A default-oriented theory of procedural semantics

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Procedural Semantics(PS), broadly construed, is the thesis that the meaning of a symbolic expression may be identified with procedures which specify how the expression is to be used, or applied to the world. J.A. Fodor has characterized PS as a wildly implausible form of the verification theory of meaning, and has argued that PS constitutes a plausible semantic theory only for highly simplistic universes, such as "blocks worlds" and databases. Fodor argued further that insofar as PS is defensible, it is "parasitic upon" classical denotational semantics. Fodorś critique of PS provoked various rejoinders. Although these rejoinders were not always in agreement, both Wilks and Woods reasoned that some form of PS must be true if we are to render coherent certain fundamental concepts of modeloretic semantics (e.g., denotations and truth-conditions). In the present paper these arguments are reviewed and extended. It is argued that not only Tarskian semantics, but other forms of model-theoretic semantics (including possible world and Situation Semantics) may very well ontologically presuppose some form of PS. In addition, a default-oriented form of PS is presented which avoids the "decision procedure" approach of early PS. The new theory embraces aspects of Quine's pragmatism, and assumes that semantic procedures may return pragmatic (default) truth values which may be revised, if the need arises, by adjudication procedures. On the theory here described, semantic procedures do not constitute the complete meanings of symbolic expressions, but constrain these meanings. It is argued that such constraints must exist if there are to be ontological foundations for such traditional notions as denotations and extensions. © 1989.




Hadley, R. F. (1989). A default-oriented theory of procedural semantics. Cognitive Science, 13(1), 107–137. https://doi.org/10.1016/0364-0213(89)90013-X

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