17th Mar 2010 4:30pm-6:00pm
Sallis Benney Theatre
Emma Borg, Professor of Philosophy from the University of Reading will give a talk entitled, 'Meaning and Context: a survey of a contemporary debate.'
This talk is held in the Room 407, Checkland Building (Falmer Campus) at 16.30.
This paper introduces and explores a contemporary debate about the place of context in determining linguistic meaning. The debate has turned on examples like the following: imagine a fridge which contains only a small puddle of milk on its floor. Two conversations concerning the fridge then take place:
Hugo is dejectedly stirring a cup of black coffee. Noticing this Odile says ‘There is milk in the fridge’.
Hugo has been cleaning the fridge. Odile opens the fridge door and says ‘There is milk in the fridge’.
The intuition which drives the current debate is that what Odile says can differ in truth value between these two scenarios (intuitively being false in the first and true in the second) and the question is how this apparent change should be captured by a semantic theory. I start by sketching five distinct ways to account for the phenomenon thrown up by examples like the one above and suggest that we can view the positions in the debate on a scale, ranging from standard formal semantics at one end through to Wittgensteinian positions which embody the claim that meaning is use at the other.
However, the second part of the paper suggests that, viewed in this way, it becomes less than clear that the intermediate positions, between the two ends of the spectrum, are truly viable. The general problem is that all seem prey to an internal tension, at once recommending that we take the phenomenon thrown up by these examples seriously and yet recommending that we don’t take it so seriously as to lead us to adopting a use-based approach to meaning. Yet, as I’ll argue, it’s not obvious that this is tenable: once we open the door to examples like the above, taking them to be of genuine semantic significance, we may well find that there is no principled reason to shut it again until we have reached the Wittgensteinian end of the spectrum.