09/05 Devitt II

So I wanted to finish up talking about Devitt’s view about the methodology of naturalized semantics.

Given that the semantic task cannot be solely to investigate our intuitions about meanings, we then need a way to identify what the semantic task is. Devitt’s answer is that we need to begin by asking what the purpose of meaning attributions are. From this he extracts two key tasks that a semantic theory should explain. The first is how thoughts come to have meanings which allow them to be appealed to in an explanation of behavoir. The second is to explain the property of thoughts that allows them to be a guide to reality for the person. This he calls ‘playing a semantic role’. The semantic task is then to identify which properties of thoughts (if any) allow them to play a semantic role. As you might know already, Devitt’s answer is going to be that in some cases the property is a causal/historical one, in other cases it will be inferential/conceptual connections.

In an earlier post I distinguished two kinds of semantic tasks. The semantic role that Devitt is here talking about is what I call P-semantics. Strictly speaking Devitt cannot say that sentence types have meaning, as sentence types do not play the semantic role that he has identified. According to Devitt the sentence type is there merely to give us a clue to the speaker’s meaning, or to the meaning of the thought. The sentence meaning is determined by the conventions of the language in question.  I will have to wait and see how serious Devitt is about claiming that sentence types do not really have any meaning at all.

Update:

Devitt discussed this issue in class two weeks later. I report and comment on it here.

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