Behavior and Philosophy, Vol. 23 (1995), pp. 42-52

Natural Language and Thought

Point and Counterpoint

Larry Hauser

Barbara Abbott

Michigan State University


Hauser defends the proposition that our languages of thought are public languages. One group of arguments points to the coincidence of clearly productive (novel, unbounded) cognitive competence with overt possession of recursive symbol systems. Another group relies on phenomenological experience. A third group cites practical and methodological considerations: Occam's razor and the "streetlight principle" (other things being equal, look under the lamp) that motivate looking for instantiations of outer languages in thought first.

Abbott replies to each of Hauser's arguments. Examples of productive behavior showing that natural language is not necessary for productive thought include problem solving by chimpanzees, evidence of recursion in the thought of a feral human being (Genie), dreams, and artistic creations. The communication of thoughts should be trivial if the inner language is the outer language, but it is not; the decryption analogy Hauser uses to apply the "streetlight principle" is flawed; and it is not clear which way Occam's razor cuts with Mother Nature. Finally, several arguments from the literature are cited.

Go to: "Doing Without Mentalese" by L. Hauser; "Thinking Without English" by B. Abbott

Back to: Larry Hauser's Homepage; Curriculum Vitae.

Go to: Barbara Abbott's Homepage