- John Campbell's 'Sortals and the Binding Problem' sets out to question the doctrine that singular reference to an object depends upon a knowledge of the sort of object (whether a number or a man) to which one is referring.
- Part of what makes this doctrine plausible is the fact that, as Quine emphasized, our pointing to something remains ambiguous until the sort of thing that we are pointing is made evident. For example, I can point towards the river and variously be taken to refer to the river itself which continues downstream, a temporal part of the river that exists contemporaneouslv with my pointing gesture, the collection of water molecules that occupies the river when I point, and so on. But if I specify the sort of object to which I wish to draw your attention then it becomes determinate what I am pointing to.
- These kinds of consideration have led philosophers to adopt what Campbell calls "The Delineation Thesis': Conscious attention to an object has to be focused by the use of a sortal concept that delineates the boundaries of the object to which you are attending. Campbell argues however that the delineating thesis is false.
- Instead, Campbell proposes, attention to an object arises from the way in which the visual system binds together the information it receives in various processing streams. Roughly speaking, the visual system does so by exploiting the location of an object together with the Gestalt organization of characteristics found at that location. Since this integration may be achieved without the use of a semantic classification of an object as of a certain sort it appears that we can single out an object without the use of a sortal concept.
- Philosophers have nevertheless been misled into supposing the Delineation Thesis because, Campbell maintains, of the typical use that is made of sortal concepts in demonstrative constructions ('that mountain') and our readiness to withdraw these constructions when it transpires that these sortal concepts are misapplied (when, for example, it turns out that our attention is being drawn to what is merely a hill).
- Campbell argues nonetheless that sortal concepts employed in demonstrative construction serve merely to orientate our attention to an object without necessarily contributing to the content of what is said by the use of these constructions.
- The Delineation Thesis
- The Binding Problem
- What Justifies Binding?
- Sortals as Orienting Attention
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