Alien Structure: Language and Reality
Project Abstract and Description
What sorts of languages can there be? More specifically, what sorts of semantic differences can there be between languages? Can there be alien languages – languages whose expressions have semantic functions radically different from the semantic functions of expressions of familiar languages?
We can ask corresponding questions in metaphysics. Might some such unfamiliar language better represent reality than familiar languages do? Might reality have alien structure, better captured by an alien kind of language? It is a well-known assumption in contemporary metaphysics that languages can differ in how well they represent reality. Metaphysicians debate what the language of the book of the world is, to use a common phrase. But the debate proceeds against the background assumption that the language of the book of the world uses resources found in familiar languages. If languages can be semantically alien, other possibilities open up.
The aim of the project is to show that there can be alien languages and that they can describe some aspects of reality better than familiar languages do. The questions mentioned are natural to raise, and deep. But perhaps surprisingly, they have not received systematic attention in the philosophical literature.
About the Project