Semantics and Context-Dependence: Towards a Strawsonian Account

In Brett Sherman & Alexis Burgess (eds.), Metasemantics: New Essays on the Foundations of Meaning. Oxford University Press. pp. 327-364 (2014)
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This paper considers a now familiar argument that the ubiquity of context -dependence threatens the project of natural language semantics, at least as that project has usually been conceived: as concerning itself with `what is said' by an utterance of a given sentence. I argue in response that the `anti-semantic' argument equivocates at a crucial point and, therefore, that we need not choose between semantic minimalism, truth-conditional pragmatism, and the like. Rather, we must abandon the idea, familiar from Kaplan and others, that utterances express propositions `relative to contexts' and replace it with the Strawonian idea that speakers express propositions by making utterances in contexts. The argument for this claim consists in a detailed investigation of the particular case of demonstratives, which I argue demand such a Strawsonian treatment. I then respond to several objections, the most important of which allege that the Strawsonian account somehow undermines the project of natural language semantics, or threatens the semantics -pragmatics distinction. Please note that the paper posted here is an extended version of what was published

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Richard Kimberly Heck
Brown University


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