DS-2010-07: Use theories of meaning between conventions and social norms

DS-2010-07: Staudacher, Marc (2010) Use theories of meaning between conventions and social norms. Doctoral thesis, University of Amsterdam.

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This dissertation is a contribution to the philosophy of language. Its
central question is: In virtue of which facts do linguistic
expressions mean what they do? E.g. why does "apple" mean apple in
English? The question receives a systematic answer; in short:
Linguistic expressions mean what they do because among their users,
there are linguistic conventions and social norms to use and
understand them in certain ways.
The answer is clarified and defended as a central thesis. For in this
form, it is at best a slogan: What is meaning? What is it to use and
understand expressions? What are conventions and social norms anyway?
How does the use and understanding determine meaning? The goal of the
dissertation consists in answering these questions.
In chapter 1, the project these questions belong to is explained and
motivated. Three basic types (or paradigms) of accounts are
distinguished, a distinction between conventions and social norms is
introduced, and an adequacy condition is proposed. Thereby we’re in a
position to evaluate such theories.
In chapter 2, a further thesis is examined which is important for the
adequacy of such theories: The so-called "normativity of meaning"
thesis: If an expression means something, then there is an ought
concerning its use and understanding. With an important restriction,
the thesis is accepted.
In chapter 3, the project is defended against a fundamental objection
from Donald Davidson according to which conventions are in a sense not
essential for there to be meaning.

In the subsequent chapters 4 to 9, theories of the three paradigms are
critically discussed:
- Signaling Games: Theories of the first paradigm are a topic of
active research in game theory today. According to them, language
users are agents that either, as speakers, make observations upon
which they send a signal or, as hearers, observe the signals upon
which they react in typical ways. There are two standard
interpretations of such theories. According to the rationalistic
one, agents deliberate about which signal to send and how to react
upon observing one. According to the alternative interpretation,
agents are disposed to exhibit signaling behavior, however their
dispositions are realized (typically they result from learning).
- Actual Language Relations: Theories of the second paradigm are
considered to be the standard in analytic philosophy. As a
building block they use linguistic theories of the kind linguists
develop. Such a building block is related to the social practices
of language use in a community.
- Evolutionary Theories: Theories of the third paradigm conceive
of language as a bag of conventional behaviors which are
evolutionary beneficial (in the wide sense of "evolution" which
includes culture and biology). An important exponent of such a
theory is Ruth Millikan.

In chapters 4 to 6, current theories of the first two paradigms are
discussed (mostly under a rationalistic interpretation); they go back
to David Lewis. Several problems are observed which are difficult to
solve. Consequently, I plead for a theory of the third paradigm. In
chapters 7 to 9, accounts of the third paradigm are discussed.
In chapter 7, Ruth Millikan’s and Simon Huttegger’s accounts are
evaluated, the latter being an Evolutionary Signaling Games
theory. Problems and limitations are observed. Among the problems is
the lack of an adequate account of social norms.
In chapter 8, an account of social norms is developed as it is
required for the "normativity of meaning" thesis. Thereby, one of the
central questions of this thesis is answered, albeit not completely.
In chapter 9, an alternative conventionalist account is developed
using Millikan’s account of conventions, my account of social norms,
and a new description of communication which allows us to assign
meanings to words directly. The account features a unique combination
of characteristics that make it comparably better than the alternative
conventionalist accounts discussed in this thesis.
In chapter 10, the main claims of the dissertation are summarized
together with a list of questions for future research.


Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Report Nr: DS-2010-07
Series Name: ILLC Dissertation (DS) Series
Year: 2010
Subjects: Language
Depositing User: Dr Marco Vervoort
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
URI: https://eprints.illc.uva.nl/id/eprint/2090

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