Can empirical theories of semantic competence really help limn the structure of reality?

Noûs 40 (1):43–81 (2006)
Abstract
There is a long tradition of drawing metaphysical conclusions from investigations into language. This paper concerns one contemporary variation on this theme: the alleged ontological significance of cognitivist truth-theoretic accounts of semantic competence. According to such accounts, human speakers’ linguistic behavior is in part empirically explained by their cognizing a truth-theory. Such a theory consists of a finite number of axioms assigning semantic values to lexical items, a finite number of axioms assigning semantic values to complex expressions on the basis of their structure and the semantic values of their constituents, and a finite number of production schemata. The theory enables the derivation of truth-conditions for each sentence of the language: something of roughly the form ‘S is true iff P’.1 The claim that speakers stand in a cognitive relation to such theories is advanced, not as a conceptual analysis of semantic competence or understanding, but rather as an empirical hypothesis about human speakers in particular, one part of a broader empirical account of our linguistic competence and cognition generally. It therefore must mesh with the rest of our theorizing in these areas and whatever relevant data from neighboring inquiries there may be. (For example, since it’s hypothesized that ‘S’ in the schema above should be replaced by a certain sort of syntactic representation of the sentence, syntactic evidence can bear on the semantic theory and vice versa.) The precise nature of the cognitive relation a speaker is supposed to bear to a truththeory is a matter of some dispute. I speak of ‘‘cognizing’’ (following..
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References found in this work BETA
William P. Alston (1958). Ontological Commitments. Philosophical Studies 9 (1-2):8 - 17.

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Citations of this work BETA
Douglas Patterson (2009). Inconsistency Theories of Semantic Paradox. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 79 (2):387 - 422.
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