Holism, conceptual-role semantics, and syntactic semantics

Minds and Machines 12 (1):3-59 (2002)
William J. Rapaport
State University of New York, Buffalo
This essay continues my investigation of `syntactic semantics': the theory that, pace Searle's Chinese-Room Argument, syntax does suffice for semantics (in particular, for the semantics needed for a computational cognitive theory of natural-language understanding). Here, I argue that syntactic semantics (which is internal and first-person) is what has been called a conceptual-role semantics: The meaning of any expression is the role that it plays in the complete system of expressions. Such a `narrow', conceptual-role semantics is the appropriate sort of semantics to account (from an `internal', or first-person perspective) for how a cognitive agent understands language. Some have argued for the primacy of external, or `wide', semantics, while others have argued for a two-factor analysis. But, although two factors can be specified–-one internal and first-person, the other only specifiable in an external, third-person way–-only the internal, first-person one is needed for understanding how someone understands. A truth-conditional semantics can still be provided, but only from a third-person perspective
Keywords Computer  Holism  Science  Semantics  Syntax
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Reprint years 2004
DOI 10.1023/A:1013765011735
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