The routes of sense : thought, semantic underdeterminacy and compositionality
MetadataShow full item record
Altmetrics Handle Statistics
What does it mean to be a rational language user? What is it to obey linguistic rules? What is the proper account of linguistic competence? A Fregean answer to these questions would make essential appeal to the notion of sense: we are masters of a language to the extent that we are able to recognise the cognitive value of its expressions; we are rational judges regarding truth-value assignments to the extent that we are sensitive to the ways in which the sense of an expression guides us in the semantic evaluation process; and as for obeying rules, it is our ability to respond to how sense directs us, for a particular assertion of a sentence, towards the determination of its truth-value that best exemplifies what it is like to follow a linguistic rule. My thesis explores a cluster of closely interrelated issues arising from these questions (whether or not considered from a Fregean perspective). Accordingly, in tracing the routes of sense my dissertation places itself at the intersection of the philosophy of language, linguistics, philosophy of logic, and meta-ethics—and indeed, I end up agreeing with Allan Gibbard that the theory of meaning really belongs to meta-ethical reflection. Chapter 1 introduces some of the main research questions that I try to address in the rest of the thesis. In chapter 2 I state a number of theses which I take to be the defining ones for semanticism. I show that they form a class of jointly incompatible commitments. I choose nonsense as a problem case for compositionality and I argue that it forces the semanticist to abandon either the learnability or the compositionality constraint. The escape route I adopt, going radically minimalist about content, is incompatible with another key semanticist thesis, namely, that grasp of meaning is grasp of truth-conditions (robustly conceived). In chapter 3, I consider the account of atomic meanings given by both the semanticist and the pragmaticist and I conclude that on neither account does interpretation come out as a process of rational choice between candidate bearers of content. Again, I suggest the lesson from indeterminacy is that we ought to embrace an ineradicably minimal conception of content. In chapter 4 I turn my attention to the meaning of the logical constants and I argue that indeterminacy worries extend to the very heart of the compositional machinery. Chapter 5 examines the view that logic is the science of reasoning. Unsurprisingly, I conclude that a defence of this claim requires endorsing content-minimalism. In chapter 6 I conclude my dissertation by sketching a radical view of content minimalism and I try to show how it can solve the puzzles I had been considering over the course of the previous chapters.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Items in the St Andrews Research Repository are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.