The myth of occurrence-based semantics

Linguistics and Philosophy 44:813-837 (2021)
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The principle of compositionality requires that the meaning of a complex expression remains the same after substitution of synonymous expressions. Alleged counterexamples to compositionality seem to force a theoretical choice: either apparent synonyms are not synonyms or synonyms do not syntactically occur where they appear to occur. Some theorists have instead looked to Frege’s doctrine of “reference shift” according to which the meaning of an expression is sensitive to its linguistic context. This doctrine is alleged to retain the relevant claims about synonymy and substitution while respecting the compositionality principle. Thus, Salmon (Philos Rev 115(4):415, 2006) and Glanzberg and King (Philosophers’ Imprint 20(2):1–29, 2020) offer occurrence-based accounts of variable binding, and Pagin and Westerståhl (Linguist Philos 33(5):381–415, 2010c) argue that an occurrence-based semantics delivers a compositional account of quotation. Our thesis is this: the occurrence-based strategies resolve the apparent failures of substitutivity in the same general way as the standard expression-based semantics do. So it is a myth that a Frege-inspired occurrence-based semantics affords a genuine alternative strategy.

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Author Profiles

Brian Rabern
University of Edinburgh
Bryan Pickel
University of Glasgow

Citations of this work

Against Fregean Quantification.Bryan Pickel & Brian Rabern - 2023 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 9 (37):971-1007.
Pure Quotation in Linguistic Context.Brian Rabern - 2023 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 52 (2):393-413.
Frege and saving substitution.Bryan Pickel & Brian Rabern - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 178 (8):2687-2697.
The Functional Composition of Sense.Bryan Pickel - 2021 - Synthese 199 (3-4):6917-6942.
On Quantification and Extensionality.Kai F. Wehmeier - 2024 - Review of Symbolic Logic 17 (2):343-365.

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