Semantic externalism in contemporary philosophy of language typically – and often tacitly – combines two supervenience claims about idiolectical meaning (i.e., meaning in the language system of an individual speaker). The first claim is that the meaning of a word in a speaker’s idiolect may vary without any variation in her intrinsic, physical properties. The second is that the meaning of a word in a speaker’s idiolect may vary without any variation in her understanding of its use. I (...) here show that a conception of idiolectical meaning is possible that accepts the “anti-internalism” of the first claim while rejecting (what I shall refer to as) the “anti-individualism” of the second. According to this conception, externally constituted idiolectical meaning supervenes on idiolectical understanding. (shrink)
In this paper I will compare some of Dummett and Davidson’s claims on the problem of communication and idiolects: how can we understand each other if we use different idiolects? First I define the problem, giving the alternative theses of (I) the priority of language over idiolects and (II) the priority of idiolects over language. I then present Dummett's claims supporting (I) and Davidson's claims supporting (II).
Epistemology of language, a branch of both epistemology and the philosophy of language, asks what knowledge of language consists in. In this paper, I argue that such an inquiry is a pointless enterprise due to its being based upon the incorrect assumption that linguistic competence requires knowledge of language. However, I do not think the phenomenon of knowledge of language is trivial. I propose a virtue-theoretic account of linguistic competence, and then explain the phenomenon from a virtue-semantic point of view.
An idiolect, if there is such a thing, is a language that can be characterised exhaustively in terms of intrinsic properties of some single person at a time, a person whose idiolect it is at that time. The force of ‘intrinsic’ is that the characterisation ought not to turn on features of the person's wider linguistic community. Some think that this notion of an idiolect is unstable, and instead use ‘idiolect’ to describe a person's incomplete or (...) erroneous grasp of their language, where this latter is inherently social. Several important debates have featured discussion of individualistic, personal, or private languages. Some are considered in other entries (see the entries on the language of thought hypothesis, private language, and reference). This entry will concentrate on two influential and broadly idiolectal positions in the philosophy of language and linguistics: Noam Chomsky's preference for I-languages over E-languages (Section 2), and Donald Davidson's rejection of languages conceived as shared conventional structures that make communication possible (Section 3). David Lewis's claim that languages are a convention is a common target for both, and is outlined in an Appendix. The entry begins (Section 1) with some general remarks about the ontology of languages. Contents: 1. Idiolects and Language Individuation; 2. Chomsky on E-languages and I-languages; 2.1 The Origins of Chomsky's Distinction: Competence vs. Performance; 2.2 The Distinction Elaborated; 2.3 Why I-languages? Why Not E-languages?; 2.4 Criticisms of Chomsky's Preference for I-languages Over E-languages; 3. Davidson's Claim That There Are No Such Things As Languages; 3.1 What Davidson Aims to Show; 3.2 The Argument From Malaprops and Related Phenomena; 3.3 Reaction to Davidson's Argument; Bibliography; Other Internet Resources; Related Entries. (shrink)
I explore one apparent source of conflict between our naïve view of grammatical properties and the best available scientific view of grammatical properties. That source is the modal dependence of the range of naïve, or manifest, grammatical properties that is available to a speaker upon the configurations and operations of their internal systems—that is, upon scientific grammatical properties. Modal dependence underwrites the possibility of conflicting grammatical appearances. In response to that possibility, I outline a compatibilist strategy, according to which the (...) range of grammatical properties accessible to a speaker is dependent upon their cognitive apparatus, but the properties so accessible are also mind-independent. (shrink)
The present paper is intended to analyse from a theoretical point of view the relationships between natural language and idiolects in the context of communication by means of the Davidson–Dummett controversy on the nature of language. I will explore from a pragmatic point of view the reliability of an alternative position inspired by the recent literalism/contextualism debate in philosophy of language in order to overcome some limitations of Dummett’s and Davidson’s perspectives on language, idiolects and communication.
A linguistic theory is correct exactly to the extent that it is the explicit statement of a body of knowledge possessed by a designated language-user. This popular psychological conception of the goal of linguistic theorizing is commonly paired with a preference for idiolectal over social languages, where it seems to be in the nature of idiolects that the beliefs one holds about one’s own are ipso facto correct. Unfortunately, it is also plausible that the correctness of a genuine belief cannot (...) consist merely in that belief’s being held. This paper considers how best to eliminate this tension. (shrink)
I give an analysis of how empirical terms do their work in communication and the gathering of knowledge that is fully externalist and that covers the full range of empirical terms. It rests on claims about ontology. A result is that armchair analysis fails as a tool for examining meanings of ‘basic’ empirical terms because their meanings are not determined by common methods or criteria of application passed from old to new users, by conventionally determined ‘intensions’. Nor do methods of (...) application used by individual speakers constitute definitive reference-determining intensions for their idiolect terms or associated concepts. Conventional intensions of non-basic empirical terms ultimately rest on basic empirical concepts, so no empirical meaning is found merely ‘in the head’. I discuss the nature of lexical definition, why empirical meanings cannot ultimately be modelled as functions from possible worlds to extensions, and traps into which armchair analysis of meaning can lead us. A coda explains how ‘Swampman’ examples, as used against teleosemantic theories of content, illustrate such traps. (shrink)
A nativist moral psychology, modeled on the successes of theoretical linguistics, provides the best framework for explaining the acquisition of moral capacities and the diversity of moral judgment across the species. After a brief presentation of a poverty of the moral stimulus argument, this chapter sketches a view according to which a so-called Universal Moral Grammar provides a set of parameterizable principles whose specific values are set by the child's environment, resulting in the acquisition of a moral idiolect. The (...) principles and parameters approach predicts moral diversity, but does not entail moral relativism. (shrink)
Direct reference theorists tell us that proper names have no semantic value other than their bearers, and that the connection between name and bearer is unmediated by descriptions or descriptive information. And yet, these theorists also acknowledge that we produce our name-containing utterances with descriptions on our minds. After arguing that direct reference proponents have failed to give descriptions their due, I show that appeal to speaker-associated descriptions is required if the direct reference portrayal of speakers wielding and referring with (...) public names is to succeed. (shrink)
In A Puzzle About Belief, Saul Kripke tells the story of a person caught in a classic Frege case. Peter is unaware that Paderewski the famous Polish politician, and Paderewski the famous Polish musician, are one and the same person. What is supposed to distinguish this Frege case from many others is that Peter associates a single name, 'Paderewski' with both of his conceptions. But not everyone may agree with this description. Richard Larson and Peter Ludlow, and Robert Fiengo and (...) Robert May have suggested that Peter's idiolect contains two 'Paderewski' names (or syntactic expressions). Just as ordinary English speakers may have two 'bank' words each with its own meaning, Peter has two homophonic names each corresponding to one of his conceptions of Paderewski. I will call this position, which will be subject to further clarification, 'the two-name view'. According to the two-name view, the syntactic facts concerning an agent's language should reflect, in this peculiar way, her own perspective on the world. In this sense then, the two-name view is a symptom of an individualistic conception of the words that make up a person's language. (shrink)
A central component of ordinary thought about language is that things like English, Japanese and so on exist and that expressions of these languages mean things in them. A familiar philosophical take on this is that communication between speakers is something that happens in such languages and that happens because expressions have meanings in them: one communicates by means of English sentences because these sentences mean something in English. Opposed to this sort of philosophical common sense are two closely related (...) lines of thought. The first, commonly associated with Chomsky (e.g. 1986) and with Weinrich’s famous quote that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy” is that natural languages are too poorly individuated to do the explanatory work the “commonsense” view requires of them, and are certainly too poorly individuated for serious study of language, or of its role in communication and behavior. For serious purposes, something better defined is required. This first thought leads directly into the second, on which any notion of a language suited for serious study should also bear a closer relationship to the attitudes and abilities of the individual speaker then a nebulous construct such as English could. If whatever meaning an uttered sentence has is determined by relatively “local” facts about the speaker, her intentions and beliefs, and the context of the utterance, language promises to be more closely tied to the speaker, and, one might think, better individuated for it. A move to treating the speaker’s idiolect (or even the idiolect at a time relative to conversational partner) as basic for the study of language is thus motivated both by both individuative and explanatory demands on the notion of a language. On this view, commonly associated in one way with Grice (e.g. 1989) and in another with Davidson (e.g. 2005), but shared by many others, shared languages are simply irrelevant to the determination of meaning, ordinary and philosophical prejudice to the contrary notwithstanding. I find the argument that shared language is irrelevant to the determination of meaning most persuasive in the following form.. (shrink)
EVERY speaker of a language knows a bewildering variety of linguistic facts, and will come to know many more. It is knowledge that connects sound and meaning. Questions about the nature of this knowledge cannot be separated from fundamental questions about the nature of language. The conception of language we should adopt depends on the part it plays in explaining our knowledge of language. This chapter explores options in accounting for language, and our knowledge of language, and defends the view (...) that individuals’ languages are constituted by the standing knowledge they carry from one speech situation to another. (shrink)
Two main claims are defended in this paper: first, that typical disputes in the literature about the ontology of physical objects are merely verbal; second, that the proper way to resolve these disputes is by appealing to common sense or ordinary language. A verbal dispute is characterized not in terms of private idiolects, but in terms of different linguistic communities representing different positions. If we imagine a community that makes Chisholm's mereological essentialist assertions, and another community that makes Lewis's four-dimensionalist (...) assertions, the members of each community speak the truth in their respective languages. This follows from an application of the principle of interpretive charity to the two communities. (shrink)
Lehrer Semantics, as it was devised by Adrienne and Keith Lehrer, is imbedded in a comprehensive web of thought and observations of language use and development, communication, and social interaction, all these as empirical phenomena. Rather than for a theory, I take it for a ‘‘model’’ of the kind which gives us guidance in how to organize linguistic and language-related phenomena. My comments on it are restricted to three aspects: In 2 I deal with the question of how Lehrerian sense (...) can be empirically distinguished from Lehrerian reference as a precondition for the claim that sense relationships are in general more stable than reference relations. It seems that this very claim must already be presupposed for doing the respective empirical investigation. But in 3, I argue for the option to interpret the Lehrers’ concept of sense resp. sense vectors as intension concepts, by which move one may gain a generalized concept, so-to-say ‘‘graded analyticity’’, containing Carnapian strict analyticity for language systems as the extreme case of sense vectors with maximum value. Such graded sense may also be empirically investigated in the case of normal languages. In 4, I plead for my view that what the Lehrers take for communal languages are really collections of family-resembling idiolects of individual speakers and hypotheses of individual speakers about the idiolects of their fellow speakers. This move should free us from the fiction of, and sterile discussions about, the ‘‘true’’ meanings of words, but nevertheless keep normal language communication possible. As a concluding remark I propose in 5 to have both: normal languages from an empirical point of view, and codified languages from a logical reconstructionist one. (shrink)
The paper tries to show that Lehrer's attempt to apply his consensual model to social theories of meaning and reference is misconceived and that Lehrer's behef that language is a fictitious consensus is not justified. It is argued that the idiolects are basically fragmented and eccentric. Underlying causal networks establish both speaker and conventional meaning. Experts are not essential for the creation of communal language. Indeterminacy of meaning is epiphenomenal in a sense that language is open to continual modifications but (...) there is an underiying structure that forms our communal language which is stable. It is furthermore argued, that a full-blown causal theory of reference incorporates semantics but with different basic assumptions from those that Lehrer holds. (shrink)