On the Distinction Between Literal and Non-Literal Language

Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada) (1999)

Abstract
My topic is the nature and scope of literal language. Broadly stated, my objective is to examine how philosophers in the Western tradition have made use of the concept of literal meaning, in particular, how they have treated the distinction between literal and non-literal language. My approach is historical. I trace how various philosophers, from Plato and Aristotle to Frege to Grice and Davidson, treat this distinction, arguing that it is not until the advent of analytic philosophy in general, and natural language semantics in particular, that it acquires genuine philosophical import. I argue further that although natural language semantics depends on the availability of a principled distinction, its attempt at an identification of literal meaning with context-independent meaning is problematic. Instead, drawing on Davidson's notion of first meaning, I argue that meaning qua meaning is fundamentally intentional and originates with individual acts of communication whereas literal meaning depends for its content on the standards of the linguistic community to which the speaker belongs
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