Meaning and Normativity

  • Gibbard A
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Abstract

The concepts of meaning and mental content resist naturalistic analysis and this, Kripke’s Wittgenstein suggests, is because these concepts are normative. The book draws, motivates, and sketches an analysis of these concepts in terms of oughts, which in turn are explained through expressivism. Devices from metaethics thus inform philosophy of language. The oughts are primitive and subjective. Central devices for the project are drawn from Horwich but are taken normative; these include treating meaning through deflation and synonymy. Horwich’s naturalistic treatment yields Quine-like indeterminacy of meaning that a normative theory might render determinate. Conceptual truth for thoughts and analyticity for sentences voicing thoughts are explained as specially invariant normative features, and the treatment is internalistic, invoking the credence one should have given total evidence. Talk of analyticity is initially provisional, with a gloss developed in terms of the ensuing metatheory of meaning. Concepts of truth and reference with context dependence are treated so as to capture direct reference theory’s virtues without its vices. Tests for this metatheory are then devised in terms of the metatheory itself. Expressivism has two prongs: an oblique substantive theory of meanings of normative terms, and a normative rendering of what this substantive theory is claiming. Strongest forms of expressivism and nonnaturalism converge in their theses, but not in their explanations. Nonnaturalists’ explanations mystify, whereas expressivists explain normative thinking as what natural beings like us, conversing products of natural selection, would legitimately practice.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Analyticity
  • Expressivism
  • Meaning
  • Mental content
  • Metaethics
  • Metatheory of meaning
  • Normative
  • Philosophy of language
  • Reference
  • Synonymy

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Authors

  • Allan Gibbard

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