Temporal externalism, use and meaning

Our ascriptions of content to utterances in the past attribute to them a level of determinacy that extends beyond what could supervene upon the usage up to the time of those utterances. If one accepts the truth of such ascriptions, one can either (1) argue that future use must be added to the supervenience base that determines meaning, or (2) argue that such cases show that meaning does not supervene upon use at all. The following will argue against authors such as Lance, Hawthorn and Ebbs that first of these options is the more promising of the two. However, maintaining the supervenience thesis ultimately requires that that the doctrine that use determines meaning be understood as 'normative' in two important ways. The first (more familiar) way is that the function from use to meaning must be of a sort that allows us to maintain a robust distinction between correct usage and actual usage. This first type of normativity is accepted by defenders of many more temporally restricted versions of the supervenience thesis, but the second sort of normativity is unique to theories that extend the supervenience base into the future. In particular, if meaning is partially a function of future use, we can understand other commitments we are often taken to have about meaning, particularly the commitment to meaning being 'determinate', as practical commitments that structure our linguistic practices rather than theoretical commitment that merely describe such practices.
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