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Meaning Skepticism. Quine Willard Van Orman Quine Willard Van Orman Quine Word and Object (1960) Word and Object (1960) Two Dogmas of Empiricism (1951)

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Presentation on theme: "Meaning Skepticism. Quine Willard Van Orman Quine Willard Van Orman Quine Word and Object (1960) Word and Object (1960) Two Dogmas of Empiricism (1951)"— Presentation transcript:

1 Meaning Skepticism

2 Quine Willard Van Orman Quine Willard Van Orman Quine Word and Object (1960) Word and Object (1960) Two Dogmas of Empiricism (1951) Two Dogmas of Empiricism (1951)

3 Quine Synonymy Synonymy We’ve seen it’s an important feature of language We’ve seen it’s an important feature of language We need ‘meanings’ to be able to talk about it We need ‘meanings’ to be able to talk about it How can we know that any terms are synonymous? How can we know that any terms are synonymous? Quine thinks we really can’t Quine thinks we really can’t

4 Indeterminacy of Translation A scientific linguist deals with: A scientific linguist deals with: language as the complex of present dispositions to verbal behaviour… All the objective data he has to go on are the forces that he sees impinging on the native’s surfaces and the observable behaviour, vocal and otherwise, of the native

5 Indeterminacy of Translation Define the modulus of an utterance as all the stimulus that is relevant to the utterance as language Define the modulus of an utterance as all the stimulus that is relevant to the utterance as language The modulus of ‘that’s a duck’ includes the duck, the audience, the alarm at duck presence, etc The modulus of ‘that’s a duck’ includes the duck, the audience, the alarm at duck presence, etc It excludes yesterday’s breakfast, the seagull overhead, etc. It excludes yesterday’s breakfast, the seagull overhead, etc. The linguist must use his informed judgement to define a modulus The linguist must use his informed judgement to define a modulus

6 Indeterminacy of Translation Linguist sees that a native can see a rabbit Linguist sees that a native can see a rabbit Native says ‘gavagai’ Native says ‘gavagai’ The rabbit was within the modulus of ‘gavagai’ The rabbit was within the modulus of ‘gavagai’ Does ‘gavagai’ mean ‘rabbit’? Does ‘gavagai’ mean ‘rabbit’? Test by comparing other occurrences of ‘gavagai’ Test by comparing other occurrences of ‘gavagai’ If conditions of assent and dissent seem ok then If conditions of assent and dissent seem ok then Define stimulus-meaning as Define stimulus-meaning as the class of stimulations prompting identically assent and dissent

7 Indeterminacy of Translation Stimulus-meaning is not meaning Stimulus-meaning is not meaning Doesn’t even guarantee the same referents Doesn’t even guarantee the same referents Perhaps native applies ‘gavagai’ to the object which is the-fusion-of-all-rabbit-parts Perhaps native applies ‘gavagai’ to the object which is the-fusion-of-all-rabbit-parts The synonymy of ‘rabbit’ and ‘gavagai’ is an analytical hypothesis The synonymy of ‘rabbit’ and ‘gavagai’ is an analytical hypothesis The ‘rabbit’/‘all-rabbit-parts’ phenomenon can persist as further analytical hypotheses are made The ‘rabbit’/‘all-rabbit-parts’ phenomenon can persist as further analytical hypotheses are made

8 Indeterminacy of Translation No hypothesis can be declared impossible No hypothesis can be declared impossible Any hypothesis can be maintained by revising other hypotheses to make it consistent with observed speech-dispositions Any 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.

9 Indeterminacy of Translation Translation/synonymy/meaning is radically underdetermined by all possible empirical evidence Translation/synonymy/meaning is radically underdetermined by all possible empirical evidence Indeterminacy is also true of theories in science Flat Earth Phlogiston Evolution Global warming

10 The Skeptical Claim The indeterminacy of translation is different from the indeterminacy of scientific theorizing Posits are made in science to explain/simplify theories about real phenomena Meaning posits are made to explain/simplify our ability to find synonyms But there’s no reason to think that we can find synonyms So there’s no reason to suppose there are meanings

11 Kripkenstein Ludwig Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations (1953) Saul Kripke Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (1982)

12 Kripkenstein K also thinks that there are no facts for meanings His argument derives from considerations about what it is to follow a rule

13 Addition Ask Bob to add two numbers together He has never added such large numbers before You think the correct answer is 125 Why do you think so? Because you have followed the right rules? The right rules being those you followed in the past?

14 Quaddition A skeptic may say: Perhaps, he suggests, as I used the term ‘plus’ in the past, the answer should have been ‘5’! Of course the sceptic’s 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.

15 Quaddition A skeptic may say: After all, he says, if I am now so confident that, as I used the symbol ‘+’, my intention was that ’ ’ 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.

16 Quaddition A 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?

17 Quaddition A 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 ‘+’

18 Facts about Meanings You reply: that’s just silly There is a fact of the matter about the meaning of + We know what those facts are We know what the rule is and how to follow it Ok, then; what facts are relevant? Try two kinds of facts to make this work: about Behaviours Mental States

19 Facts about Meanings Behaviours: the claim is We know all our past behaviours including linguistic These facts determine the meaning of + But this can’t be right Past behaviours only involved numbers < 57 So behaviours can’t distinguish between addition and quaddition

20 Facts about Meanings Mental states: the claim is The relevant mental states are the facts that determine what the meaning is Consider ‘Normal’ mental states The theory has to be that a sentence has a meaning because understanding it is associated with the occurrence of the mental item But we can show that these items are neither necessary nor sufficient for understanding

21 Facts about Meanings Not necessary There are no mental states that have to come before the mind before we can understand ‘cat’ Not sufficient We can have all sorts of items in our head that won’t help with understanding You could be thinking about chips through this lecture You wouldn’t mistake the content of this lecture for chips

22 Facts about Meanings Perhaps there are special mental states All we’d know about these is that they ground meanings That is completely ad hoc We still wouldn’t know how they grounded meanings

23 Facts about Meanings Perhaps dispositions are the right mental states If in the past I was disposed to go from to 125, then I was adding If I was disposed to go from to 5, then I was quadding No That’s about what I was disposed to do, not what was right to do – it misses out normativity I might be disposed to cry if I see maths problems

24 Skeptical Solution K says the same kinds of objections will work for any facts you propose to ground meaning And what is true for + is true for any word So there are no truth-determining facts about meaning But we can talk about things usefully even when those things don’t have truth-determining facts But what use are they? That’s another topic


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