Lorraine Juliano Keller: Polysemy, Analogy, and Ineffability

Tuesday, November 28, 2023 - 11:30am
Philosphy Seminar Series Contemporary linguists have been impressed by the pervasiveness of polysemy, the sort of lexical ambiguity that goes beyond mere homonymy, whereby the distinct meanings of words are related. For example, instances of ‘bark’ in ‘dogs bark’ and ‘tree bark’ are mere homonyms, while ‘paper’ in ‘Put the paper in the trash’ and ‘She works for the paper’ are polysemes, since their meanings are related. Thomas Aquinas, in answering the question of whether names can be predicated univocally of God and creatures, appeals to linguistic analogy to avoid the twin horns of univocity and equivocity, where linguistic analogy is a sort of mean between univocity (sameness of meaning) and equivocity (mere homonymy). Though Aquinas bases his view of analogy on Aristotle’s pros hen equivocation, scholars point out that he does not have a developed theory of linguistic analogy. However, it is fascinating and potentially fruitful to note the similarities between Aquinas’ view of analogy and accounts of polysemy in contemporary linguistics. Some interesting questions arise: is linguistic analogy just polysemy by another name, or is it a significant sub-type of polysemy? If polysemy is indeed pervasive, what sort of implications would that have for its use in a theory of divine predications—e.g., would the resulting account preserve divine ineffability? In this talk, Prof. Keller explores the connections between Aquinas’ use of linguistic analogy in his explanation of divine predication and contemporary linguistic accounts of polysemy and draws out the implications for the doctrine of divine ineffability. About: Lorraine Juliano Keller has been teaching philosophy at Saint Joseph’s University since 2018. Before that, she taught as an adjunct at Niagara University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame in 2012, with a dissertation that critically examines the arguments for structured propositions. Lorraine has published on the nature of propositions, semantic nonsense, the theistic argument from intentionality, and divine ineffability. More recently, she has been working on John Henry Newman’s distinction between real and notional assent, semantic anti-realism, and theological language.

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