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June 25 , 2008

Language and Perception: Essays in the Philosophy of Language

Second Edition


[Frank Ebersole is a philosopher] “whose contribution to philosophy . . . is the greatest of anyone this [the 20th] century, especially in the areas of philosophy of language, theory of knowledge, and perception.”—from Wittgenstein, Empiricism, and Language by John W. Cook (Oxford University Press, 1999).

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Language and Perception has nine chapters: seven that address philosophical problems about language and two (chapters 2 and 9) that are more metaphilosophical The metaphilosophical chapters discuss philosophical pictures and some of Frank Ebersole’s basic ideas about philosophy. The other seven essays let you participate in his unique struggles to come to terms with such questions as:

  • What is the meaning of a word?

  • Isn’t Wittgenstein’s idea that things called by the same name have family resemblances significantly flawed?

  • Does language determine what we perceive?

  • Does a thing’s being red cause it to look red (the causal theory of perception)?

  • Must the action of speaking be analyzed into simpler actions such as making sounds? Can a bodily movement be part of an action?

  • Is fatalism implied by "what one might say" about the future?

  • Are "natural-kind" words like proper names?—are they rigid designators?

This and its companion volume, Meaning and Saying, are not just other philosophy books about the philosophy of language. In both books Ebersole, by carefully using examples, convincingly shows that the problems are the products of philosophical pictures. The examples also make the pictures less compelling.

How the Second Edition Differs from the First Edition

This edition differs from the first edition (University Press of America, 1979) in several ways.

  • Pictures: Material that was formerly part of a postscript to chapter 1 has been revised and is now its own chapter, chapter 2, "Pictures and Wittgenstein on Pictures." As a result the following chapters were renumbered.

  • Essay removed: Chapter 7 in the first edition, "Truth and Fate: Future Actions," has been removed.

  • Essay added: A new essay, entitled "Proper Names and Other Names," has been added to the volume. It’s a revised version of an essay originally published in Philosophical Investigations, Oct., 1982, with the title "Stalking the Rigid Designator."

  • Postscript: Material that was formerly part of the preface is now revised and placed as chapter 9 at the end, entitled "Postscript."

  • Improved text: Throughout the book, Ebersole has made corrections, stylistic improvements, and changed the wording to remove ambiguities.


The book is concerned with questions about the "relations of language to reality": Does physical reality predetermine the form of our language? Does it determine the kinds of words in our simple, basic vocabulary? Does our language in basic ways determine the way we perceive reality? Does our language embody the outlines of a certain theory of perception? And does it incorporate a certain view of human actions and of the future?

These questions are expressions of the problems in the philosophy of language that people inevitably get themselves into while dealing with other philosophical problems. And these are problems in the philosophy of language that have direct consequences for the way one deals with problems in other branches of philosophy. At

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