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Anderson, Luvell, , Lepore, Ernest (Ernie). Slurring Words
2013, Noûs 47 (1):25-48
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Thomas Hodgson

Abstract: Increasingly philosophers (and linguists) are turning their attention to slurs – a lexical category not much explored in the past. These are expressions that target groups on the basis of race (‘nigger’), nationality (‘kraut’), religion (‘kike’), gender (‘bitch’), sexual orientation (‘fag’), immigrant status (‘wetback’) and sundry other demographics. Slurs of a racial and ethnic variety have become particularly important not only for the sake of theorizing about their linguistic distribution adequately but also for the implications their usage has on other well?worn areas of interest. In ‘Reference, Inference, and The Semantics of Pejoratives,’Timothy Williamson discusses the merits of Inferentialism by looking at Dummett’s treatment of the slur ‘boche.’Mark Richard attempts to show that, contrary to a commitment to minimalism about truth, one is not conceptually confused in holding that slurring statements are not truth?apt discursive discourses, i.e. statements that are neither true nor false, but still represent the world to be a certain way. Others, like David Kaplan, argue that slurs force us to expand our very conception of meaning. Slurs also rub up against various other issues like descriptivism versus expressivism as well as the semantic/pragmatic divide (cf. Potts). Slurs’ effects on these issues make it difficult to ignore them and still give an adequate theory of language. In this paper, we will be particularly interested in the potential slurs carry to offend. Though xenophobes are not offended by slurs, others are – with some slurs more offensive than others.2 Calling an Asian businessman ‘suit’ will not rouse the same reaction as calling him ‘chink’. Even co?extensive slurs vary in intensity of contempt. Christopher Darden once branded ‘nigger’ the ‘filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest word in the English language’ (Kennedy, p. 23); we doubt anyone reacts as such to ‘negro,’ yet it too has become a slur. How can words fluctuate both in their status as slurs and in their power to offend? Targeted members themselves are not always offended by confrontations with slurs, for example, so?called appropriated or reclaimed uses (the camaraderie use of ‘nigger’ among African?Americans and ‘queer’ among homosexuals). These various data focus our investigation around three questions: Why are some confrontations with slurs offensive? Why do some impact audiences more forcefully than others? How do targeted members sometimes succeed in mollifying them? The consensus answer to the first question is that slurs, as a matter of convention, carry negative attitudes towards targeted groups. Since we know so much about how words communicate content, a brief canvass and evaluation of available explanatory alternatives is appropriate; in particular, do slurs offend audiences because of what they semantically express, presuppose, linguistically display (but not describe), or conventionally implicate? Or are their effects determined by negative tone – i.e. the subjective images they summon? These strategies – whether semantic and not – are committed to the view that slurs (or their uses) get across offensive content; they disagree only over the mechanism of implementation. Our overarching aim in this paper is to deflate all content?strategies: each, no matter how it is conceived, we will argue, is irrelevant to an understanding of how slurs function and why they offend. Our positive proposal, in brief, is that slurs are prohibited words not on account of any content they get across, but rather because of relevant edicts surrounding their prohibition. This raises more than a few pertinent questions we will address below, including how words become prohibited, what’s the relationship between their prohibition and their offense potential, and why is it sometimes appropriate to flout such prohibitions?

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Bezuidenhout, Anne, , . Truth-Conditional Pragmatics
2002, Philosophical Perspectives 16:105-134.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Thomas Hodgson

Abstract: The mainstream view in philosophy of language is that sentence meaning determines truth-conditions. A corollary is that the truth or falsity of an utterance depends only on what words mean and how the world is arranged. Although several prominent philosophers (Searle, Travis, Recanati, Moravcsik) have challenged this view, it has proven hard to dislodge. The alternative view holds that meaning underdetermines truth-conditions. What is expressed by the utterance of a sentence in a context goes beyond what is encoded in the sentence itself. Truth-conditional content depends on an indefinite number of unstated background assumptions, not all of which can be made explicit. A change in background assumptions can change truth-conditions, even bracketing disambiguation and reference assignment. That is, even after disambiguating any ambiguous words in a sentence and assigning semantic values to any indexical expressions in the sentence, truth-conditions may vary with variations in the background.

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Chari, V.K., , . Validity in Interpretation: Some Indian Views
1978, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 36(3): 329-340.
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Added by: Meilin Chinn, Contributed by:

Summary: An outline of the theory of interpretation within the language philosophies of ancient India. Chari organizes this extensive history according to topics such as verbal autonomy, intention, unity of meaning, polysemy, contextualism, and interpretation.

Comment: This text is appropriate for discussions of language and meaning in aesthetics, as well as philosophy of language.

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Millikan, Ruth Garrett, , . On Knowing the Meaning; With a Coda on Swampman
2010, Mind 119 (473):43-81.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Juan R. Loaiza

Abstract: I give an analysis of how empirical terms do their work in communication and the gathering of knowledge that is fully externalist and that covers the full range of empirical terms. It rests on claims about ontology. A result is that armchair analysis fails as a tool for examining meanings of ‘basic’ empirical terms because their meanings are not determined by common methods or criteria of application passed from old to new users, by conventionally determined ‘intensions’. Nor do methods of application used by individual speakers constitute definitive reference-determining intensions for their idiolect terms or associated concepts. Conventional intensions of non-basic empirical terms ultimately rest on basic empirical concepts, so no empirical meaning is found merely ‘in the head’. I discuss the nature of lexical definition, why empirical meanings cannot ultimately be modelled as functions from possible worlds to extensions, and traps into which armchair analysis of meaning can lead us. A coda explains how ‘Swampman’ examples, as used against teleosemantic theories of content, illustrate such traps

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Ruth Garrett Millikan, , . Truth, Rules, Hoverflies, and the Kripke-Wittgenstein Paradox
1990, Philosophical Review 99 (3):323-53
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Added by: Björn Freter, Contributed by: Hannah Ginsborg

Abstract: “[T]he sceptical argument that Kripke attributes to Wittgenstein, and even the ‘sceptical solution’, are of considerable importance regardless of whether they are clearly Wittgenstein’s. The naturalistically inclined philosopher, who rejects Brentano’s irreducibility and yet holds intentionality to be an objective feature of our thoughts, owes a solution to the Kripke-Wittgenstein paradox.” The challenge is a welcome one. Although I will argue that the Kripke-Wittgenstein paradox is not a problem for naturalists only, I will propose a naturalist solution to it. (Should the Kripke-Wittgenstein paradox prove to be soluble from a naturalist standpoint but intractable from other standpoints, that would, I suppose, constitute an argument for naturalism.) Then I will show that the paradox and its solution have an important consequence for the theories of meaning and truth. The Kripke-Wittgenstein arguments which pose the paradox also put in question Dummett’s and Putnam’s view of language understanding. From this view it follows that truth rules must be “verificationist rules” that assign assertability conditions to sentences, rather than “realist rules” that assign correspondence truth conditions. The proposed solution to the paradox suggests another view of language understanding, according to which a speaker can express, through his language practice, a grasp of correspondence truth rules.

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Saul, Jennifer M., , . What is said and psychological reality; Grice’s project and relevance theorists’ criticisms
2002, Linguistics and Philosophy 25 (3):347-372.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Thomas Hodgson

Abstract: One of the most important aspects of Grice’s theory of conversation is the drawing of a borderline between what is said and what is implicated. Grice’s views concerning this borderline have been strongly and influentially criticised by relevance theorists. In particular, it has become increasingly widely accepted that Grice’s notion of what is said is too limited, and that pragmatics has a far larger role to play in determining what is said than Grice would have allowed. (See for example Bezuidenhuit 1996; Blakemore 1987; Carston 1991; Recanati 1991, 1993, 2001; Sperber and Wilson 1986; Wilson and Sperber 1981.) In this paper, I argue that the rejection of Grice has moved too swiftly, as a key line of objection which has led to this rejection is flawed. The flaw, we will see, is that relevance theorists rely on a misunderstanding of Grice’s project in his theory of conversation. I am not arguing that Grice’s versions of saying and implicating are right in all details, but simply that certain widespread reasons for rejecting his theory are based on misconceptions.1Relevance theorists, I will suggest, systematically misunderstand Grice by taking him to be engaged in the same project that they are: making sense of the psychological processes by which we interpret utterances. Notions involved with this project will need to be ones that are relevant to the psychology of utterance interpretation. Thus, it is only reasonable that relevance theorists will require that what is said and what is implicated should be psychologically real to the audience. (We will see that this requirement plays a crucial role in their arguments against Grice.) Grice, I will argue, was not pursuing this project. Rather, I will suggest that he was trying to make sense of quite a different notion of what is said: one on which both speaker and audience may be wrong about what is said. On this sort of notion, psychological reality is not a requirement. So objections to Grice based on a requirement of psychological reality will fail. Once Grice’s project and that of relevance theorists are seen as distinct, it will be clear that they can happily coexist.2They are simply discussing different subject matters. One may start to wonder, however, about who is really discussing what is said, a topic that both camps claim. I will not attempt a conclusive answer to this question. But I will suggest that Grice’s view, despite certain shortcomings, has advantages which seem all too often to have gone unnoticed.

Comment: It would make sense to read Grice before engaging with modern reception of his work
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Stojanovic, Isidora, , . What is Said, Linguistic Meaning, and Directly Referential Expressions
2006, Philosophy Compass 1 (4):373-397.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Thomas Hodgson

Abstract: Philosophers of language distinguish among the lexical or linguistic meaning of the sentence uttered, what is said by an utterance of the sentence, and speaker’s meaning, or what is conveyed by the speaker to her audience. In most views, what is said is the semantic or truth-conditional content of the utterance, and is irreducible either to the linguistic meaning or to the speaker’s meaning. I will show that those views account badly for people’s intuitions on what is said. I will also argue that no distinguished level of what is said is required, and that the notion of linguistic meaning is the best placed to play the role of what is said. This relies on two points. First, our intuitions on what is said cannot be detached from the ways in which we talk about what is said, and from the semantics of speech reports and indirect discourse in general. Second, besides what is said, there is an equally important notion of what what-is-said is said about, or that about which the speaker is talking. These are, then, the three main ingredients needed for the theory of what is said: linguistic meaning, what is talked about, and a semantic account of reported speech

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Taylor, Kenneth A., , . Truth and Meaning: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Language
1998, Oxford: Blackwell.
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Added by: Nick Novelli, Contributed by:

Summary: This lucid and wide-ranging volume constitutes a self-contained introduction to the elements and key issues of the philosophy of language. In particular, it focuses on the philosophical foundations of semantics, including the main challenges to and prospects for a truth conditional semantics. Since the book is neither single-mindedly philosophical, nor single-mindedly technical, it is an accessible introduction to the philosophical foundations of semantics, and will provide the ideal basis for a first course in the philosophy of language and philosophical logic.

Comment: This book offers a good introduction to theories of meaning, and includes some good, clear presentations of specialised systems of logic used in philosophy of language, giving students a good example of the existence and practical usefulness of logic beyond first-order. Chapter 3, on Tarski’s formal theory of truth, is one of the better treatments of that subject available. Suitable for undergraduate and graduate teaching.

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Wang Bi, , . Clarifying the Images (Ming xiang)
2004, In Richard John Lynn (ed.). The Classic of Changes: A New Translation of the I Ching as Interpreted by Wang Bi.
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Added by: Meilin Chinn, Contributed by:

Summary: From Wang Bi’s (226-249) seminal commentary on the Yi Jing (I Ching) or Classic of Changes. Bi catalogues and explains the relationship between images, ideas, language, and meaning. A key text that continues to be of importance in Chinese aesthetics, philosophy of language, and hermeneutics.

Comment: This text requires a basic understanding of early Chinese philosophy. It would be appropriate in an advanced undergraduate or graduate seminar on Chinese philosophy and/or aesthetics.

Related reading:

  • Ch. 26 of the Zhuangzi in Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters. A.C. Graham, trans. Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2001.
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Wikforss, Åsa, , . Semantic Externalism and Psychological Externalism
2007, Philosophy Compass 3 (1): 158-181.
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Added by: Giada Fratantonio, Contributed by:

Abstract: Externalism is widely endorsed within contemporary philosophy of mind and language. Despite this, it is far from clear how the externalist thesis should be construed and, indeed, why we should accept it. In this entry I distinguish and examine three central types of externalism: what I call foundational externalism, externalist semantics, and psychological externalism. I suggest that the most plausible version of externalism is not in fact a very radical thesis and does not have any terribly interesting implications for philosophy of mind, whereas the more radical and interesting versions of externalism are quite difficult to support.

Comment: The author sheds light on what the externalist thesis in philosophy of mind actually refers to. More precisely, the author distinguishes between three varieties of externalism, namely, i) foundational externalism, ii) externalist semantics and iii) psychological externalism. After discussing these three varieties of externalism, the author argues that there is a variety of externalism which is non-radical and does not bring about any disastrous conclusion. The first half of the paper can be very useful as introduction on the topic of externalism in philosophy of mind, insofar as lots of the main argument for externalism are addressed and evaluated.

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