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THE SEMANTIC MYTH OF TEXT AND CONTEXT

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr. Luna Filipovic.

The dominant views about meaning and “propositional content” in philosophy and linguistics are founded upon two mistakes that have wrought havoc as a pair while sometimes obscuring one another. The first manifests itself in conflations of constitutive-metaphysical questions about the factors that determine meaning and evidential-epistemic questions about the factors involved in identifying it. The second manifests itself in versions of a seductive myth about the relation between text, context, and content, a myth fuelled by a conflation of conceptually distinct notions of semantics—one from the study of natural language, the other from mathematical logic—and by an erroneous picture of what can be accomplished using model-theory in general and indexical generalizations of intensional logics in particular. Interestingly, even pragmatists such as Sperber and Wilson, who explicitly reject the myth, conflate the relevant constitutive-metaphysical and evidential-epistemic issues, and in so doing get drawn into confused debates about the determinants of propositional content with those semanticists over whom the myth exerts most control. Unless the myth is comprehensively debunked and the metaphysics of meaning and the epistemics of interpretation cleanly separated, breaking free of the confused debates about content that figure so prominently in contemporary research on the semantics of natural language will be impossible.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Institute for Language Research events series.

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