Good ‘Cat’, Bad ‘Act’

Philosophia 49 (3):1007-1019 (2020)
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A widespread intuition is that words, musical works, and flags are intentionally produced and that they’re abstract types that can have incorrect tokens. But some philosophers, notably Julian Dodd and Nicholas Wolterstorff, think intention-dependence isn’t necessary; tokens just need to have certain relevant intrinsic features to be tokens of a given type. I show how there’s an unappreciated puzzle that arises from these two views: if tokens aren’t intention-dependent and types can admit of correct and incorrect tokens, then some driftwood that washes up and forms what seems like the word ‘cat’ may simultaneously be a misspelling of ‘act’ and innumerable other misspelt words. I consider various ways Dodd and Wolterstorff can respond to this counterintuitive result and argue that biting the bullet, as well as nearby views, are implausible. Thus, they need to give up one of the two commitments, and I argue that requiring the intention-dependence of tokens, rather than the mere possession of certain intrinsic properties, is the best option.
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