Posts tagged ‘meaning’

April 18, 2018

Meaning and reference

by Neil Rickert

I take the view that meaning is subjective.

Many people argue that meaning is objective.  Putnam, in effect, was arguing that in his “The meaning of meaning.”  But it has seemed to me that Putnam’s argument was really about reference rather than about meaning.

In this post I shall discuss both meaning an reference.  And I shall attempt to relate them to my posts about carving up the world.

Intension and extension

It is common to discuss meaning related topics in terms of extension and intension.  The extension of a word is the set of things that it can refer.  So the extension of “cat” would be the set of all cats.  The term “intension” is supposed to be something internal, related to the word.  The intension of “cat” might consist of all properties that characterize cats.

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March 28, 2018

Saying true things about the world

by Neil Rickert

This continues my series of posts on truth.  Up to now, my discussion has mainly been technical.  But truth matters to us because we want to be able to say true things.  We use natural language statements about the world (where “world” is understood broadly) in order to say those true things.

Linguistics is not my area, but I cannot avoid it completely.  Chomsky’s linguistics is based on the idea that language is a syntactic structure.  Presumably the semantics are an add-on to that underlying syntactic structure, although Chomsky doesn’t say much about how semantics makes it into language.

I very much disagree with Chomsky’s view of language.  As I see it, language is primarily semantic.  I see the rules of syntax as mostly an ad hoc protocol used for disambiguation.  So today’s post will be mainly about semantics or meanings.  This has to do with how words can refer to things in the world, or how words can be about something.  This is related to the philosophical problem of intentionality (or aboutness) of language statements.  Here I will be presenting only a broad overview.  I expect to get into more details in future posts.

Carving up the world

I hinted at the idea when I presented my modest theory of truth.  There, I said:

Similarly, if I were to say “the cat is on the mat”, you would see that as true provided that I had followed the standards of the linguistic community in the way that I used the words “cat”, “on” and “mat”.

According to my theory of truth, we need standards for the use of words such as “cat”, “on” and “mat”, and we judge the truth of a statement based on whether it conforms to those standards.

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November 23, 2012

RTH2 – Cats and cherries

by Neil Rickert

This is the second of my posts related to an online discussion of Putnam’s book “Reason, Truth and History”.  Hence the “RTH2” in the title of this post.  For the first such post, check here.

Starting at page 32 of his book, Putnam presents an argument that has come to be known as the “Cats and Cherries” argument, or sometimes as the model theoretic argument.  The model theory background from mathematical logic is the Löwenheim–Skolem theorem.  The theorem itself says that, under suitable assumptions, a theory might have infinitely many interpretations.  If we take natural language to be a theory (as the term “theory” is used in mathematical logic), then this raises the possibility that there might be different ways that natural language words could refer to real world entities.

Putnam considers the possibility of a radical reinterpretation of the English language, such that whenever we say “the cat is on the mat” we really mean “the cherry is on the tree.”

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