Meaning Skepticism

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Meaning Skepticism. Quine. Willard Van Orman Quine Word and Object (1960) Two Dogmas of Empiricism (1951). Quine. Synonymy Weve seen its an important feature of language We need meanings to be able to talk about it How can we know that any terms are synonymous? - PowerPoint PPT Presentation


  • Meaning Skepticism

  • QuineWillard Van Orman QuineWord and Object (1960)Two Dogmas of Empiricism (1951)

  • QuineSynonymyWeve seen its an important feature of languageWe need meanings to be able to talk about itHow can we know that any terms are synonymous?Quine thinks we really cant

  • Indeterminacy of TranslationA scientific linguist deals with:

    language as the complex of present dispositions to verbal behaviourAll the objective data he has to go on are the forces that he sees impinging on the natives surfaces and the observable behaviour, vocal and otherwise, of the native

  • Indeterminacy of TranslationDefine the modulus of an utterance as all the stimulus that is relevant to the utterance as languageThe modulus of thats a duck includes the duck, the audience, the alarm at duck presence, etcIt excludes yesterdays breakfast, the seagull overhead, etc.The linguist must use his informed judgement to define a modulus

  • Indeterminacy of TranslationLinguist sees that a native can see a rabbitNative says gavagaiThe rabbit was within the modulus of gavagaiDoes gavagai mean rabbit?Test by comparing other occurrences of gavagaiIf conditions of assent and dissent seem ok thenDefine stimulus-meaning as the class of stimulations prompting identically assent and dissent

  • Indeterminacy of TranslationStimulus-meaning is not meaningDoesnt even guarantee the same referentsPerhaps native applies gavagai to the object which is the-fusion-of-all-rabbit-partsThe synonymy of rabbit and gavagai is an analytical hypothesisThe rabbit/all-rabbit-parts phenomenon can persist as further analytical hypotheses are made

  • Indeterminacy of TranslationNo hypothesis can be declared impossibleAny hypothesis can be maintained by revising other hypotheses to make it consistent with observed speech-dispositions

    There can be no doubt that rival systems of analytical hypotheses can fit the totality of dispositions to speech behaviour as well, and still specify mutually incompatible translations of countless sentences insusceptible of independent control.

  • Indeterminacy of TranslationTranslation/synonymy/meaning is radically underdetermined by all possible empirical evidence Indeterminacy is also true of theories in scienceFlat EarthPhlogistonEvolutionGlobal warming

  • The Skeptical ClaimThe indeterminacy of translation is different from the indeterminacy of scientific theorizingPosits are made in science to explain/simplify theories about real phenomenaMeaning posits are made to explain/simplify our ability to find synonymsBut theres no reason to think that we can find synonymsSo theres no reason to suppose there are meanings

  • KripkensteinLudwig WittgensteinPhilosophical Investigations (1953)

    Saul KripkeWittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (1982)

  • KripkensteinK also thinks that there are no facts for meaningsHis argument derives from considerations about what it is to follow a rule

  • AdditionAsk Bob to add two numbers together68 + 57He has never added such large numbers beforeYou think the correct answer is 125Why do you think so?Because you have followed the right rules? The right rules being those you followed in the past?

  • QuadditionA skeptic may say:

    Perhaps, he suggests, as I used the term plus in the past, the answer should have been 5! Of course the sceptics suggestion is obviously insane. My initial response to such a suggestion might be that the challenger should go back to school and learn to add. Let the challenger, however, continue.

  • QuadditionA skeptic may say:

    After all, he says, if I am now so confident that, as I used the symbol +, my intention was that 68 + 57 should turn out to denote 125, this cannot be because I explicitly gave myself instructions that 125 is the result of performing the addition in this particular instance. By hypothesis, I did no such thing.

  • QuadditionA skeptic may say:

    But of course the idea is that, in this new instance, I should apply the very same function or rule that I applied so many times in the past. But who is to say what function this was?

  • QuadditionA skeptic may say:

    In the past I gave myself only a finite number of examples instantiating this function. All, we have supposed, involved numbers smaller than 57.So perhaps in the past I used plus and + to denote a function which I will call quus and symbolize by Q. x Q y = x + y if x, y < 57= 5 otherwise Who is to say that this is not the function I previously meant by +

  • Facts about MeaningsYou reply: thats just sillyThere is a fact of the matter about the meaning of +We know what those facts areWe know what the rule is and how to follow itOk, then; what facts are relevant?Try two kinds of facts to make this work: aboutBehavioursMental States

  • Facts about MeaningsBehaviours: the claim is We know all our past behaviours including linguisticThese facts determine the meaning of +But this cant be rightPast behaviours only involved numbers < 57So behaviours cant distinguish between addition and quaddition

  • Facts about MeaningsMental states: the claim is The relevant mental states are the facts that determine what the meaning isConsider Normal mental statesThe theory has to be that a sentence has a meaning because understanding it is associated with the occurrence of the mental itemBut we can show that these items are neither necessary nor sufficient for understanding

  • Facts about MeaningsNot necessary There are no mental states that have to come before the mind before we can understand catNot sufficientWe can have all sorts of items in our head that wont help with understandingYou could be thinking about chips through this lectureYou wouldnt mistake the content of this lecture for chips

  • Facts about MeaningsPerhaps there are special mental statesAll wed know about these is that they ground meaningsThat is completely ad hoc We still wouldnt know how they grounded meanings

  • Facts about MeaningsPerhaps dispositions are the right mental statesIf in the past I was disposed to go from 68 + 57 to 125, then I was addingIf I was disposed to go from 68 + 57 to 5, then I was quaddingNoThats about what I was disposed to do, not what was right to do it misses out normativityI might be disposed to cry if I see maths problems

  • Skeptical SolutionK says the same kinds of objections will work for any facts you propose to ground meaningAnd what is true for + is true for any wordSo there are no truth-determining facts about meaningBut we can talk about things usefully even when those things dont have truth-determining factsBut what use are they? Thats another topic