptual abstraction can Furthermore be interpreted interpreted as a generalized apprehension in the sense that it apprehends a number of non identical individual perceptible objects as alike in one or more respects. In contrast the perception of an object is this unique individual is an individualized apprehension and we know as a matter of common experience for which no experimental
observations are necessary. That animal behavior is much more frequently set off by generalized than by individualized apprehension.
Mortimer Adler lectures
Language and thought, part 1
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University of Chicago
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program presents the first part of Mortimer Adler's lecture, "Language and Thought."
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Series of five lectures by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler, Director of the Institute for Philosophic Research in Chicago. Title of lecture series: "The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes."
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Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Julin, Joseph R.
Writer: Adler, Mortimer Jerome, 1902-2001.
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-33-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 00:29:30
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Chicago: “Mortimer Adler lectures; Language and thought, part 1,” 1966-08-16, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 20, 2024,
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