Between primitivism and naturalism: Brandom’s theory of meaning

Whiting, Daniel (2006) Between primitivism and naturalism: Brandom’s theory of meaning. Acta Analytica, 21, (3), 3-22. (doi:10.1007/s12136-006-1007-9).


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Many philosophers accept that a naturalistic reduction of meaning is in principle impossible, since behavioural regularities or dispositions are consistent with any number of semantic descriptions. One response is to view meaning as primitive. In this paper, I explore Brandom’s alternative, which is to specify behaviour in non-semantic but normative terms. Against Brandom, I argue that a norm specified in non-semantic terms might correspond to any number of semantic norms. Thus, his theory of meaning suffers from the very same kind of problem as its naturalistic competitors. It is not sufficient, I contend, merely that some norms be introduced into one’s account but that they be specified using intensional, semantic notions on a par with that of meaning. In closing, I counter Brandom’s reasons for resisting such a position, the most significant of which is that it leaves philosophers with nothing constructive to say about meaning.

Item Type: Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): doi:10.1007/s12136-006-1007-9
ISSNs: 0353-5150 (print)
1874-6349 (electronic)
Keywords: brandom, inferentialism, pragmatism, semantics, naturalism, primitivism, quietism
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Divisions : Faculty of Humanities > Philosophy
ePrint ID: 195821
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
Date Deposited: 30 Aug 2011 09:22
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 13:43

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