Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

The issue of whether we can auditorily perceive meanings (or semantic properties) expressed in a language we understand has been approached through arguments based either on theoretical reasoning or the discussion of psychological effects. I am skeptical about the use of either type of argument. In this paper, I will first explain the limitations of the standard theoretical argument: the phenomenal contrast method. As for psychological phenomena, I will discuss semantic satiation and the Stroop effect. I will summarize why semantic satiation has already been dismissed and, based on said reasoning, will evaluate the Stroop effect, recently brought up in favor of the perceivability of semantic properties. I will show that, just as the experience of semantic satiation does not exhibit the features required by perceptual experience to be characterized as such, the experience of the Stroop effect also lacks these features. Therefore, neither should be used to show that we can perceive meanings. As a consequence, we have not yet produced either a sound theoretical argument or any useful discussion of such psychological phenomena to account for the audibility of the semantic properties of a language we understand.

Questions on the nature of speech sound and how to characterize the content of perceptual experience have been recently linked by philosophers discussing whether the understanding of spoken language is a perceptual experience. The debate centers on whether the experience of hearing a sentence in a known language is perceptual, just like hearing paradigmatic, audible properties, such as pitch or loudness, is perceptual. If this is the case, the properties of which we are auditorily aware are most probably semantic properties, i.e. properties that express linguistic understanding (Peacocke 1992; Strawson 1994/2010; McDowell 1998a, 1998b; Siegel 2006). If this is not the case, then the properties of which we are perceptually aware are located at a lower-level than semantic properties, such as morphosyntactic properties (Voltolini 2020), phonological properties (O’Callaghan 2011) or even the audible properties of…


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