3 The Causal-Historical Theory Last time we learned about the causal-historical theory of reference. According to Kripke’s model, names and natural kind terms have their referenced initially fixed by ostension (pointing) or description, and then those referents are passed, as links in a chain, along with the words as they move from speaker to speaker.
4 ExampleA child is born.It’s parents point to it and say: let this child be named ‘Richard Feynman.’Other people learn the name ‘Richard Feynman’ from the parents, and in doing so their name inherits the original meaning.People far away in the “chain” may know nothing, or believe a bunch of false things, and still succeed in referring to Feynman.
5 Causal TheoriesWe didn’t have time to look at other causal theories of reference/ meaning. The general motivation, though, was that causal interaction with the referent was far more determinate than mere description (we looked at mirror universes, eternal recurrence universes, and Twin Earths).
6 Causal IsolationHowever, it’s widely recognized that causation can’t be essential to all meaning, because some things that are meant can’t be causes or effects. Consider words like ‘and,’ ‘or,’ and ‘not.’ Conjunction (the meaning of ‘and’) can’t cause or be caused by anything. There’s nothing to point to and say “let that be the meaning of ‘and.’” Or, there may be such things, but none of them are in fact the meaning of ‘and.’
7 Use to the RescueHowever, people who have mastered the meaning of ‘and’ are inclined to use the word ‘and’ in the following ways: If they believe ‘A and B’ Then they would be willing to believe ‘A’ And they would be willing to believe ‘B’
8 Use to the RescueHowever, people who have mastered the meaning of ‘and’ are inclined to use the word ‘and’ in the following ways: If they believe ‘A’ and they believe ‘B’ Then they would be willing to believe ‘A and B’
9 SuggestionSo maybe ‘and’ means what it does because of how people use it in inference. If you didn’t use ‘and’ in those ways, you wouldn’t mean what everyone else means by ‘and,’ and if you use ‘or’ in those ways, then by ‘or’ you mean what everyone else means by ‘and.’ The meaning of these words is determined by and perhaps identical to the use of these words.
10 Further SuggestionAnd maybe, just maybe, we were wrong to become causal theorists in the first place. Maybe the meaning of ‘Richard Feynman’ and the meaning of ‘water’ is also how we use those words.
11 Careful!But be careful. It’s not enough to say that the meaning of the words is “determined by how they’re used.” That’s in a way accepted by everyone. According to a causal theorist, the meaning of ‘water’ is determined by the fact that your uses of the word ‘water’ are caused by a certain substance (namely, water). A real “use theory” doesn’t say use merely plays a role in meaning– it says that use is meaning!
12 The Denial of Denotation One of the big reasons people have had for adopting use theories is that they have come to deny that words (or all words, or many words) have denotations. They don’t think names refer to things, or that common nouns and verbs apply to things, or that sentences can be true or false.
13 Denotation RelationsWhy do I connect these ideas: refer to, apply to, and truth/ falsity? Because truth/ falsity can be defined in terms of the former: A sentence “Michael is hungry” is true := “hungry” applies to the referent of “Michael.”
14 Denotation Difficulties Why would anyone want to give up on these relations? Usually, it’s out of an endless parade of historical failures in accounting for denotation. The idea theory can’t explain why ‘dog’ applies to dogs, because resemblance is indeterminate. Many non-dogs resemble the idea associated with ‘dog.’
15 Denotation Difficulties The verification theory won’t work, for similar reasons. Many non-dogs (e.g. fake dogs) confirm ‘dog’ more than some dogs do (e.g. abnormal dogs). And the causal theory won’t work, for similar reasons. Dogs often cause me to say ‘dog’ or think DOG. But so do fake dogs, and marsupial “dogs” and pictures of dogs, and so on.
16 The Denial of Connotation The use theory thus denies that denotations even exist. But it does not thus identify meanings with any of the classical connotations. Remember that ideas (mental images) and verification conditions (possible experiences) were posited as meanings (connotations) solely to explain why words had the denotations that they did. If you deny the existence of denotations, why do you think mental images are meanings? What’s special about them?
17 The Middle WayInstead, the use theorist maintains that meaning is non-mental (not connotation). It’s out there in the world. But it’s not the stuff out there in the world we think of as denotation either. ‘Michael’ doesn’t, for instance, mean me. The meaning of an expression = how it is used. Sure, use is out there in the world. But the (relevant) use of ‘Michael’ need not involve me at all.
19 Meanings are ConceptsHorwich’s first thesis is that meanings are concepts. “Concepts” are what psychologists and philosophers turned to after the whole idea theory didn’t work out. Concepts are mental entities, but they aren’t little pictures in the mind. Horwich, influenced by the Computational Theory of Mind, takes them to be expressions in the “language of thought” a.k.a. “Mentalese.”
20 MetasemanticsRemember that a theory of meaning (as we’ve been using that expression) is not a theory that tells you what meanings are (though often it does that as well)– it’s one that tells you why words have the meanings they do, rather than different meanings, or no meanings at all. (This is often called “metasemantics.”)
21 MetasemanticsSo what’s Horwich’s story of how words get their meanings (why do they mean the concepts they do, rather than other concepts or none at all?)? To understand this, we’ll have to look at Grice’s distinction between natural and non-natural meaning.
22 Natural Meaning One meaning of the word ‘meaning’ is indication: Smoke means (indicates the presence of) fire.These Koplik’s spots mean your child has measles.The fact that there’s 27 rings on this tree stump means that the tree was 27 years old when it was cut down.
23 Features of Natural Meaning We can’t say “these spots mean the child has measles, but the child doesn’t have measles.”We can’t say “these spots mean ‘the child has measles.’”It can’t true that someone means the child has measles by these spots.
24 Non-Natural MeaningWe can say “John’s utterance ‘l’enfant a la rougeole’ means the child has measles, but the child doesn’t have measles.We can say “This sentence (‘l’enfant a la rougeole’) means ‘the child has measles.’”It can be true that someone means the child has measles by “l’enfant a la rougeole.”
25 ‘Meaning’ is Ambiguous Grice thus concludes that there are two English verbs ‘to mean.’ One just expresses natural meaning, roughly: “A means B = Whenever A is true, it’s a fact of nature that B is true as well.” The other is non-natural meaning, and it’s what we’re trying to analyze when we do metasemantic theorizing.
26 The Univocality of Meaning Horwich, however, claims that there’s only one sense of ‘meaning,’ the natural one. The way he understands natural meaning is: ‘smoke means fire = smoke gives us a good reason to believe there’s fire.’ So he says ‘cat’ means the concept CAT = (utterances of) ‘cat’ give us a good reason to believe there’s (in the speaker’s mind) CAT.
27 Virtue?“It is a virtue of this account that it respects the relational appearance of meaning attributions and that it calls for no special, ad hoc assumption about the meaning of ‘means’ in semantic contexts.” Horwich, in his ‘ad hoc’ remark, seems to forget that there were principled reasons for denying the univocality of ‘meaning.’
28 Natural Meaning is Transitive Furthermore, natural meaning is transitive:Thunder means there’s lightning.Lightning means there’s unbalanced electric charges in the clouds.Therefore, thunder means there’s unbalanced electric charges in the clouds.
29 Non-Natural Meaning is Not Transitive If all meaning were natural meaning we’d expect:‘salt’ means there’s SALTSALT means there’s PEPPERTherefore ‘salt’ means PEPPER
30 Principle 2Principle 2: “The overall use of each word stems from its possession of a basic acceptance property.”
31 The Robustness of UseThe point of this principle is to overcome a problem (a large problem that exists for lots of theories besides the use theory). Here’s the version for the UT: often, we use words in ways that are not consistent with their meaning. We flub our speech; we make a genuine mistake (and call a cow a ‘horse’); we use words metaphorically; we overstate or understate…
32 The Problem of “Error”If meaning is to be identified with use, then it would seem that these uses, since they are uses, must be part of the meaning. So flubs, mistakes, metaphors, hyperboles, etc. are all literally true. But that’s silly.
33 Horwich’s ResponseSo Principle 2 is Horwich’s response: there is some sort of basic regularity that explains all of the use (including correct use, incorrect use, and poetic use). The regularity that explains all the use is the meaning (we’ll see what that amounts to shortly, and how it’s supposed to be consistent with the fact that concepts are meanings). So erroneous uses, while explained by the basic regularity, are not constitutive of meaning (only the basic regularity is).
34 Basic Acceptance Properties The acceptance property that governs a speakers’ use of “and” is (roughly) his tendency to accept “p and q” if and only if he accepts both “p” and “q.”The explanatorily fundamental acceptance property underlying our use of “red” is (roughly) the disposition to apply “red” to an observed surface when and only when it is clearly red.
35 Basic Acceptance Properties (c) The acceptance property governing our total use of the word “true” is the inclination to accept instances of the schema ‘the proposition that p is true if and only if p.’
36 Principle 3“Two words express the same concept in virtue of having the same basic acceptance property.” In Principle 1, Horwich said that meanings are concepts. In Principle 3, he says that concepts are individuated by basic acceptance properties of the words that mean them.
37 IndividuationConsider the word ‘gift’ in English: it means something like “a present, something of value given without charge.” Now consider the word ‘gift’ in German: it means something like “a poison, venom, or toxin.” Are these one word with two meanings, or two words? The answer to this question is not important for us. What is, is this: if words are individuated by their spelling/ pronunciation, we have one word; if they’re individuated by their meaning, two.
38 Horwich on Individuation For Horwich, concepts are individuated by basic acceptance properties of the words that express them. Let’s call these their “meanings.” Then two concepts have the same meaning = the words expressing them have the same acceptance properties. This is how meaning for Horwich is both concept and use. The way you tell one concept for another is the use of the words that express it.
39 Summary of PrinciplesWords mean concepts, and “meaning” is univocal– it always means just “indication.”For any word, all of its uses may be explained by a basic acceptance property: a regularity in the use of the word, that explains irregular uses as well.Concepts are individuated by the basic acceptance properties of the words that express them.
40 PRO Argument 2: Explanation Premise: “What people say is due, in part, to what they mean.” Premise: “It is relatively unclear how any other sort of property of a word [besides use properties] would constrain its overall use.” Conclusion: Only the use theory can explain how what people say is due to what they mean.
41 Premise 2?I’m skeptical of premise 2 in this argument. Horwich says that what a word refers to can’t explain its use. Imagine I have a map of Central and on one part of it is written “Wing Lok Street.” Why did the mapmaker use that name there? Quite sensibly, because the street drawn on the map corresponds to Wing Lok Street, and “Wing Lok Street” refers to Wing Lok Street. How does a basic acceptance property provide a better explanation than that?
42 PRO Argument 3: Attribution When we judge that two words (in different languages or idiolects) mean the same thing, we check to see if their uses are appropriately similar. And what does ‘appropriate’ mean here? Horwich argues that it means differences in use are circumstantial– both words are still governed by the same basic acceptance property. He says we judge they mean differently when differences in use are more than merely circumstantial.
43 Theoretical Entities Redux This is certainly an empirical question. It does run Horwich into some potential trouble though (CON Argument 2: Holism). People with radically different theories (about electrons or whatever) will use words in radically different ways. Horwich can say that they are still talking about the same thing but only up until the point that their uses are governed by the same basic acceptance property. Again, Whether this comports with intuition is an empirical matter.
44 PRO Argument 4Premise 1: We are generally inclined to accept inferences from a sentence S containing word w, S(w), to the sentence S(v), when w and v are synonyms (have the same meaning).
45 PRO Argument 4Premise 2: If the use theory is true, then w and v are synonyms whenever w and v’s uses are governed by the same basic acceptance property. Thus if w’s basic acceptance property leads me to accept S(w), v’s basic acceptance property, which is the same as w’s, will likewise lead me to accept S(v)
46 PRO Argument 4Inference to the best explanation: Since no other theory of meaning explains these facts better than the use theory, the use theory is true.
47 Against Application as a ToM For example, Horwich argues that if the meaning of ‘groundhog’ is what it applies to, then to know the meaning is to know what it applies to. And to know the meaning of ‘woodchuck’ is to know what it applies to. But, he claims, you can know all this without knowing that ‘groundhog’ and ‘woodchuck’ apply to all the same things.
48 In Defense of Denotation Is that really true though? Many philosophers have held that the meaning of a sentence is its truth-conditions (and remember: truth is a notion belonging to the denotation relations). To know what a sentence means is to know the circumstances under which it is true. If S(w) and S(v) are true under the same circumstances, then shouldn’t we know that S(w) if and only if S(v), when we know their meanings?
49 In Defense of HorwichWell… not exactly. There are classic examples where sentences are true under the same circumstances, but not known to be so by people who understand them:2 + 2 = 4 if and only if Obama is president.eiπ + 1 = 0 if and only if Obama is president.
50 PRO Argument 5: Implicit Definition An implicit definition is where we define a word or symbol by using the defined symbol in a context. Here’s an example:
51 Euclid’s Postulates (Wolfram Alpha) 1. A straight line segment can be drawn joining any two points. 2. Any straight line segment can be extended indefinitely in a straight line. 3. Given any straight line segment, a circle can be drawn having the segment as radius and one endpoint as center. 4. All right angles are congruent. 5. Given any straight line and a point not on it, there exists one and only one straight line which passes through that point and never intersects the first line, no matter how far they are extended.
52 PRO Argument 5: Implicit Definition Horwich argues that the use theory is needed to make sense of implicit definition. When people are given a set of axioms or postulates involving new terms, they accept them and use those postulates to decide what other sentences involving those terms to accept. Thus the implicitly defining postulates wind up being the basic acceptance properties governing future use.
53 Implicit Definition?This argument rests quite a bit on the possibility of implicit definition. There’s some reason to think things don’t work this way. For example, in non-Euclidean geometry, lines don’t satisfy Euclid’s postulates (that’s why it’s called non-Euclidean geometry). But that doesn’t make sense if Horwich is right: the things in non-Euclidean geometry aren’t lines.
54 PRO Argument 6: Translation Why is it that when I say, “I’d like some cheese” in America and “Je voudrais du fromage” in France, similar things happen in both countries? Here’s Horwich’s idea. I have this theory: If I say “I’d like some _____” in America, peons bring me some _____.
55 Further TheoryIn addition, I have this theory: If I say, “I’d like _____” in America then peons bring me _____. For example, If I say “I’d like ALL cheese,” then peons bring me ALL cheese.
56 Further Further Theory In addition I have this theory: If I say “xxxxx would like _____,” in America then peons bring xxxxx _____. For example, if I say “Tony Parker would like no beans,” then peons bring Tony Parker no beans.
57 Similar Role for French But then notice that ‘voudrais’ plays a similar role: If I say “xxxxx voudrais/ voudrait/ etc _____” in France, then peons bring xxxxx _____.”
58 Basic Acceptance Property It’s a simple step here. Horwich claims that the basic acceptance property underlying our uses of ‘would like’ and ‘voudrais/t/etc.’ And this is it: All uses of w (‘would like,’ or ‘voudrais’) arise from the fact that we accept that if we say “xxxx w _____” then peons bring xxxxx _____.”
59 Why Translation WorksTherefore, identical basic acceptance properties between words in different languages give rise to identical behaviors (or at least, expectations of behaviors) across those languages. Translation works, Horwich says, because meaning is constituted by basic acceptance properties.
60 Other Possibilities?Horwich doesn’t claim, however, that a denotation-involving theory couldn’t arrive at an explanation of why translation works. For example, for commands, we might think that instead of truth conditions (circumstances under which they are true), they had satisfaction conditions (circumstances under which they are obeyed) as their meanings.
61 Alternative Explanation Then we might say thatIn any country, peons satisfy the conditions of your commands (when they speak the language you utter them in).“I’d like some cheese” and “Je voudrais du fromage” have the same satisfaction conditions.Peons will bring me cheese in France when I say “Je voudrais du fromage.”
62 PRO Argument 7: Pragmatic Argument Horwich’s final argument is that since his theory explains why translation works, it explains why we bother translating things. I’m not sure this gets to count as an extra reason for accepting the theory.
64 Horwich is not the only use theorist, but he’s one of the few that I understand. His views are put forth in admirable clarity. Here’s a summary of the arguments, color-coded for whether I think they work, don’t work, or are still up for grabs.
65 Rainbows There’s only one sense of ‘meaning.’ UT required for meaning to explain use.Appropriate similarity in use = same meaningUT required for synonym equivalence.UT required for implicit definitions to work.UT required for efficacy of translation.UT explains purpose of translation.