Sellars on the Function of Semantic Vocabulary

Lionel Shapiro
University of Connecticut
This paper examines two explanations Sellars gives, at successive stages of his career, of how semantic vocabulary lets us relate linguistic expressions to extra-linguistic reality. Despite their differences, both explanations reveal a distinctive pragmatist approach. According to Sellars, we do not use semantic vocabulary to describe language-world relations. Rather, our taking language to relate to the world is implicit in the moves licensed by our semantic assertions. I argue that Sellars's discussions of the function of semantic vocabulary point to an overlooked position regarding the relation between the concepts of meaning and truth. According to him, the function of meaning ascriptions cannot be explained independently of the function of truth ascriptions. That is because the function of meaning ascriptions essentially involves licensing claims about the world when combined with truth ascriptions. If he is right, this poses a challenge to deflationary accounts of the function of truth talk.
Keywords Wilfrid Sellars  meaning  truth  functional role  deflationism
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DOI 10.1080/09608788.2014.961404
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