SOPhiA 2022

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programm - Vortrag

Linguistic Correctness as a Response to the Normativity Argument
(Philosophy of Language, Englisch)

Linguistic Correctness as a Response to the Normativity Argument

0. Abstract

One of the main hinge points in Kripke's notorious reading of Wittgenstein and in the paradox that follows from it is that naturalistic theories of meaning, and in particular dispositionalism, cannot account for the normativity of language (Kripke 1982, p. 37). A standard response to this argument has been to argue that language is not normative, and that the illusion of normativity is attributable to the existence of semantic correctness conditions, which only generate normative consequences in conjunction with speakers' desires. I suggest that defenders of naturalistic theories should opt for an alternative strategy: pointing to non-intentionally defined linguistic correctness conditions as the source of language's normative character.

My work is organized as follows: first, I draw on recent work by Reiland to show that deniers of the distinction between semantic and linguistic correctness are vulnerable to Kripke's argument due to their reliance on the idea that speakers imbue words with meaning through their intentions. Next, I suggest that linguistic correctness can be defined without relying on propositional attitudes, which means that it can be incorporated into a theory of meaning without rendering it vulnerable to Kripke-like arguments. Lastly, I argue that unlike semantic correctness, it is plausible that linguistic correctness has categorical normative consequences. The overall purpose of this work is to delineate a strategy for resisting Kripke's sceptical argument that can both do justice to the intuition that language is normative and remain compatible with a naturalistic notion of meaning.

Keywords: the normativity of meaning, Kripkenstein, meaning scepticism, correctness.

1. Semantic Correctness and Linguistic Correctness

The debate surrounding correctness and its normative implications has seen both supporters and deniers of the idea that there might be two different types of correctness. Typically, those who disagree that the notion is ambiguous insist that only semantic correctness exists - i.e. an expression is semantically correct if its application is true, and an expression is semantically incorrect if its application is false. This type of correctness is thought by many not to be inherently normative; for example, Hattiangadi (2007) argues that it creates no categorical obligations. To answer Kripke's sceptic, then, supporters of the notion that only semantic correctness exists have sometimes chosen to argue that our intuitions regarding language's normativity stem from a misinterpretation of semantic correctness conditions as a sign of genuine normativity.

Some philosophers have suggested that there are two different types of correctness: semantic and linguistic. Defenders of this distinction point out that there are intuitions supporting the idea that we can use language correctly even if we say something false. For example, whenever I lie there is a sense in which I am using language correctly, even though I am saying something false, as I am speaking in accordance with the words - established meaning. I can also be said to use an expression incorrectly even if I am saying something true - typical examples include speakers who misspeak, e.g. someone who uses "arcane" instead of "ancient" (substituting the two can contingently generate true statements which are nevertheless incorrect). These examples indicate that there are two different senses in which we might speak (in)correctly: one that is directly linked to true and false application and one that is not.

Reiland (forthcoming) argues that the resistance to the idea that linguistic correctness is separate from semantic correctness comes from the implicit assumption that people can privately imbue words with meaning through their intentions. The reasoning of deniers of the distinction can be summed up as follows: there can be no linguistic error because people always mean what they intend to mean, and if they stray from publicly established norms for the usage of an expression this should always be interpreted as a type of linguistic innovation. However, if one is to grapple with Kripke's sceptical argument, they cannot assume that individual intentions have a role in the determination of meaning: all content-laden states (such as belief, thought, and in this case intention) can be targeted by the sceptical argument in an analogous way. This suggests that the distinction should be maintained until someone provides further reasons to deny its existence.

2. Use-Conditional Semantics and Intentions

An important thing to note is that if linguistic correctness could not be defined in non-intentional terms, its incorporation into a theory of meaning would render it vulnerable to Kripke's sceptical argument. Reiland (forthcoming) proposes a generic definition of linguistic correctness which may be adapted to different theories: using an expression in accordance with its meaning is using it while being in its "use-conditions". Use-conditions could take on this form: "saying S is linguistically correct when certain conditions are satisfied". Reiland leaves use-conditions to be further defined; however, it is plausible that they may be explained in purely non-intentional terms - the conditions to be satisfied could simply depend on facts about relevant context, circumstances, and/or previous use in the particular linguistic community one is speaking within.

One way use-conditions could be fleshed-out is through reliance on use-conditional semantics. Semantics has historically been understood as the domain of conventional meaning, sometimes also called "literal meaning", which was understood to be meaning as provided by truth-conditional analysis. Any other meaningfulness found in language was posited as belonging to the domain of pragmatics. This basic criterion for distinguishing semantics from pragmatics has sometimes been represented as "pragmatics = meaning" truth-conditions (Gazdar 1979, p. 2). However, it has been argued that some aspects of meaning that have traditionally been thought to be within the domain of pragmatics should belong to semantics: in particular, some philosophers noted that there are conventional aspects of meaning that have little to do with truth-conditions. For example, "goodbye" is an expression that has a well-established conventional meaning, but whatever is expressed by 2goodbye" is neither true nor false. It seems intuitive, then, that conventionally established meaning encompasses something more than purely truth-conditionally understood meaning.

Since the appearance of Kaplan__s 1999 underground paper on the meaning of "ouch" and "oops", several philosophers have tried to bring forward the project of a use-conditional semantics, something that could help us make sense of and analyse this wider sphere of conventional meaning. Kaplan's proposal is to provide a formal semantics that encompasses the conventional aspects of meaning which are, nevertheless, unanalysable in truth-conditional terms. The idea stems from the simple insight that taking truth-conditionality and conventionality as the criteria for semantic relevance does not yield the same results, as we have seen - conventionality casts a wider net. Kaplan's framework is designed to deal with expletives, indexicals, and other components of language which are unsuited to a truth-conditional analysis. As he notices, these types of expressions seem more suited to a use-conditional analysis: the truth-conditions of 2I am blonde" change depending on who utters it, while its use-conditions - namely that the sentence is correctly used if the speaker is blonde - are fixed and seem to provide us with the meaning of the sentence in a more accurate sense. Not only that, but the use-conditions for these words intuitively provide us with information about the correct and incorrect ways of using them - and clearly, this is not semantic correctness, as there are no true or false utterances of "goodbye". It should be underlined, then, that use-conditions are a good candidate for what determines linguistic correctness.

Truth-conditions and use-conditions can coexist. Following Kaplan's basic idea, Gutzmann (2015) tries to develop a 2hybrid semantics" that includes both truth-conditions and use-conditions. The goal of Gutzmann's project is to build a framework that would enable us to apply the familiar tools of formal semantics to non-descriptive, but still conventionally determined, features of language. In his framework, while truth-conditions of propositions are based on sets of possible worlds in which the proposition is true (as has been commonly assumed since Stalnaker's 1976 definition of propositions), use-conditions are given by the sets of contexts in which an expression is "felicitously" used (Gutzmann 2015, p. 18). It is safe to say that felicitous usage can model what we have, up until now, referred to as linguistic correctness. Linguistic correctness, then, can be modelled through a framework that relies on old and familiar techniques. The determination of context within this theory would play a significant role, but it is clear that it is possible for context to be determined without referring to the intentions of speakers - it could encode publicly available information about the speaker, time, place, and other relevant non-intentional facts.

3. Linguistic Correctness and Normativity

Having established the distinction between semantic and linguistic correctness and the fact that linguistic correctness may be defined without using intentional terms, we may move onto its usefulness. I agree with Hattiangadi (2007) that semantic correctness does not provide us with anything beyond instrumental obligations such as "if you want to tell the truth, you ought to use "green" correctly". I also agree that instrumental obligations are not proof of language__s normative character, as anything can be instrumentalized relative to our desires. For example, if I want to stay dry, I should bring an umbrella, but that does not mean that bringing an umbrella has normative consequences.

On the other hand, linguistic correctness seems to have more profound normative consequences that are constitutive of meaning - I cannot even participate in the practice of language if I don't speak in accordance with the expressions - use-conditions. This suggests that the "ought" derived from linguistic correctness is categorical and not instrumental, and gives us reason to believe that it can be used to account for the normative character of language. I conclude that incorporating non-intentionally defined linguistic correctness into our naturalistic theory of meaning is the preferred strategy for providing a proper account of the normativity of meaning without falling prey to the sceptical argument.



&_61607;_Gazdar, G. (1979) Pragmatics: Implicature, Presupposition, and Logical Form. New York: Academic Press.

&_61607;_Gutzmann, D. (2015). Use-Conditional Meaning: Studies in Multidimensional Semantics. Oxford University press.

&_61607;_Hattiangadi, A. (2007). Oughts and thoughts. Oxford University Press.

&_61607;_Kripke, S. (1982). Wittgenstein on rules and private language. Harvard University Press.

&_61607;_Reiland, I. (Forthcoming). "Linguistic Mistakes". Erkentniss.

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Chair: Teresa Flera
Zeit: 12:00-12:30, 08. September 2022 (Donnerstag)
Ort: SR 1.007

Sara Papic
(University of Milan, Italien)

Testability and Meaning deco