Volume 2, Issue 2, 2002
Constitution and Composition
Horwich (1998) seeks to undermine the familiar truth-theoretic approach to meaning, as championed by Davidson. Horwich’s criticism has two chief parts: (i) the Davidsonian approach commits a common constitution fallacy under which the form of the explanans (in this case, truth theoretic clauses and theorems) is constrained to respect the form of the explanandum (in this case, ‘meaning facts’) and (ii) that compositionality can be explained independently of a concept of truth, and so the putative central plank of Davidson’s argument is removed. This paper seeks to show that these claims are premised upon a systematic misreading of the Davidsonian approach. First, the very idea of a constitution fallacy has no application to the truth-theoretic approach, for meaning is simply not analysed under it. Second,
compositionality is properly understood to be a general, independent constraint on theories of meaning, not a consequence of any particular approach. Moreover, I shall show that Horwich’s format for explaining compositionality independently of truth fails to meet certain elementary constraints.