A New Perspective Concerning Experiments on Semantic Intuitions

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89 (2):315-332 (2011)
Abstract
Machery, Mallon, Nichols, and Stich [2004; forthcoming] use experimental methods to raise a spectre of doubt about reliance on intuitions in developing theories of reference which are then deployed in philosophical arguments outside the philosophy of language. Machery et al. ran a cross-cultural survey asking Western and East Asian participants about a famous case from the philosophical literature on reference (Kripke's G del example). They interpret their results as indicating that there is significant variation in participants' intuitions about semantic reference for that case. We argue that this interpretation is mistaken. We detail a type of ambiguity found in Machery et al.'s probe but not yet noted in the response literature. We argue that this epistemic ambiguity could have affected their results. We do not stop there, however: Rather than rest content with a possibility claim, we ran four studies to test the impact of this ambiguity on participants' responses. We found that this accounts for much of the variation in Machery et al.'s original experiment. We conclude that in the light of our new data, their argument is no longer convincing
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References found in this work BETA
Michael Devitt (2011). Experimental Semantics. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 82 (2):418 - 435.
Saul Kripke (2010). Naming and Necessity. In Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel (eds.), Arguing About Language. Routledge.

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