Renewing Meaning: A Speech-Act Theoretic Approach

Renewing Meaning: A Speech-Act Theoretic Approach

Renewing Meaning: A Speech-Act Theoretic Approach

Renewing Meaning: A Speech-Act Theoretic Approach

Synopsis

At the birth of analytic philosophy Frege created a paradigm that is centrally important to how meaning has been understood in the twentieth century. Frege invented the now familiar distinctions of sense and force, of sense and reference, of concept and object. He introduced the conception ofsentence meaning as residing in truth-conditions and argued that semantics is a normative enterprise distinct from psychology. Most importantly, he created modern quantification theory, engendering the idea that the syntactic and semantic forms of modern logic underpin the meanings ofnatural-language sentences. Stephen Barker undertakes to overthrow Frege's paradigm, rejecting all the above-mentioned features. The framework he offers is a speech-act-based approach to meaning in which semantics is entirely subsumed by pragmatics. In this framework: meaning resides in syntax and pragmatics; sentence-meanings are not propositions but speech-act types; word-meanings are not objects, functions, or properties,but again speech-act types; pragmatic phenomena one would expect not to figure in semantics, such as pretence, enter into the logical form of sentences; a compositional semantics is provided by showing how speech-act types combine together to form complex speech-act types; the syntactic structuresinvoked are not those of quantifiers, open sentences, variables, variable-binding, etc., rather they are structures specific to speech-act forms, which link logical form and surface grammar very closely. According to Barker, a natural language - a system of thought - is an emergent entity that arises from the combination of simple intentional structures, and certain non-representational cognitive states. It is embedded in, and part of, a world devoid of normative facts qua extra-linguistic entities. The world, in which the system is embedded, is a totality of particular states of affairs. There is no logical complexity in re; it contains mereological complexity only. Some truths have truth-makers, but others, logically complex truths, lack them. Nevertheless, the truth-predicate is univocal inmeaning. Renewing Meaning is a radical, ambitious work which offers to transform the semantics of natural language.

Excerpt

Frege created a paradigm that is centrally important to how meaning was understood in the twentieth century. It includes the now familiar distinctions of sense and force, of sense and reference, of concept and object, the conception of sentence-meaning as residing in truth-conditions, and the view that semantics is a normative enterprise distinct from psychology. Most importantly, it proposes that the syntactic and semantic forms of modern logic, quantification theory, underpin the meanings of natural-language sentences. Frege's paradigm might seem to be a permanent fixture in semantic theory. Nevertheless, in this book, I undertake to overthrow it. I offer an alternative that rejects the sense/force distinction, truth-conditional semantics, anti-psychologism, and, most importantly, the idea that quantification theory has anything to do with the structure of reference and generality in natural languages.

The framework I describe is a speech-act-based approach to meaning in which semantics is entirely subsumed by pragmatics. I call this framework the speech-act theoretic approach, or sta. in sta, meaning resides in syntax and pragmatics; the familiar creatures of semantics, such as propositions or truth-conditions, have no role to play in semantic theory. sta conceives of sentence-meanings not as propositions but as speech-act types. It conceives of word-meanings not as objects, functions, or properties, but again as speech-act types. Pragmatic phenomena one would expect not to figure in semantics, such as pretence, enter into the logical form of sentences. sta offers a compositional semantics by showing how speech-act types combine together to form complex speech-act types. Moreover, the syntactic structures that sta invokes are not those of quantifiers, open sentences, variables, variable-binding, and so on. Rather they are structures specific to speech-act forms. This new kind of syntax explains why surface grammar has the form it does, and views logical form as closely aligned with it—an explanatory virtue lacking in standard treatments.

Isn't a speech-act approach doomed to circularity? It appeals to speech acts. These are underpinned by intentions, and intentions have contents, which in turn must be explained by semantics. My reply to this charge is that intentions have contents, but they are of a different and more primitive kind than the contents of thoughts. the relation of intention to fully-fledged thought is that intentional states provide the simple, representational foundation for a superstructure of speech acts and modes—a superstructure that far outruns the expressive power of that foundation. in sta, semantics is a branch of psychology: psychology and semantics cannot be prized apart. How do we account for the

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