Regressions in pragmatics (and semantics)

Influenced by the Wittgensteinian slogan “Don’t look for the meaning, look for the use,” ordinary language philosophers aimed to defuse various philosophical problems by analyzing key words in terms of what they are used to do or the conditions for appropriately using them. Although Moore, Grice and Searle exposed this error – mixing pragmatics with semantics – it still gets committed, now to a different end. Nowadays the aim is to reckon with the fact that the meanings of a great many sentences underdetermine what we would normally mean in using them – even if the sentence is free of indexicality, ambiguity, and vagueness. This can be so because the sentence expresses a “minimal” proposition or even because it doesn’t fully express any proposition. Many theorists are led to defend “truth-conditional pragmatics” (or linguistic “contextualism”), to find a hidden indexical in every syntactic nook or semantic cranny, or otherwise to pay undue respect to seemingly semantic intuitions and intentions. This paper identifies various such moves and explains what’s regressive about them.
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