Is Denotation a Relation Among Expressions?

Dissertation, Brandeis University (1982)

Our question is whether denotation is or can be construed as a relation not of words to objects, but rather of words to words; thus as a relation not from language to a "world outside language" but rather as a relation that lies wholly within language. ;Our first chapter examines the properties of denotation seen as a two-place relation between linguistic expressions and things in general. In the second chapter we attempt to discover how a particular instance of that relation could be precisely specified, but we fail to find any satisfactory answer that could take us beyond relative specification. We then examine various forms of relativistic semantics in chapter three, with special emphasis on those based on comprehension relations . In chapter four we demonstrate that such comprehension-relation semantics are no less powerful than the traditional set-theoretic one which allegedly reaches out to referents outside of language. ;We attempt in chapter five to analyse the denotation relation in terms of the comprehension relation, but we meet with limited success; out best effort relies upon semantic ascent and is mildly circular in that it uses the name relation among expressions ;In chapter six we digress to the problem of the semantics of fiction, hoping to find insights in the face of the Quinean challenge that, in a deep sense, all discourse is fiction. ;The seventh chapter considers arguments for and against a radical alternative to the classical realist view of denotation. We find the evidence in both directions to be inconclusive and suggest that further refinement of the question could render the issue moot
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