The Difference between Language and Perception

Contents of Sentences

The content of a typical representation (a sentence, an utterance, a picture) is easily distinguished from the vehicle. It is not what does the representation — it’s not the painting, the written word, the shout — it is what is being represented — what’s depicted, what’s referred to by the word, what the shouting is about.

The content here is the situation — the state of affairs, the event — which is a tiger eating my arm.

As such, for statement, for a typical sentence in English, for example, content and vehicle are very different:

— The vehicle of ‘a tiger is eating my arm’ may be in black ink, english, on a computer screen, refers to something,

— But the content of ‘a tiger is eating my arm’ is not made of black ink, is not ‘in english’, on a computer screen, or referring to something. NO — the tiger’s eating of my arm has loads of other properties: it is terrifying (for me); relaxing (for the tiger); it is constituted by a tiger and my arm, and gore.

Rashbrook writes of this:

The familiar lesson about the nature of representation we can call the‘Representation Principle’, formulated as follows:

The Representation Principle: A representation of X need not itself be X.

The Representation Principle is true of non-experiential means of representation— it is true, for instance, of written representation (the sentence ‘my desk is brown’ need not itself be either a desk or brown).

(Rashbrook 2013, p. 585)


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