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Predelli Contexts Meaning Truth & Use

Predelli Contexts Meaning Truth & Use

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Meaning, Truth, and the Use of Language

Stefano Predelli



Great Clarendon Street, Oxford ox2 6dp

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A sceptical attitude that has been simmering for at least half a

century has recently gained considerable popularity among

philosophers of language. The conviction that something rotten

lies at the very foundation of so-called formal approaches to

language, once only timidly whispered by francophone intellec-

tuals and decadent humanists, is now conWdently enunciated in

(more or less) plain English, and boldly presented to the atten-

tion of analytically oriented neighbourhoods.

The customary way of doing semantics has not found among

its defenders anything matching the conWdent tone with which

the sceptics put forth their case. To the contrary, the uncon-

vinced and unconvincing responses that have emerged from

traditionalist quarters have fuelled the insurgents’ enthusiasm:

surely, if that is all that can be said in favour of the traditional take

on natural languages, it is about time to move on. Where one

ought to move on to remains unclear: nothing even remotely

resembling the scope, elegance, and beauty of the old-fashioned

research programme has been presented as an alternative. Still, if

the tenability of the traditional ediWce did rely on the strategies

promoted by its self-proclaimed champions, theoretical poverty

would arguably be preferable to the dominance of an inadequate


The main thesis of this book is that much more is to be said in

favour of the established semantic paradigm. The recent sceptical

wave, so I argue, is grounded either on false claims or on

inconsequential trivialities. But the anti-traditionalists’ mistakes

are unlikely to be rectiWed as long as they are echoed by re-

sponses which, though superWcially critical of the sceptical view,

do in fact concede the premisses upon which it rests. The

problem is not novel: the misunderstandings shared by sceptics

and contemporary traditionalists alike may be traced back to a

variety of independent assumptions with which the traditional

paradigm has all too often been associated. Only a thorough

analysis of the conceptions of meaning, truth, and the use of

language to which ‘formal’ semantics is committed may elimin-

ate deep-rooted confusions, and reveal the true explanatory

power of the traditional approach.

vi $ Preface


I am indebted to David Kaplan and Nathan Salmon, my teachers

and mentors at the University of California, who introduced me

to the beauties of the traditional paradigm in natural language

semantics. Although this book’s fervent traditionalism some-

times ends up being at odds with some aspects of their views,

the philosophical background assumed in this essay is import-

antly inspired by their approach to language.

Thanks also to those who had the patience and perseverance

to discuss metasemantics with me in the last couple of years.

John Perry and Ben Caplan deserve special mention for the

charitable attitude with which they listened to my semantic

ramblings, and for their ability to present their comments and

criticisms in a most productive form. Similar praise goes to the

anonymous referees who read this manuscript and made very

welcome suggestions for improvements.

Equally fruitful were my exchanges with exponents from the

‘enemy camp’. A special token of appreciation goes to Franc¸ois

Recanati for the generosity with which he tolerated my stubborn

anti-contextualism. Avery heartfelt thanks goes to Claudia Bian-

chi, who helped me better understand the scope and content of

the contextualist challenge.

My good friend and colleague Eros Corazza deserves special

recognition. Many thanks for his hospitality before and after I

moved to Nottingham, for his comments on my work, and for

the frequent and always superb dinners at his house. Thank you

also to Kent Bach, Stephen Barker, Jonathan Berg, Emma Borg,

Herman Cappelen, Robyn Carston, Manuel Garcia-Carpintero,

Jon Gorvett, Max Ko¨lbel, Ernie Lepore, John MacFarlane, Geno-

veva Marti, Stephen Neale, Komarine Romdenh-Romluc, Phil-

lippe Schlenker, Jason Stanley, Alberto Voltolini, Sandro Zucchi,

and all those with whom I had the pleasure to discuss questions

related to this book’s main topic. Last but not least my gratitude

goes to Peter Momtchiloff, Rupert Cousens, and OUP for their

help and encouragement.

A few paragraphs in this essay are reproductions or slight modi-

fications of passages from some of my published essays. I would

like to thank the editors for permission to use material from

‘Talk about Fiction’, Erkenntnis, 46 (1997), 69–77; ‘I Am Not Here

Now’, Analysis, 58 (1998), 107–15; ‘Utterance, Interpretation, and

the Logic of Indexicals’, Mind and Language, 13/3 (1998), 400–14;

‘The Price of Innocent Millianism’, Erkenntnis, 60 (2004), 335–56;

‘The Problem with Token Reflexivity’, Synthese (forthcoming);

‘Think Before You Speak: Utterances and the Logic of Indexi-

cals’, Argumentation (forthcoming); and ‘Painted Leaves, Context,

and Semantic Analysis’, Linguistics and Philosophy (forthcoming).

viii Acknowledgements




1. Systems and their Inputs


2. Systems and Indexes


3. The Vagaries of Action


4. The Colour of the Leaves


5. The Easy Problem of Belief Reports








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