Symposium in honor of the publication of P. Seuren’s last book

13 October 2023 14:00 - 17:00
Max Planck Institute
Auditorium 163
book cover
Pieter A.M. Seuren (1934-2021) was a Dutch linguist. He was Emeritus Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy of Language at the Radboud University, Nijmegen, and Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. He laid down his formal, ecologically and historically motivated linguistics in many published articles and in a wide-ranging series of 15 books, among them Operators and Nucleus (1969), Discourse Semantics (1985), Semantic Syntax (1996), his historical monograph Western Linguistics (1998), his Foundational, two-volume Language from Within (2009), From Whorf to Montague (2013) and Saussure and Sechehaye: Myth and Genius (2018).


Summary of the book

This book argues that positivism, though now the dominant paradigm for both the natural and the human sciences, is intrinsically unfit for the latter. In particular, it is unfit for linguistics and cognitive science, where it is ultimately self-destructive, since it fails to account for causality, while the mind, the primary object of research of the human sciences, cannot be understood unless considered to be an autonomous causal force.

Author Peter Albertus Maria Seuren, who died shortly after this manuscript was finished and after a remarkable career, reviews the history of this issue since the seventeenth century. He focuses on Descartes, Leibnitz, British Empiricism and Kant, arguing that neither cognition nor language can be adequately accounted for unless the mind is given its full due. This implies that a distinction must be made - following Alexius Meinong, but against Russel and Quine - between actual and virtual reality. The latter is a product of the causally active mind and a necessary ingredient for the setting up of mental models, without which neither cognition nor language can function. Mental models are coherent sets of propositions and can be wholly or partially true or false. Positivism rules out mental models, blocking any serious semantics and thereby reducing both language and cognition to caricatures of themselves. Seuren presents a causal theory of meaning, linking up language with cognition and solving the old question of what meaning actually amounts to.

Key features

  • Provides a fundamental reassessment of the methodology of the humanities
  • Makes a distinctive contribution to the conceptual foundation of linguistics and philosophy of mind
  • Explores the philosophical and historical origins of central developments in the human sciences in the past 100 years
  • Offers a new approach to ontology and epistemology in the scientific study of the creative human mind and its products


Symposium Program 

Peter Hagoort - Welcome

Camiel Hamans - Pieter’s last struggle

Pim Levelt - Pieter’s quodlibet

Luis Miguel Rojas Berscia - The Seuren turn in linguistics: on the Heraclitus’ problem and Predicate Raising


Geoffrey Pullum - The genius of Pieter Seuren and the subject matter of linguistics

Ad Foolen - Pieter’s skepticism about cognitive linguistics

Johan Siebers - Pieter Seuren on what there Is.

Peter Hagoort - Kant and Helmholtz in cognitive science: Pieter’s pessimism

Brigitte Bauer & Dany Jaspers - Discussants

Drinks and pictures with Pieter’s family

No registration required.


michaela.regeer [at] (michaela[dot]regeer[at]mpi[dot]nl) 

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