The argument from queerness and the normativity of meaning

In his book Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language, Saul Kripke develops a famous argument that purports to show that there are no facts about what we mean by the expressions of our language: ascriptions of meaning, such as “Jones means addition by ‘+’” or “ Smith means green by ‘green’”, are according to Kripke’s Wittgenstein neither true nor false. Kripke’s Wittgenstein thus argues for a form of non- factualism about ascriptions of meaning: ascriptions of meaning do not purport to state facts.1 Define semantic realism to be the view that ascriptions of meaning are apt to be assessed in terms of truth and falsity, and are, at least in some instances, true. Semantic realism, thus defined, is a form of cognitivism about semantic judgement, according to which judgements ascribing meaning express beliefs, states apt for assessment in terms of truth and falsity. Kripke’s Wittgenstein thus argues against semantic realism, and in favour of a form of semantic non-cognitivism. However, another form of opposition to semantic realism accepts that semantic judgements express beliefs but asserts that those beliefs are systematically and uniformly false.2 This cognitivist form of opposition to semantic realism is similar to the error-theoretic form of opposition to moral realism mooted by J.L. Mackie in the first chapter of his Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. In this paper I will investigate whether there is a plausible analogue of Mackie’s “argument from queerness” that can be used to make a case for an error-theory of semantic judgement. In §2 I set out what I take to be Mackie’s argument from queerness against moral realism. In §3 I argue that there is no straightforward and plausible analogue of that argument that would justify an error theory about ascriptions of meaning. In §4 and §5 I defend the argument of §3 against an objection developed in a recent paper by Daniel Whiting
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