What Is Meaning?

Princeton University Press
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The tradition descending from Frege and Russell has typically treated theories of meaning either as theories of meanings (propositions expressed), or as theories of truth conditions. However, propositions of the classical sort don't exist, and truth conditions can't provide all the information required by a theory of meaning. In this book, one of the world's leading philosophers of language offers a way out of this dilemma.

Traditionally conceived, propositions are denizens of a "third realm" beyond mind and matter, "grasped" by mysterious Platonic intuition. As conceived here, they are cognitive-event types in which agents predicate properties and relations of things--in using language, in perception, and in nonlinguistic thought. Because of this, one's acquaintance with, and knowledge of, propositions is acquaintance with, and knowledge of, events of one's cognitive life. This view also solves the problem of "the unity of the proposition" by explaining how propositions can be genuinely representational, and therefore bearers of truth. The problem, in the traditional conception, is that sentences, utterances, and mental states are representational because of the relations they bear to inherently representational Platonic complexes of universals and particulars. Since we have no way of understanding how such structures can be representational, independent of interpretations placed on them by agents, the problem is unsolvable when so conceived. However, when propositions are taken to be cognitive-event types, the order of explanation is reversed and a natural solution emerges. Propositions are representational because they are constitutively related to inherently representational cognitive acts.

Strikingly original, What Is Meaning? is a major advance.

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About the author

Scott Soames is professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. His books include Philosophy of Language, Philosophical Essays, Reference and Description, and Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century (all Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Aug 9, 2010
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Pages
144
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ISBN
9781400833948
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Language
English
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Genres
Language Arts & Disciplines / Linguistics / General
Language Arts & Disciplines / Linguistics / Semantics
Philosophy / History & Surveys / Modern
Philosophy / Language
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Scott Soames
Scott Soames
In this book, Scott Soames argues that the revolution in the study of language and mind that has taken place since the late nineteenth century must be rethought. The central insight in the reigning tradition is that propositions are representational. To know the meaning of a sentence or the content of a belief requires knowing which things it represents as being which ways, and therefore knowing what the world must be like if it is to conform to how the sentence or belief represents it. These are truth conditions of the sentence or belief. But meanings and representational contents are not truth conditions, and there is more to propositions than representational content. In addition to imposing conditions the world must satisfy if it is to be true, a proposition may also impose conditions on minds that entertain it. The study of mind and language cannot advance further without a conception of propositions that allows them to have contents of both of these sorts. Soames provides it.

He does so by arguing that propositions are repeatable, purely representational cognitive acts or operations that represent the world as being a certain way, while requiring minds that perform them to satisfy certain cognitive conditions. Because they have these two types of content—one facing the world and one facing the mind—pairs of propositions can be representationally identical but cognitively distinct. Using this breakthrough, Soames offers new solutions to several of the most perplexing problems in the philosophy of language and mind.

Scott Soames
An in-depth history of the linguistic turn in analytic philosophy, from a leading philosopher of language

This is the second of five volumes of a definitive history of analytic philosophy from the invention of modern logic in 1879 to the end of the twentieth century. Scott Soames, a leading philosopher of language and historian of analytic philosophy, provides the fullest and most detailed account of the analytic tradition yet published, one that is unmatched in its chronological range, topics covered, and depth of treatment. Focusing on the major milestones and distinguishing them from detours, Soames gives a seminal account of where the analytic tradition has been and where it appears to be heading.

Volume 2 provides an intensive account of the new vision in analytical philosophy initiated by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, its assimilation by the Vienna Circle of Moritz Schlick and Rudolf Carnap, and the subsequent flowering of logical empiricism. With this “linguistic turn,” philosophical analysis became philosophy itself, and the discipline’s stated aim was transformed from advancing philosophical theories to formalizing, systematizing, and unifying science. In addition to exploring the successes and failures of philosophers who pursued this vision, the book describes how the philosophically minded logicians Kurt Gödel, Alfred Tarski, Alonzo Church, and Alan Turing discovered the scope and limits of logic and developed the mathematical theory of computation that ushered in the digital era. The book’s account of this pivotal period closes with a searching examination of the struggle to preserve ethical normativity in a scientific age.

Scott Soames
This is a major, wide-ranging history of analytic philosophy since 1900, told by one of the tradition's leading contemporary figures. The first volume takes the story from 1900 to mid-century. The second brings the history up to date.

As Scott Soames tells it, the story of analytic philosophy is one of great but uneven progress, with leading thinkers making important advances toward solving the tradition's core problems. Though no broad philosophical position ever achieved lasting dominance, Soames argues that two methodological developments have, over time, remade the philosophical landscape. These are (1) analytic philosophers' hard-won success in understanding, and distinguishing the notions of logical truth, a priori truth, and necessary truth, and (2) gradual acceptance of the idea that philosophical speculation must be grounded in sound prephilosophical thought. Though Soames views this history in a positive light, he also illustrates the difficulties, false starts, and disappointments endured along the way. As he engages with the work of his predecessors and contemporaries--from Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein to Donald Davidson and Saul Kripke--he seeks to highlight their accomplishments while also pinpointing their shortcomings, especially where their perspectives were limited by an incomplete grasp of matters that have now become clear.

Soames himself has been at the center of some of the tradition's most important debates, and throughout writes with exceptional ease about its often complex ideas. His gift for clear exposition makes the history as accessible to advanced undergraduates as it will be important to scholars. Despite its centrality to philosophy in the English-speaking world, the analytic tradition in philosophy has had very few synthetic histories. This will be the benchmark against which all future accounts will be measured.

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