Literal Meaning and Logical Theory

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Literal Meaning and Logical Theory

Jerrold J. Katz The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 78, No. 4. (Apr., 1981), pp. 203-233. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.or

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Literal Meaning and Logical Theory Jerrold J. Katz The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 78, No. 4. (Apr., 1981), pp. 203-233. Stable URL: The Journal of Philosophy is currently published by Journal of Philosophy, Inc..

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N "Literal ~ e a n i n g , "John ' Searle claims to refute theview that sentences of a natural language have a meaning independent of the social contexts in which their utterances occur. T h e present paper is a reply on behalf of this view. In the first section, I show that the issue is not a parochial dispute within a narrow area of the philosophy of language, of interest only to specialists in the area, but is at the heart of a wide range of important philosophical problems, those on which the recent linguistic turn in philosophy has properly taken a grammatical perspective. In the second section, I reply to Searle's criticisms of the view. I

Philosophers who take the position that contextually independent sentence meaning exists have a reason for thinking that literal sentence meaning does not depend on contextual factors, namely that such meaning can be accounted for purely grammatically as a compositional function of the meanings of component words and syntactic structure. This reason has at times been challenged by philosophers and linguists, but these challenges turn out on close examination to bear only on dispensible aspects of the way compositionality has been formulated and so to be easily met. Searle's criticisms, however, d o not constitute another of these indirect challenges; they attack the idea of context-free meaning directly. But Searle's attack is itself strangely context-free. One could hardly guess from Searle's discussion that the issue has broad philosophical


* T h e author wants to thank Ned Block for helpful discussions of a n earlier draft. Erkrnntnts, X I I I , 2 (July 1978): 207-224; reprinted in Searle's Expresston and Meaning (New York: Cambridge, 1979),pp. 117-136. Parenthetical page references to Searle will be to this article, unless otherwise noted, with the Erkenntnis numbering. ' F o r example, Donald Davidson in making the crucial step in motivating his program, the step from a 'means that' form of analysis to a ' s is T if and only if p' form, claims that the step is warranted as the only way he knows to deal with the difficulty that "we cannot account for even as much as the truth conditions of [belief sentences and others containing intensional contexts] o n the basis of what we know of the meanings of words in them." See his "Truth a n d Meaning," in J. F. Rosenberg and C . Travis, eds., Readings i n the P h i l o s o p h y of Language (Englelvood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971), p p . 433-435. Davidson says this without argument, presumably relying o n Benson Mates, "Synonymity," in L. Linsky, ed., Senlnntics and the Philosopliy of Lnnguage (ITrbana: ITni\.. of Illinois Pless, l9.52), p p . 111-138. Noarn