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The Historicity of Emotions

[RG #72] The Historicity of Emotions

February - August 1998


Michael Heyd (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Yosef Kaplan (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Can emotions be historicized? Are they universal and biologically determined or socially determined, culturally dependent and varying through history? What is the role of emotions and their changing character in the course of history? Is there a history of emotions just as there is a history of ideas, of manners, of political institutions or social movements? More specifically, to what extent can love, fear or hate be historicized? Do they change through history, and if so, in what senses? Is it in the objects they relate to? (Fear of what? Hate – towards whom?) In the means and legitimacy of expressing them? In the ways they are institutionalized (families, churches, political parties)? Can emotions themselves be separated from these social and cultural means of expressing and legitimizing them?

Though some historians have posed these questions earlier, it is only recently, in the 1970s and especially since the early 1980s, that historians have begun to address these questions directly. Interestingly enough, the early 1980s were also the time when psychologists, especially social psychologists, became increasingly aware not only of the issues of affects and emotions in general, but of their historical dimension, namely their possibly changing nature, as well.

Our group will try to deal with some of these questions, focusing mostly on the late medieval and early modern period, both in Christian Europe and in Jewish communities in Europe at that time. The comparison between Jewish and Christian societies will add an important dimension to the research.


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[RG #69] Semantics

August 1997 - February 1998


Edit Doron (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Fred Landman (Tel Aviv University)

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Semantics, the study of semantic competence, is that part of linguistic theory that deals with the interpretation of natural language expressions. Semantics is a theory of the faculty of native speakers to interpret their language.

Semantic competence is a highly structured system, and research in semantics over the last twenty years has made progress in trying to uncover this structure and its general principles. The foundational principles of semantic theory, first formulated a century ago by the German mathematician and philosopher of language Frege, are aboutness and compositionality. Aboutness means that semantics studies the relations between linguistics expressions and the world as structured by our cognitive system, and, as part of this, the context of use for each expression. Compositionality means that the semantic interpretation of a complex expression – for example, a sentence – is determined by interpretation of its parts and by the operations that put those parts together. While semantics is popularly thought of as the study of the meanings of words, in fact semantic theory mostly focuses on the semantic operations that combine words into sentences and sentences into discourse.

In the last fifteen years, five areas of research have been exceptionally prominent. First, with the advent of the theory of discourse representation (initiated by Hans Kamp and Irene Heim), much work has been done on quantificational and anaphoric phenomena beyond the sentence level. Simultaneously, Mats Rooth initiated the systematic study of the semantic effects of the discourse notion of focus, and Martin Stokhof and Jeroen Groenendijk developed the study of the semantics of questions. Second, the theory of generalized quantifiers (initiated by Jon Barwise, Robin Cooper and Edward Keenan) has uncovered a wealth of systematic constraints in the determiner system of natural language. Third, the theory of singular and plural individuals (initiated by Godehard Link) has considerably deepened our understanding of the semantics of plurality, in particular with respect to distributive, collective and cumulative interpretations of noun phrases. The theory of kinds developed by Gregory Carlson has contributed to the understanding of the semantics of mass terms and other kind-denoting expressions. Fourth, the theory of events (originating in the work of Donald Davidson in the sixties) has simulated research on a variety of topics, in particular in the study of aspect, such as the semantics of the progressive and perfective. Fifth, theory of Logical Form, initiated by the work of Noam Chomsky, has contributed to research on the syntax-semantics interface.

Most importantly, these areas do not develop in isolation from each other: cross-fertilization between them has been, and continues to be highly successful and promising. Our group will concentrate precisely on the areas of cross-fertilization.


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