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Volume 34, 2017
Meaning and Publicity

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Displaying: 1-10 of 19 documents

1. ProtoSociology: Volume > 34
Richard N. Manning, Introduction: Meaning and Publicity: Two Traditions
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part i: historical background
2. ProtoSociology: Volume > 34
Lewis Powell, Speaking Your Mind: Expression in Locke’s Theory of Language
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There is a tension between John Locke’s awareness of the fundamental importance of a shared public language and the manner in which his theorizing appears limited to offering a psychologistic account of the idiolects of individual speakers. I argue that a correct understanding of Locke’s central notion of signification can resolve this tension. I start by examining a long standing objection to Locke’s view, according to which his theory of meaning systematically gets the subject matter of our discourse wrong, by making our ideas the meanings of our words. By examining Locke’s definition of “truth”, I show that Lockean signification is an expression relation, rather than a descriptive or referential relation. Consequently, the sense in which our words signify our ideas is roughly that our utterances advertise our otherwise undisclosed mental lives to each other. While this resolves one aspect of the public/private tension, I close with a brief discussion of the remaining tension, and the role for normative constraints on signification to play in generating a genuinely shared public language.
3. ProtoSociology: Volume > 34
Patrick Rysiew, Meaning, Communication, and the Mental
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Thomas Reid (1710–1796) rejected ‘the theory of ideas’ in favor of perceptual direct realism and a fallibilist foundationalism. According to Reid, contact with the common and public extra-mental world is as much a part of our natural psychological and epistemological starting point as whatever special type of relation we have to the contents of our own minds. Like the general perceptual and epistemological views Reid was countering, an individualistic, idea-centered approach to language and communication continues to have a grip on theorists. But Reid’s heterodox counter to the latter is much less well known than his response to the former, even though it marks a complementary and equally clear departure from the views of his contemporaries. Reid holds that while mental phenomena are indeed implicated in language, the meaning of a term is the typically public object to which it directly refers. Further, Reid argues that for linguistic communication to be possible, we must already have some measure of access to others’ intentional states. While we each might enjoy a special kind of access to our thoughts, they are not ‘private’ in any epistemologically troubling sense: the fact that we have language shows that we already have communicative abilities and an epistemological toehold with regard to others’ mental states.
4. ProtoSociology: Volume > 34
Madeleine L. Arseneault, Intentionality and Publicity
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This paper analyzes the central relation between publicity, linguistic meaning, and the mental in the light of philosophical issues concerning intentionality. The concept of intentionality provides a way to articulate how the determinants of linguistic meaning are both public and private. A strength of this approach is that it accommodates desiderata of explaining compositionality and successful communication that initially seemed at odds with each other. A further benefit is that thinking about the case of linguistic meaning can help re-focus our understanding of the metaphysical status of the intentional objects of our thoughts.
part ii: meaning and interpretation
5. ProtoSociology: Volume > 34
Gary Kemp, Quine, Publicity, and Pre-Established Harmony
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‘Linguistic meaning must be public’ – for Quine, here is not a statement to rest with, whether it be reckoned true or reckoned false. It calls for explication. When we do, using Quine’s words to piece together what he thought, we find that much too much is concealed by the original statement. Yes, Quine said ‘Language is a social art’; yes, he accepts behaviourism so far as linguistic meaning is concerned; yes, he broadly agrees with Wittgenstein’s anti-privacy stricture. But precisely what is being said by the original statement to be public, and what does calling it ‘public’ amount to? Pressing such questions complicates the picture enormously, partly though by no means entirely aligning Quine with linguistic internalism vis-à-vis Chomsky.
6. ProtoSociology: Volume > 34
Richard N. Manning, Reflections on Davidsonian Semantic Publicity
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The topic of the present essay is the proper understanding of Donald Davidson’s version of the publicity requirement for the determinants of linguistic meaning. On the understanding I promote, the requirement is very strict indeed. My narrow aim is to show how such a strict conception of the publicity requirement can be maintained despite the evident need for interpreters to go beyond what is public on that conception in the process of constructing Davidsonian theories of meaning. Towards that aim, I engage dialectically with treatments of Davidson’s principle of charity owing to Lepore and Ludwig and to Bar-On and Risjord, each of which, in different ways, recommend a more permissive approach to the publicity requirement than the one I recommended here. A broader aim is to shed some light on what would be required to take seriously the larger ambitions of Davidson’s semantic program.
7. ProtoSociology: Volume > 34
Marija Jankovic, Greg Ray, Meaning, Publicity and Knowledge
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An influential view about the relationship between publicity and linguistic meaning is brought into question. It has been thought that since public languages are essentially public, linguistic meaning is subject to a kind of epistemic cap so that there can be nothing more to linguistic meaning than can be determinately known on the basis of publicly available evidence (Epistemic Thesis). Given the thinness of such evidence, a well-known thesis follows to the effect that linguistic meaning is substantially indeterminate. In this paper, we consider the sort of reasons offered for the Epistemic Thesis and uncover an unexamined presupposition about the epistemic requirements of communication and the establishment of meaning conventions. We show this presupposition is undermined by independently motivated considerations about communication and convention, giving us good reason to reject the Epistemic Thesis and its corollary about indeterminacy.
part iii: contemporary criticisms and developments
8. ProtoSociology: Volume > 34
Daniel W. Harris, A Puzzle about Context and Communicative Acts
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A context-directed theory of communicative acts is one that thinks of a communicative act as a proposal to change the context in some way. I focus on three influential examples: Robert Stalnaker’s theory of assertion, Craige Roberts’ theory of questions, and Paul Portner’s theory of directives. These theories distinguish different categories of communicative acts by distinguishing the components of context that they aim to change. I argue that the components of context they posit turn out not to be distinct after all, and that these theories therefore col­lapse the taxonomic distinctions that they set out to draw. Although it might be possible to avoid this problem by devising a more adequate theory of the nature of context, I argue that it should be taken as a reductio of context-directed theories.
9. ProtoSociology: Volume > 34
Berit Brogaard, The Publicity of Meaning and the Perceptual Approach to Speech Comprehension
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The paper presents a number of empirical arguments for the perceptual view of speech comprehension. It then argues that a particular version of phenomenal dogmatism can confer immediate justification upon belief. In combination, these two views can bypass Davidsonian skepticism toward knowledge of meanings. The perceptual view alone, however, can bypass a variation on the Davidsonian argument. One reason Davidson thought meanings were not truly graspable was that he believed meanings were private (unlike behavior). But if the perceptual view of speech comprehension is correct, then meanings (or at least conveyed meanings) are public objects like other perceivable entities. Hence, there is no particular problem of language comprehension, even if meanings originate in “private” mental states.
10. ProtoSociology: Volume > 34
Robert Shanklin, Local Meaning, Public Offense
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The internalist-externalist debate about semantic and mental contents concerns whether the contents of certain claims and beliefs depend on facts external to the people having those beliefs or not. However, rather than just join up with either side, I argue for re-casting the debate so as to allow for hybrid internalist-externalist views, on the grounds that such views can help explain certain phenomena associated with slurs and pejoratives. If the debate can indeed be recast in this way and if hybrid views offer significant explanatory power, then they deserve further exploration.