Talk:Semantic externalism

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"In the philosophy of language, semantic externalism is the view that the meaning of a term is determined, in whole or in part, by factors external to the speaker." This formulation invites the misunderstanding that a teacher's success in getting a student to grasp a term's meaning implies semantic externalism. The teacher, a part of the environment, causally determines that the meaning gets into the head of the student/speaker. Of course this causal determination doesn't imply semantic externalism. It's consistent with meaning's being in the head. So our Wikipedia entry should be formulated so that it avoids this ambiguity, shouldn't it?

The ambiguity would be avoided by formulating semantic externalism with reference to the distinction between intrinsic features as opposed to features that relate an individual to the environment (relational features). So internalism would say that the meaning of a term for an individual supervenes on his intrinsic, non-relational features. Then it would be clearer that internalism doesn't deny that the environment can causally affect whether the individual has that supervening feature. Grasping this point is a real problem for some students of semantic externalism. They may be fond of a certain theory T that specifies an environmental process that effects, or causally determines, the acquisition of meanings by speakers. They see internalism being spelled out without reference to T or anything like it, and they infer that internalism makes `the fatal error' of implying the falsehood of theories like T.

Another way of eliminating the ambiguity would be to distinguish between causal determination and constitutive determination. Friendship constitutively determines a good life. It is an element of a good life. That is different from saying that friendship causally determines a good life. That might be true even if friendship weren't part of a good life. (Maybe you have to go through a `friendship phase' before arriving at a good life.) Similarly, meaning could be constitutively determined by the environment, in which case meaning wouldn't be in the head and externalism would be vindicated. That's different though from meaning's being causally determined by the environment.

Rats (talk) 14:19, 11 April 2008 (UTC)

"Externalism is generally thought to be a necessary consequence of any causal theory of reference; since the causal history of a term is not internal, the involvement of that history in determining the term's referent is enough to satisfy the externalist thesis. However, Putnam and many subsequent externalists have maintained that not only reference, but sense as well is determined, at least in part, by external factors. (see sense and reference)."

This paragaraph raises two questions - firstly, externalism is "generally thought" to follow from causal theories of reference by *who*? In Putnam's paper it follows from a theory of direct reference, but I don't think that it is a necessary consequence. Semantic externalism concerns meaning, and internalists about *meaning* needn't think that causal history plays no role in determining *reference*. Even if causal histories play a role in determining meaning (because they determine ref and extension determines meaning), this need not imply that internal factors don't also determine meaning. I thought that in order to qualify as externalism, a theory had to claim that all determining features are external. Because, on any theory, internalist or externalist, there is a trivial sense in which the external fact that my language-using community use the word `tiger' to refer tho tigers partially determines the meaning, since if I decide, privately, to use the word to describe chickens this will not affect the meaning of `tiger'.

Secondly, is the mention of "sense" intended to refer to Putnam's discussion of meaning?


I just rewrote this article from scratch. The content in the previous version was almost entirely a description of Twin Earth, which already has its own entry. It seems most of the work on the subject has been done at internalism and externalism, but there seemed to be a movement there towards giving the various internalism/externalism debates and positions their own pages, which seems sensible to me.

Ncsaint 02:08, 9 November 2005 (UTC)

New evil demon[edit]

Okay, who ever inserted this link (as a possible criticism?) to semantic externalism is hilarious! But isn't the New evil demon a reductio ad absurdum? Or did I just give away the best part of the joke? Too funny, really. Good job whoever thought of that! Teetotaler 3 February, 2009 —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:57, 3 February 2009 (UTC)

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