Category mistakes are meaningful

Linguistics and Philosophy 32 (6):553-581 (2009)
Category mistakes are sentences such as ‘Colourless green ideas sleep furiously’ or ‘The theory of relativity is eating breakfast’. Such sentences are highly anomalous, and this has led a large number of linguists and philosophers to conclude that they are meaningless (call this ‘the meaninglessness view’). In this paper I argue that the meaninglessness view is incorrect and category mistakes are meaningful. I provide four arguments against the meaninglessness view: in Sect. 2, an argument concerning compositionality with respect to category mistakes; in Sect. 3 an argument concerning synonymy facts of category mistakes; in Sect. 4 concerning embeddings of category mistakes in propositional attitude ascriptions; and in Sect. 5 concerning the uses of category mistakes in metaphors. Having presented these arguments, in Sect. 6 I briefly discuss some of the positive motivations for accepting the meaninglessness view and argue that they are unconvincing. I conclude that the meaninglessness view ought to be rejected.
Keywords Category mistakes  Selectional restrictions  Selectional violations  Compositionality  Semantics  Foundations of semantics  Montague Grammar  Type theoretic semantics  Colorless green ideas sleep furiously  Meaning  Meaningfulness  Meaninglessness  Nonsense
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10988-010-9067-0
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 16,658
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Bertrand Russell (2005). On Denoting. Mind 114 (456):873 - 887.

View all 38 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Herman Cappelen (2013). Nonsense and Illusions of Thought. Philosophical Perspectives 27 (1):22-50.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

130 ( #18,489 of 1,725,935 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

13 ( #52,504 of 1,725,935 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.