Semantics (ch 2)

Semantics has two basic subdisciplines, linguistic and metaphysical semantics. Linquistic semantics is the study of the interpretation of expressions in a language. It deals with meanings of particular expressions and how these make up the meanings of larger expressions (see compositionality). Within linguistic semantics, a further distinction is made between pure and applied semantics: the latter concerns natural languages such as English or German; the former concerns artificial and formally specified languages (see artificial language).

Metaphysical semantics is the study of the nature of meaning in general. Views about the nature of meaning can be distinguished according to whether they take meaning primarily to be a symbol-world relation or a phenomenon "in the head." Views of the former sort are commonly referred to as referential models and include information-based semantics, which holds that expressions have meaning in virtue of certain causal or nomological (lawlike) relations between expressions and features of the world. Views of the latter sort include intention-based semantics, which holds that meaning is determined by the speaker's intention, and conceptual role semantics (CRS), which holds that it is the way expressions in a language are related to one another (and, in some versions, the way they are related to certain features of the world) that determines what those expressions mean. The latter view is motivated in part by the Fregean idea that expressions which refer to the same thing may have different roles in the language. For example, I may believe that I am drinking water without believing that I am drinking H20.

The view that meaning determines truth and reference conditions presents a problem for any semantic theory in which meanings are entirely "in the head." Dual-aspect semantic theories are attempts to account both for the conceptual roles of expressions and their truth-conditions in accounting for the meanings of expressions. These theories face the problem of determining which conceptual roles are related to which truth-conditions and how these constitute specific meanings.


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