In Arthur Sullivan (ed.), Sensations, Thoughts, Language: Essays in Honor of Brian Loar. Routledge (forthcoming)

Stephen Schiffer
New York University
Brian Loar attempted to provide the Gricean program of intention-based semantics with an account of expression-meaning. But the theory he presented, like virtually every other foundational semantic or meta-semantical theory, was an idealization that ignored vagueness. What would happen if we tried to devise theories that accommodated the vagueness of vague expressions? I offer arguments based on well-known features of vagueness that, if sound, show that neither Brian’s nor any other extant theory could successfully make that adjustment, and this because, if sound, the arguments show not only that nothing can be the content of a vague expression, but also that no spoken language has a compositional semantics. This raises the question of what, really, are the facts about a language whose explanation might seem to require the language to have a compositional semantics, and whether there might not be a way to explain those facts on the assumption that the language doesn’t have a compositional semantics. In response to this question I offer a rough sketch of a view designed to suggest how what needs to be explained might be explained without appeal to compositional semantics.
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