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International Speaker Series

William Child (Oxford): Meaning, Use, and Supervenience

Friday March 23, 2018, 16.40-18.10billchild

Staraya Basmannaya ulitsa 21/4, Moscow, Room 508

What is the relation between meaning and use? My paper defends a non-reductionist understanding of Wittgenstein’s suggestion that ‘the meaning of a word is its use in the language’; facts about meaning cannot be reduced to facts about use, characterized non-semantically. Nonetheless, it is contended, facts about meaning do supervene on non-semantic facts about use. And, it is argued, this supervenience thesis is consistent with Wittgenstein’s view of meaning and rule-following. Semantic supervenience is then defended against two criticisms. First, John McDowell’s suggestion that the supervenience claim falsifies the epistemology of meaning and fails to accommodate common-sense truths about meaning. Second, a series of counterexamples proposed by Stephen Kearns and Ofra Magidor, who argue that worlds may differ semantically without differing non-semantically. It is argued that neither criticism is convincing. So there is no reason to deny the thesis that semantic facts supervene on non-semantic facts about use and every reason to endorse it.


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