SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Multiplying Meanings: Lexicalization and Semantic Atomism
(Philosophy of Language, English)

Where meaning is concerned, atomism presents a promising picture. It bolsters compositionality, purports to offer primitive lexical meanings, and wraps it in a plausible story about where they come from. At the same time, chief proponents like Fodor and Lepore have lodged influential arguments against its competitors, reiterating the importance of compositionality and issues with communication against holism and molecularism. Despite that, it seems to me that there is a subtle theoretical fault running through their position.

Atomism rightly makes room for productivity. Its strong form of compositionality straightforwardly facilitates the idea that we can create and understand an indefinite number of unique sentences on the basis of a finitely stateable set of rules and a finite lexicon. As far as atomism is concerned, lexical items correspond to individual primitive concepts, which play the role of lexical meanings. Given that the lexicon of any particular natural language is finite, then at any given moment there is a finite set of meanings in play in that language. The crucial bit is, of course, that natural languages change. Through lexicalization, new words appear and old words are phased out. And presumably, lexicalization is not a finite process; it can introduce an indefinite number of possible meanings into the existing lexicon.

The productivity that semantic atomism secures for complex expressions can be made a source of reliable descriptions that can be used to "locate" possible meanings -- that is, descriptions that convey concepts that are not captured in the current lexicon. Descriptions can be used to address individuating properties without taking them to be definitions (without them being constitutive) and without forfeiting primitivity. Descriptive coordinates can be put together for an indefinite number of possible meanings within the framework of atomism. Such meanings can be made increasingly fine grained. Given that atomism has weak constraints on the epistemic position of speakers, fielding such an immense set of possible meanings raises the question of whether we can reliably interpret meanings to begin with -- which effectively turns a common argument from stability and communication against holism back against atomism.

Chair: Nadja-Mira Yolcu
Time: 10:00-10:30, 20 September 2019 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.006

Kamil Lemanek 
(University of Warsaw, Poland)

I am a Polish-American doctoral student at the University of Warsaw in Poland. I was born and raised in Chicago. After finishing high school, I moved to Poland to attend university. The title of my dissertation is "On Meaning in the Context of Possibility and Infinity." My interests in philosophy focus mainly on language and philosophy of mind.

Testability and Meaning deco