Externalism and a Posteriori Semantics

Erkenntnis 67 (3):373 - 386 (2007)
It is widely held that the meaning of certain types of terms, such as natural kind terms, is individuated externalistically, in terms of the individual's external environment. Recently a more radical thesis has emerged, a thesis we dub 'a posteriori semantics.' The suggestion is that not only does a term's meaning depend on the external environment, but so does its semantics. One motivation for this is the aim to account for cases where a putative natural kind term fails to pick out a natural kind: The term may have a standard externalist semantics (if it picks out a natural kind) or a more descriptivist one (if it does not). Knowing which semantics applies will therefore require detailed empirical knowledge. This move has also been employed in cases where a singular term, such as a name, fails to have a reference. We argue that a posteriori semantics is inherently implausible, since the type of semantics common terms should be given ought not to be conditional on details of chemistry or physics. A number of difficulties for the position—'metaphysical,' epistemological, and methodological—are articulated. Finally, we suggest that a posteriori semantics misconstrues the way in which semantics is empirical.
Keywords Externalism  Natural kind terms  Semantics  Meaning  Intentions  A posteriori
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DOI 10.2307/27667939
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References found in this work BETA
Hilary Putnam (1975). The Meaning of 'Meaning'. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7:131-193.
Tyler Burge (1979). Individualism and the Mental. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4 (1):73-122.
Saul Kripke (2010). Naming and Necessity. In Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel (eds.), Philosophy. Routledge 431-433.
Donald Davidson (1987). Knowing One's Own Mind. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 60 (3):441-458.

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