Why Truth-Conditional Semantics in Generative Linguistics is Still the Better Bet

Erkenntnis 82 (3):673-692 (2017)
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In his “Meaning and Formal Semantics in Generative Grammar” (Erkenntnis 2015, 61–87), Stephen Schiffer argues that truth-conditional semantics is a poor fit with generative linguistics. In particular, he thinks that it fails to explain speakers’ abilities to understand the sentences of their language. In its place, he recommends his “Best Bet Theory”—a theory which aims to directly explain speakers’ abilities to mean things by their utterances and know what others mean by their utterances. I argue that Schiffer does not provide good reason to prefer the Best Bet Theory over truth-conditional semantics in the context of generative linguistics. First, his negative arguments against the truth-conditional approach are unpersuasive, and second, the Best Bet Theory involves an explanatory circularity which makes it unfit for linguistic theorizing. I conclude that the Best Bet Theory is thus not even a viable competitor to truth-conditional semantics in generative linguistics.



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Toby Napoletano
University of California, Merced

Citations of this work

Is meaning cognized?David Balcarras - 2023 - Mind and Language 38 (5):1276-1295.

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References found in this work

Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use.Noam Chomsky - 1986 - Prager. Edited by Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel.
Semantics in generative grammar.Irene Heim & Angelika Kratzer - 1998 - Malden, MA: Blackwell. Edited by Angelika Kratzer.
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Knowledge of Meaning.Richard Larson & Gabriel Segal - 2000 - Mind 109 (436):960-964.
The Things We Mean.Stephen Schiffer - 2003 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 66 (2):395-395.

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