Semantic dispositionalism without exceptions

Philosophical Studies 177 (6):1751-1771 (2020)
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Abstract

Semantic dispositionalism is roughly the view that meaning a certain thing by a word, or possessing a certain concept, consists in being disposed to do something, e.g., infer a certain way. Its main problem is that it seems to have so many and disparate exceptions. People can fail to infer as required due to lack of logical acumen, intoxication, confusion, deviant theories, neural malfunctioning, and so on. I present a theory stating possession conditions of concepts that are counterfactuals, rather than disposition attributions, but which is otherwise similar to inferentialist versions of dispositionalism. I argue that it can handle all the exceptions discussed in the literature without recourse to ceteris paribus clauses. Psychological exceptions are handled by suitably undemanding requirements (unlike that of giving the sum of any two numbers) and by setting the following two preconditions upon someone’s making the inference: that she considers the inference and has no motivating reason against it. The non-psychological exceptions, i.e., cases of neural malfunctioning, are handled by requiring that the counterfactuals be true sufficiently often during the relevant interval. I argue that this accommodates some important intuitions about concept possession, in particular, the intuition that concept possession is vague along a certain dimension.

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Arvid Båve
University of Lisbon

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