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2.3e. Inferentialist Accounts of Meaning and Content (Inferentialist Accounts of Meaning and Content on PhilPapers)

See also:
Block, Ned (1986). Advertisement for a semantics for psychology. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 10:615-78.   (Cited by 4 | Annotation | Google)
Block, Ned (1997). Semantics, conceptual role. In Edward Craig (ed.), [Book Chapter] (Unpublished). Routledge.   (Cited by 4 | Google | More links)
Abstract: According to Conceptual Role Semantics ("CRS"), the meaning of a representation is the role of that representation in the cognitive life of the agent, e.g. in perception, thought and decision-making. It is an extension of the well known "use" theory of meaning, according to which the meaning of a word is its use in communication and more generally, in social interaction. CRS supplements external use by including the role of a symbol inside a computer or a brain. The uses appealed to are not just actual, but also counterfactual: not only what effects a thought does have, but what effects it would have had if stimuli or other states had differed. The view has arisen separately in philosophy (where it is sometimes called "inferential," or "functional" role semantics) and in cognitive science (where it is sometimes called "procedural semantics"). The source of the view is Wittgenstein (1953) and Sellars, but the source in contemporary philosophy is a series of papers by Harman (see his 1987) and Field (1977). Other proponents in philosophy have included Block, Horwich, Loar, McGinn and Peacocke (1992). In cognitive science, they include Woods (1981) and Miller and Johnson-Laird (1976). (See references in Block, 1987.)
Block, Ned (1988). Functional role and truth conditions. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 61:157-181.   (Cited by 20 | Annotation | Google)
Block, Ned (1993). Holism, hyper-analyticity and hyper-compositionality. Mind and Language 8 (1):1-26.   (Cited by 28 | Google | More links)
Boghossian, Paul A. (1993). Does an inferential role semantics rest upon a mistake? Mind and Language 8 (1):27-40.   (Cited by 11 | Google | More links)
Boghossian, Paul A. (1994). Inferential-role semantics and the analytic/synthetic distinction. Philosophical Studies 73 (2-3):109-122.   (Cited by 9 | Annotation | Google | More links)
Brandom, Robert B. (1994). Reasoning and representing. In M. Michael & John O'Leary-Hawthorne (eds.), Philosophy in Mind: The Place of Philosophy in the Study of Mind. Kluwer.   (Cited by 1 | Google)
Brandom, Robert B. (1993). The social anatomy of inference. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (3):661-666.   (Cited by 1 | Google | More links)
Brigandt, Ingo (2004). Conceptual role semantics, the theory theory, and conceptual change. In Proceedings First Joint Conference of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology and the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology, Barcelona, Spain.   (Google | More links)
Abstract: The purpose of the paper is twofold. I first outline a philosophical theory of concepts based on conceptual role semantics. This approach is explicitly intended as a framework for the study and explanation of conceptual change in science. Then I point to the close similarities between this philosophical framework and the theory theory of concepts, suggesting that a convergence between psychological and philosophical approaches to concepts is possible. An underlying theme is to stress that using a non-atomist account of concepts is crucial for the successful study of conceptual development and change
Callaway, H. G. (2008). Meaning Without Analyticity: Essays on Logic, Language and Meaning. Cambridge Scholars.   (Google)
Abstract: Meaning without Analyticity draws upon the author’s essays and articles, over a period of 20 years, focused on language, logic and meaning. The book explores the prospect of a non-behavioristic theory of cognitive meaning which rejects the analytic-synthetic distinction, Quinean behaviorism, and the logical and social-intellectual excesses of extreme holism. Cast in clear, perspicuous language and oriented to scientific discussions, this book takes up the challenges of philosophical communication and evaluation implicit in the recent revival of the pragmatist tradition—especially those arising from its relation to prior American analytic thought. This volume continues the work of Callaway’s 1993 book, Context for Meaning and Analysis, building on the “turn toward pragmatism.”
Callaway, H. G. (1990). Review of Fodor, Psychosemantics. Erkenntnis 33 (2):251-59..   (Google)
Abstract: This is my expository and critical review of Jerry Fodor's Psychosemantics. See also Callaway 1992, Meaning Holism and Semantic Realism
Cummins, Robert E. (1992). Conceptual role semantics and the explanatory role of content. Philosophical Studies 65 (1-2):103-127.   (Cited by 9 | Annotation | Google | More links)
Devitt, Michael (1993). Localism and analyticity. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (3):641-646.   (Cited by 5 | Google | More links)
Dowell, J. L. (2006). Making it totally explicit. Philosophical Papers 35 (2):137-170.   (Google | More links)
Field, Hartry (1977). Logic, meaning, and conceptual role. Journal of Philosophy 74 (July):379-409.   (Cited by 119 | Annotation | Google)
Fodor, Jerry A. & LePore, Ernest (1991). Why meaning (probably) isn't conceptual role. Mind and Language 6 (4):328-43.   (Cited by 47 | Annotation | Google | More links)
Abstract: It's an achievement of the last couple of decades that people who work in linguistic semantics and people who work in the philosophy of language have arrived at a friendly, de facto agreement as to their respective job descriptions. The terms of this agreement are that the semanticists do the work and the philosophers do the worrying. The semanticists try to construct actual theories of meaning (or truth theories, or model theories, or whatever) for one or another kind of expression in one or another natural language; for example, they try to figure out how the temperature could be rising compatibly with the substitutivity of identicals. The philosophers, by contrast, keep an eye on the large, foundational issues, such as: what's the relation between sense and denotation; what's the relation between thought and language; whether translation is determinate; and whether life is like a fountain. Every now and then the philosophers and the semanticists are supposed to get together and compare notes on their respective progress. Or lack thereof
Gozzano, Simone (2006). Functional role semantics and reflective equilibrium. Acta Analytica 21 (38):62-76.   (Google | More links)
Abstract: In this paper it is argued that functional role semantics can be saved from criticisms, such as those raised by Putnam and Fodor and Lepore, by indicating which beliefs and inferences are more constitutive in determining mental content. The Scylla is not to use vague expressions; the Charybdis is not to endorse the analytic/synthetic distinction. The core idea is to use reflective equilibrium as a strategy to pinpoint which are the beliefs and the inferences that constitute the content of a mental state. The beliefs and the inferences that are constitutive are those that are in reflective equilibrium in the process of attributing mental states to others
Greenberg, Mark & Harman, Gilbert (2007). Conceptual role semantics. In Ernest LePore & Barry Smith (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language. Oxford University Press.   (Cited by 6 | Google | More links)
Abstract: CRS says that the meanings of expressions of a language or other symbol system or the contents of mental states are determined and explained by the way symbols are used in thinking. According to CRS one
Gross, Steven (ms). Review of Brandom's Articulating Reasons.   (Google)
Abstract: There is nothing in [the six chapters that make up the body of Articulating Reasons] that will come as a surprise to anyone who has mastered [Making It Explicit]. … I had in mind audiences that had perhaps not so much as dipped into the big book but were curious about its themes and philosophical consequences. (35–36)
Harman, Gilbert (1982). Conceptual role semantics. Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 28 (April):242-56.   (Cited by 71 | Annotation | Google | More links)
Harman, Gilbert (1974). Meaning and semantics. In Milton K. Munitz & Peter K. Unger (eds.), Semantics and Philosophy. New York University Press.   (Cited by 23 | Google)
Harman, Gilbert (1987). (Nonsolipsistic) conceptual role semantics. In Ernest LePore (ed.), New Directions in Semantics. Academic Press.   (Google | More links)
Horowitz, Amir (1992). Functional role and intentionality. Theoria 58 (2-3):197-218.   (Cited by 1 | Google)
Horst, Steven (ms). Goldilocks searches for a conceptual semantics.   (Google)
Abstract: This is a relatively breezy version of an exploration of some issues about how to provide a theory of concepts and conceptual semantics. I have also written more conventional versions of some of this material (without the Three Bears motif), though those are set in a broader context.
Jorgensen, Andrew Kenneth (2009). Holism, communication, and the emergence of public meaning: Lessons from an economic analogy. Philosophia 37 (1).   (Google)
Abstract: Holistic accounts of meaning normally incorporate a subjective dimension that invites the criticism that they make communication impossible, for speakers are bound to differ in ways the accounts take to be relevant to meaning, and holism generalises any difference over some words to a difference about all, and this seems incompatible with the idea that successful communication requires mutual understanding. I defend holism about meaning from this criticism. I argue that the same combination of properties (subjective origins of value, holism among values, and ultimate publicity of value) is exhibited by monetary value and take the emergence of equilibrium prices as a model for the emergence of public meanings
Jorgensen, Andrew, Understanding as endorsing an inference.   (Google)
Abstract: Fodor & Lepore (2001) and Williamson (2003) attack the inferentialist account of concept possession according to which possessing or understanding a concept requires endorsing the inference patterns constitutive of its content. I show that Fodor & Lepore's concern – that the conception places an exorbitant epistemological demands on possessors of a concept – is met by Brandom's tolerance of materially bad nonconservative inferences. Such inferences themselves, as Williamson argues, present difficulties for the 'understanding as endorsement' conception. I show that, properly understood, Brandom's broad conception of inferential role, which encompasses social-perspectival inferential connections, has the resources to respond to Willianson's challenge
Kalderon, Mark Eli (2001). Reasoning and representing. Philosophical Studies 105 (2):129-160.   (Cited by 8 | Google | More links)
Laurier, Daniel (2005). Pragmatics, pittsburgh style. Pragmatics and Cognition 13 (1):141-160.   (Cited by 1 | Google | More links)
Lepore, Ernie & Fodor, Jerry (2001). Brandom's burdens: Compositionality and inferentialism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 63 (2):465–481.   (Google | More links)
Loar, Brian (1982). Conceptual role and truth conditions. Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 23 (July):272-83.   (Cited by 23 | Annotation | Google)
Loewer, Barry M. (1982). The role of 'conceptual role semantics'. Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 23 (July):305-15.   (Cited by 3 | Annotation | Google | More links)
McCullagh, Mark (2003). Do inferential roles compose? Dialectica 57 (4):431-38.   (Google | More links)
Abstract: Jerry Fodor and Ernie Lepore have argued that inferential roles are not compositional. It is unclear, however, whether the theories at which they aim their objection are obliged to meet the strong compositionality requirement they have in mind. But even if that requirement is accepted, the data they adduce can in fact be derived from an inferential-role theory that meets it. Technically this is trivial, but it raises some interesting objections turning on the issue of the generality of inferential roles. I explain how those objections can be met. Whether Fodor’s and Lepore’s strong compositionality requirement is justified or not, then, inferential-role theories do not have the problem that they claim to have identified.
McCullagh, Mark (2005). Inferentialism and singular reference. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 35 (2):183-220.   (Google)
Abstract: Basic to Robert Brandom’s project in Making It Explicit is the demarcation of singular terms according to the structure of their inferential roles---rather than, as is usual, according to the kinds of things they purport to denote. But the demarcational effort founders on the need to distinguish extensional and nonextensional occurrences of expressions in terms of inferential roles; the closest that an inferentialist can come to drawing that distinction is to discern degrees of extensionality, and that is not close enough. The general moral applies as well to “two factor” theories of content: the notion of inferential role lacks the independence from the notion of denotation that many proponents of such theories have attributed to it.
McCullagh, Mark (2005). Motivating inferentialism. Southwest Philosophy Review 21 (1):77-84.   (Google | More links)
Abstract: Robert Brandom has supported his inferentialist conception of semantic content by appealing to the claim that it is a necessary condition on having a propositional attitude that one appreciate the inferential relations it stands in. When we see what considerations can be given in support of that claim, however, we see that it doesn’t even motivate an inferentialist semantics. The problem is that that claim about what it takes to have a propositional attitude does nothing to show that its inferential relations are a feature of its content rather than of the relation that the subject stands in to that content---that is, the attitude.
McDowell, John (2005). Motivating inferentialism: Comments on making it explicit (ch. 2). Pragmatics and Cognition 13 (1):121-140.   (Google)
Millikan, Ruth G. (2000). Representations, targets and attitudes. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 60 (1):103-111.   (Cited by 2 | Google | More links)
Montminy, Martin (2005). A non-compositional inferential role theory. Erkenntnis 62 (2):211-233.   (Cited by 1 | Google | More links)
Abstract: I propose a version of inferential role theory which says that having a concept is having the disposition to draw most of the inferences based on the stereotypical features associated with this concept. I defend this view against Fodor and Lepore
Penco, Carlo (forthcoming). Truth, charity and assertion. Peruvian Journal of Philosophy.   (Google)
Abstract: In this paper I discuss the relation between truth and assertion, starting from an example by Leonard Linsky which has been used in the debate on definite description by Keith Donnellan and Saul Kripke. To treat the problem of the referential use of definite descriptions we need not only to take into account the contest of utterance, but also the context of reception, or the cognitive context. If the cognitive context is given the right relevance we may even accept the possibility to speak of "pragmatic ambiguity" as Donnellan did. However I will not give a definite answer to the debate between Donnellan and Kripke, but I will try to show that there is a moral to be drawn by the discussion: it is advisable to use truth attribution in a charitable way if we want to entertain conversation with people who have beliefs not necessarily similar to ours.
Peregrin, Jaroslav, Inferentialism and the compositionality of meaning.   (Google)
Abstract: Inferentialism, which I am going to present in detail in the following sections, is the view that meanings are, roughly, roles that are acquired by types of sounds and inscriptions in virtue of their being treated according to rules of our language games, roughly in the sense in which wooden pieces acquire certain roles by being treated according the rules of chess. The most important consequences are that (i) a meaning is not an object labeled (stood for, represented ...) by an expression; and that (ii) meaning is normative in the sense that to say that an expression means thus and so is to say that it should be used so and so. The founding father of inferentialism is Brandom (1994; 2000). (However, nothing in this paper hinges on the fact that the version of inferentialism defended here is identical with Brandom's). This position provokes two kinds of objections. First there are general objections towards the very normativity of meaning, which do not target especially inferentialism; these I have addressed elsewhere 1. Besides this, there are objection targeted more specifically at inferentialism. Probably the most discussed specimen of such objections is the objection - repeatedly raised especially by Jerry Fodor and Ernest LePore and others - to the effect that though meanings should be compositional, the compositionality of inferential roles is unattainable. This is the kind of objection I am going to deal with here 2. (Hand in hand with this objection then go various allegations of circularity of inferentialism, which we will also discuss.) To do this, I will exploit the long-standing comparison of language to chess, as it seems particularly helpful for making the inferentialist account of language plausible3. This comparison, to be sure, has its limits beyond which it may become severely misleading; but as long as we keep them in mind, it can serve us very well
Peregrin, Jaroslav (2006). Meaning as an inferential role. Erkenntnis 64 (1):1-35.   (Cited by 3 | Google | More links)
Abstract: While according to the inferentialists, meaning is always a kind of inferential role, proponents of other approaches to semantics often doubt that actual meanings, as they see them, can be generally reduced to inferential roles. In this paper we propose a formal framework for considering the hypothesis of the
Perlman, Mark (1997). The trouble with two-factor conceptual role theories. Minds and Machines 7 (4):495-513.   (Cited by 3 | Google | More links)
Schellenberg, Susanna (2006). Sellarsian perspectives on perception and non-conceptual content. In Mark Lance & Michael P. Wolf (eds.), The Self-Correcting Enterprise: Essays on Wilfrid Sellars. Rodopi.   (Google | More links)
Shapiro, Lionel (2004). Brandom on the normativity of meaning. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68 (1):141-60.   (Cited by 2 | Google | More links)
Abstract: Brandom's "inferentialism"—his theory that contentfulness consists in being governed by inferential norms—proves dubiously compatible with his own deflationary approach to intentional objectivity. This is because a deflationist argument, adapted from the case of truth to that of correct inference, undermines the criterion of adequacy Brandom employs in motivating inferentialism. Once that constraint is abandoned, moreover, the very constitutive-explanatory availability of Brandom's inferential norms becomes suspect. Yet Brandom intertwines inferentialism with a separate explanatory project, one that in explaining the pragmatic significance of meaning-attributions does yield a convincing construal of the claim that the concept of meaning is normative.
Schellenberg, Susanna (2000). Begriff, gehalt, folgerung. Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 48 (5):780-789.   (Google | More links)
Silverberg, Arnold (1992). Putnam on functionalism. Philosophical Studies 67 (2):111-31.   (Annotation | Google | More links)
Tirrell, Lynne (1999). Derogatory Terms: Racism, Sexism and the Inferential Role Theory of Meaning. In Kelly Oliver & Christina Hendricks (eds.), Language and Liberation: Feminism, Philosophy and Language,. SUNY Press.   (Google)
Abstract: Derogatory terms (racist, sexist, ethnic, and homophobic epithets) are bully words with ontological force: they serve to establish and maintain a corrupt social system fuelled by distinctions designed to justify relations of dominance and subordination. No wonder they have occasioned public outcry and legal response. The inferential role analysis developed here helps move us away from thinking of the harms as being located in connotation (representing mere speaker bias) or denotation (holding that the terms fail to refer due to inaccurate descriptive content). The issue is not bad attitudes or referential misfires. An inferential role semantic analysis of derogatory terms shows exactly what is at stake between those who argue that the terms should be eliminated (Absolutists) and those who claim they can be successfully rehabilitated (Reclaimers). The Reclaimer maintains, and the Absolutist denies, that certain contexts can detach the derogatory force from deeply derogatory terms. The article looks at these claims with respect to ‘nigger’ and ‘dyke,’ setting out the inferential role of each term and examining detachability potential. Explaining detachability in terms of linguistic commitments, this article also addresses the issue of whether such terms count as political discourse, and examines the implications of that issue.
Tirrell, Lynne (1989). Extending: The structure of metaphor. Noûs 23 (1):17-34.   (Google | More links)
Abstract: This article shows how attention to extended metaphors provides the basis for a substantive account of what it is to understand a metaphor. Offering an analysis of extended metaphors modeled on an analysis of co-referential anaphoric chains, this article presents an account of how contexts makes metaphors. The analysis introduces the concept of expressive commitment, commitment to the viability and value of particular modes of discourse. Unlike literal interpretation, metaphorical interpretation puts the expressive commitment in the forefront of the interpretive process. The analogy between extended metaphors and anaphora provides a structure for describing what it is to interpret expressions metaphorically. It generates an account that explains the affinities and differences between extension and explication, and hence of the age-old problem of paraphrase. Further, the account allows for the open-endedness of metaphor without succumbing to the view that metaphor is non-cognitive. Finally, the account developed here underscores the role of expressive commitment in metaphorical interpretation.
Tomberlin, James E. (1988). Semantics, psychological attitudes, and conceptual roles. Philosophical Studies 53 (March):205-226.   (Cited by 10 | Google | More links)
Toribio, Josefa (1997). Twin pleas: Probing content and compositionality. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 57 (4):871-89.   (Cited by 2 | Google | More links)
Whiting, Daniel (online). Conceptual role semantics. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.   (Google | More links)
Williams, Robert (2008). The price of inscrutability. Noûs 42 (4):600-641.   (Google | More links)
Warfield, Ted A. (1993). On a semantic argument against conceptual role semantics. Analysis 53 (4):298-304.   (Cited by 5 | Annotation | Google)
Whiting, Daniel (2006). Between primitivism and naturalism: Brandom's theory of meaning. Acta Analytica 21 (3).   (Google)
Abstract: Many philosophers accept that a naturalistic reduction of meaning is in principle impossible, since behavioural regularities or dispositions are consistent with any number of semantic descriptions. One response is to view meaning as primitive. In this paper, I explore Brandom’s alternative, which is to specify behaviour in non-semantic but normative terms. Against Brandom, I argue that a norm specified in non-semantic terms might correspond to any number of semantic norms. Thus, his theory of meaning suffers from the very same kind of problem as its naturalistic competitors. It is not sufficient, I contend, merely that some norms be introduced into one’s account but that they be specified using intensional, semantic notions on a par with that of meaning. In closing, I counter Brandom’s reasons for resisting such a position, the most significant of which is that it leaves philosophers with nothing constructive to say about meaning
Whiting, Daniel J. (2008). Conservatives and racists: Inferential role semantics and pejoratives. Philosophia 36 (3).   (Google | More links)
Abstract:  According to inferential role semantics (IRS), for any given expression to possess a particular meaning one must be disposed to make or, alternatively, acknowledge as correct certain inferential transitions involving it. As Williamson points out, pejoratives such as ‘Boche’ seem to provide a counter-example to IRS. Many speakers are neither disposed to use such expressions nor consider it proper to do so. But it does not follow, as IRS appears to entail, that such speakers do not understand pejoratives or that they lack meaning. In this paper, I examine recent responses to this problem by Boghossian and Brandom and argue that their proposed construal of the kind of inferential rules governing a pejorative such as ‘Boche’ is to be ruled out on the grounds that it is non-conservative. I defend the appeal to conservatism in this instance against criticism and, in doing so, propose an alternative approach to pejoratives on behalf of IRS that resolves the problem Williamson poses
Whiting, Daniel (2007). Inferentialism, representationalism and derogatory words. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 15 (2):191 – 205.   (Google | More links)
Abstract: In a recent paper, after outlining various distinguishing features of derogatory words, Jennifer Hornsby suggests that the phenomenon raises serious difficulties for inferentialism. Against Hornsby, I claim that derogatory words do not pose any insuperable problems for inferentialism, so long as it is supplemented with apparatus borrowed from Grice and Hare. Moreover, I argue, derogatory expressions pose difficulties for Hornsby's favoured alternative theory of meaning, representationalism, unless it too is conjoined with a similar Grice/Hare mechanism. So, the upshot of the discussion is that, contra Hornsby, focus on derogatory expressions alone does not provide grounds for deciding between competing theories of meaning, but nevertheless serves to highlight important features that any such theory must acknowledge and incorporate