ArgLab • Permanent Seminar

Metalinguistic Disputes and Externalist Meaning

Erich Rast (IFILNOVA)

IFILNOVA’s Value Research Seminar heartily invites everyone to an online talk by Erich Rast (IFILNOVA).


Metalinguistic disputes seem to be about the right or most adequate meaning of an expression and presuppose the Decomposition Thesis, according to which lexical word meaning can be decomposed into other meanings. This creates a tension with certain versions of semantic externalism that take the meaning of a word to be individuated externally based on the speakers’ relations to their environment and possibly also to patterns of using the word.

I argue that the Decomposition Thesis is indispensable for doing lexical semantics and for explaining the rationality of metalinguistic disputes. Although the thesis is compatible with the linguistic labor division thesis, it is not compatible with Putnam/Kripke-style indexical externalism and Burge’s anti-individualism. Instead of giving up indexical externalism, I suggest to understand it as the realist counterpart of a ‘best available theory’ idealizing externalism. As a consequence of this view, lexical meaning cannot be considered truth-conditional meaning. It does not enter the semantic content of an utterance because a world-level theory that supports a semantic decomposition may turn out to be false, yet such a theory is not generally determinative for the truth-conditions of the respective utterance.

Everybody is welcome to join!

For online participation, please use the following link.

This event is organized by Pedro Abreu and Erich Rast. The purpose of this seminar series is to give researchers a platform to discuss ongoing work and problems — open to all traditions and topics, though currently with a focus on values, evaluative language, and the nature of disagreement. For administrative inquiries, please contact Pedro Abreu or Erich Rast. More information here. If you are interested in giving a talk at the larger ArgLab Colloquium series, please contact Dima Mohammed.