The undeflated domain of semantics Paul M. Pietroski, university of maryland

It is, I suppose, a truism that an adequate theory of meaning for a natural language L will associate each sentence of L with its meaning. But the converse does not hold. A theory that associates each sentence with its meaning is not, by virtue of that fact, an adequate theory of meaning. For it is also a truism that a semantic theory should explain the (interesting and explicable) semantic facts. And one cannot decree that the relevant facts are all reportable with instances of schemata like ‘S means that p’ or ‘S, by virtue of its meaning, is true iff p’. Investigation suggests that there is much more for semanticists to explain: natural languages exhibit synonymies, ambiguities, and entailments; for any string of words, there are endlessly many meanings it cannot have; there are semantic generalizations, including crosslinguistic generalizations, that go uncaptured and unexplained by merely associating sentences with their meanings; etc. Initially, one might think these facts are “peripheral” and can thus be ignored if the aim is to explain why sentences mean what they do. But the study of natural language suggests otherwise. (One can’t tell, in advance of investigation, which facts are peripheral to a given domain. It was initially tempting to think that one could ignore falling bodies, and the tides, if the aim was to explain why planets move as they do.).
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