Institut Jean Nicod

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June 18 : Indrek Reiland (University od Southern California)

Mardi 18 juin 2013 de 16h30 à 18h30 - Institut Jean-Nicod, ENS, Pavillon Jardin, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris 


Indrek Reiland (University od Southern California)
Title: "Rules of Use"

Throughout the 20th century it was a common idea in philosophy of language that for an expression to be meaningful is for it to be governed by a rule of use. For example, it was mentioned by Peter Strawson, David Kaplan, John Perry, and Scott Soames. However, nobody went past very general remarks in discussing it. Even worse, it came to be widely seen as inconsistent with “truth-conditional semantics” and subject to the so-called Frege-Geach problem. This led other philosophers to view the idea as vague and mystical, as too radical and obviously problematic, and think of it as ultimately not really worth our time because of there being clear and tractable formal substitutes like characters. For example, here’s Jason Stanley’s summary assessment of it in his survey article “Philosophy of Language in the Twentieth Century” (my emphasis):

Whereas the notion of a rule of use is vague and mystical, Kaplan’s notion of the character of an expression is not only clear, but set theoretically explicable in terms of fundamental semantic notions. (Stanley 2008)

My aim in this paper is to therefore take the idea that meaningfulness has to do with rules of use and first make it precise and demystify it. I then want to also show that it’s consistent with “truth-conditional semantics” and thus not radical, and that it’s not subject to the Frege-Geach problem, and thus not obviously problematic. Finally, I will argue that it is very much worth our time because it can explain why doing descriptive semantics in terms of characters works in the first place, and because it enables us to provide a semantics for expressions which we can’t give one in terms of characters.