Individualism Philosophy of Language Language Term Paper

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According to Burge, if Bert would speak of arthritis in the thigh he would, in this case, express a true belief, because the term itself would be used in his society to express inflammations in the thigh and in the joints.

The social interpretation described by Burge is meant to explain terms that have a certain perception in a certain society. We would be inclined to believe that a tribal organization in Africa may refer to arthritis as a disease describing pains in the chest and that the term would have this connotation in that respective society. A member of that society would refer to his chest pains as arthritis and would express a true belief, according to the social theory.

On the other hand, it seems legitimate to ask ourselves whether the social and societal explanation may turn away from an absolute truth, in the sense of an absolute definition of a term.

In my opinion, the individualists have attempted to solve this problem by introducing the individual (or rather the individual perception) rather than the society as the center element around which the definition of a term revolves.

The different forms of individualism, among them ascriptional individualism and methodological individualism refer to the meanings of one's terms as being, in both cases, independent of how other members of society use the term. The second form of individualism refers to building the meaning of a term on the facts about one's self. In this sense, the individual perception becomes the key analysis variable by which a term is defined.

Upon referring to the meanings of a term from a social and from and individual point-of-view, it is important to decide how these two interpretational hypostases concur to generally produce the meaning of a certain term.

It is not different to discern between different situations. For example, some meanings, definitions or norms are defined by institutions and can bear no individual interpretation. The term property is referred to as property, no matter whether from a legal or economical perspective. If I refer to property as ytreporp, the legal or economical value of the term will be lost. Certainly, in this case I will still retail the individual value of the term, as it will still mean property from my point-of-view, but it will lose its social impact.

Nevertheless, in many other cases, the way that the individual describes a term will have intrinsic relevance in the meaning of a word. The example with Bert and his arthritis problems are excellent in showing how methodological individualism can be used just as well as Burge's social explanations in this given case.

No matter how much we may try to show that the individualistic and the social perspective may have a common denominator, it is less likely that this is so. In Bert's case as well, as an individual and an individualistic conception, he may choose to disregard the social use of the term arthritis and to continue to refer to his thigh inflammation using the same term. This will not necessarily mean that the term will be either correct or true, but it will still mean a true belief from Bert's part: from an individualistic perception, Bert will still believe that he has arthritis in his thigh.

The relevancy of the fact that Bert is describing and discussing his thigh inflammation with a doctor is quite relevant in this context, because the doctor, as a specialist, gives weight to the social use of the term. It is similar to the case of the economist using the term property: Bert himself recognizes the doctor as an authority on the matter and may be inclined to associate the description of his physical suffering with the term the doctor provides for him.


1. Burge. Individualism and the Mental. Page 77. From Jackman, Henry. Individualism and Interpretation. Southwest Philosophy Review, vol. 14, no.1, Jan. 1998

2. On Fodor & LePore & Hale & Keyser. On the Internet at

On Fodor & LePore & Hale & Keyser. On the Internet at

Burge. Individualism and the Mental. Page 77. From Jackman, Henry. Individualism and Interpretation. Southwest Philosophy Review, vol. 14, no.1, Jan. 1998[continue]

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