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Semantics versus Pragmatics$
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Zoltan Gendler Szabo

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199251520

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199251520.001.0001

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Radical and Moderate Pragmatics: Does Meaning Determine Truth Conditions?

Radical and Moderate Pragmatics: Does Meaning Determine Truth Conditions?

(p.45) 2 Radical and Moderate Pragmatics: Does Meaning Determine Truth Conditions?
Semantics versus Pragmatics

Herman Cappelen (Contributor Webpage)

Ernie Lepore (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

A central thesis in the philosophy of language, at least since Frege and Russell, is that the meaning of (declarative) sentences determines the conditions under which they are true. Of course, declarative sentences in English divide into two classes — those that have truth conditions tout court, and those that have truth conditions only relative to certain contextual parameters being fixed. With respect to the latter class, identifiable linguistic features determine which contextual parameters go with which parts of the sentence in question. A number of authors have challenged, in varying degrees of scope, the thesis that sentence meaning determines truth conditions. Let's call the extreme critical position ‘radical pragmatics’ (RP). According to RP, sentences lack truth conditions. Sentences have meaning, according to RP, but only utterances have truth conditions. Sentences do not have truth conditions in vacuo, but only in the context of an utterance, only against a background of ‘normal circumstances’. Philosophers who explicitly subscribe to an all out RP are John Searle and Charles Travis. Both these philosophers allude to Wittgenstein and Austin as their chief influences. According to a more moderate pragmatics (MP), the truth conditions of many assertions go beyond anything that a semantics legitimately assigns to the sentences uttered. Many philosophers and linguists (Bach, Sperber/Wilson, Carston, Recanati, Perry, Crimmins, Stich) endorse MP to some degree. If either RP or MP is correct, then semantics is not about truth conditions. The polemical strategy of this chapter is to argue MP is an unstable position. To wit, there is no principled line to draw between MP and its fanatical cousin RP. So if you accept the arguments or intuitions behind MP, you inevitably will wind up endorsing RP. Secondly, it argues that neither RP nor MP has valid arguments against the view that sentence meaning determines truth conditions. And, lastly, it is argued that RP (and so MP) is wrong. Showing that RP and MP, and their collective arguments against truth conditional semantics are flawed is not a defence of truth conditional semantics directly, but it does fend off what has become a rather irksome opponent.

Keywords:   propositions, indirect discourse, semantics, truth conditions, pragmatics, context

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