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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.)
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
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
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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