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Meaning

Putnam and Wikforss


Philosophy of Language January 22, 2014

Questions
How do words/sentences have meaning? How do our utterances have meaning? Do our thoughts/intentions determine what our words mean? Does our environment determine what our words mean?

Two Kinds of Theory


1. Foundational Semantic Theory: How do words/utterances have meaning? What determines the meaning of p?

Two Kinds of Theory


1. Foundational Semantic Theory: How do words/utterances have meaning? What determines the meaning of p? 2. Descriptive Semantics: About the semantic values of terms. E.g., What does water mean?

Foundational Semantics
Were focusing, for now, on foundational semantics. We want to figure out how it is that words, sentences and utterances have meaning.

Later well look at different descriptive semantic theories.

Recap
We saw that Grice argued that our utterances have meanings given speaker intentions. This is a Foundational Semantic Theory.

It is psychological and Internalist.


In contrast, well look at an Externalist theory of meaning today.

Externalism

Meanings just aint in the head Putnam

Two Traditional Assumptions


1. Knowing the meaning of a term is just being in a psychological state. 2. The meaning of a term determines its extension. That is to say, sameness of meaning entails sameness of extension.

Two Traditional Assumptions


1. Knowing the meaning of a term is just being in a psychological state. 2. The meaning of a term determines its extension. That is to say, sameness of meaning entails sameness of extension. Putnam argues that we should reject 1. He argues for this through the Twin Earth thought experiment

Earth and Twin Earth

Earth H2O

Twin Earth XYZ

Earth and Twin Earth


Oscar Twin Oscar

Theyre psychological duplicates! Both would say water is wet and water is colorless

Earth and Twin Earth


On Earth water means H2O On Twin Earth water means XYZ Earthian Oscar is thinking about water and talking about water. Twin Earthian Oscar is thinking about twin water and talking about twin water.

Earth and Twin Earth


Water is identical to H2O. This is a claim Kripke argued was metaphysically necessary. It is impossible for there to be something that is water, but that is not H2O. Of course, something could be called water and not be H2O. Justin Bieber might call some cocktail water. That doesnt mean it really is water.

Earth and Twin Earth


Oscar and Twin Oscar are supposed to be like that. Oscar uses water mean and to pick out water. Twin Oscar uses water to mean and to pick out twin water. These are different words like bank and bank are different words. Or, fluke and fluke

Earth and Twin Earth


Recall the two assumptions from before: 1. Knowing the meaning of a term is just being in a psychological state.

2. The meaning of a term determines its extension. That is to say, sameness of meaning entails sameness of extension.

Earth and Twin Earth


Oscar and Twin Oscar are in identical psychological states. Thats part of the set up of the case. So, if knowing the meaning of something is just being in a psychological state (1), they know the same meanings. That is, their thoughts/utterances have the same meanings. And, if meaning determines extension, then their thoughts/utterances are about the same thing

Earth and Twin Earth


But, theyre not! Oscars are about water (i.e., H2O) Twin Oscars are about twin water (i.e., XYZ) So either assumption 1 or 2 has to go. Putnam thinks 2 is better motivated. So, meanings just aint in the head. Instead, external things matter (environment, social connections)

Bringing it down to Earth


Putnam cannot tell Beeches and Elms apart. He thinks of both as deciduous trees that grow in North America. And just doesnt have more information. Hes in the same psychological state when thinking Beeches are lovely or Elms are lovely So, if meaning determines extension, and all meaning is is ones psychological state, then for Putnam elm and beech pick out the same thing.

Bringing it down to Earth


But, Putnam thinks thats not right. When he says elm he means elm and refers to elms like an arborist would.

So, meanings arent in the head.

Dividing Linguistic Labor


We can all use the words elm, beech, water, gold and so on. We share those words. If meaning determines extension, the meanings of those words will be fine-grained. They will pick out all and only elms (or beeches or gold or..). These meanings are present in the linguistic community considered as a collective body, but not necessarily in each of our heads.

Dividing Linguistic Labor


Some experts might be relied on to differentiate things in hard cases. Since experts are part of the collective linguistic body, even obscure facts might become part of the meaning of certain expressions.

Dividing Linguistic Labor


Language is more like a steamship than a hammer. A hammer can be used by one person. A steamship requires the cooperative activities of a number of people. Language too requires the cooperative actions of a number of people.

The Cases
What do you think? Are you convinced by the arguments? Any objections?

An Objection
Oscar and Twin Oscar are not really psychological duplicates. In having water thoughts Oscar has a water concept. In having twin water thoughts, Oscar has a twinwater concept. These concepts are different. So, the psychological states (beliefs, desires) are different. This is Psychological or Mental Externalism (Burge)

An Objection
What does this mean for the two assumptions? Could meanings be in the head if this is the right way to think?

An Objection
What does this mean for the two assumptions? Could meanings be in the head if this is the right way to think? You might be able to hold onto both assumptions. Knowing a meaning is being in a psychological state. But, that state depends on environmental factors/society. And, meaning still determines extension (although extension kind of determines meaning too..)

Questions
Putnams argument is for natural kind terms. These are terms that pick out elements, chemical kinds, species, and other things that seem to be clearly delineated in the natural world. Will the view work for other kinds of words? table game

money

the

Questions
On Putnams view: Could some meaning be in the head? Could someone ever have an entire meaning in her/his head?

Questions
On Putnams view: Could some meaning be in the head? Could someone ever have an entire meaning in her/his head? This is a question for descriptive semantics. Its a question about what meanings are like. One might think: we all have bits of meanings in our heads. We might know that Curium is a metal and nothing else. Experts might have entire meanings in their heads.

Questions
On Burges View (Psychological/Mental Externalism): Could some meaning be in the head? Could someone ever have an entire meaning in her/his head?

Questions
On Burges View (Psychological/Mental Externalism): Could some meaning be in the head? Could someone ever have an entire meaning in her/his head? Concepts, on this view, are partially externally determined. So, meanings could be in the head although theyre not individual in the way in the head sounds.

Questions
What would Grice say about the Twin Earth case? Would he think that Oscar and Twin Oscar mean different things when they say water is thirstquenching?

Our Original Questions


How do words/sentences have meaning? How do our utterances have meaning? Do our thoughts/intentions determine what our words mean? Does our environment determine what our words mean?

Our Original Questions


On the Externalist view: The environment determines what (at least some of) our words mean.

Words have meaning through the environment were in (the nature of entities can shape meaning) and through shared knowledge about a kind of thing.

Internalism v. Externalism
Which view is best?