The Normativity of Meaning: From Constitutive Norms to Prescriptions

Acta Analytica 29 (4):427-440 (2014)
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This paper defends the normativity of meaning thesis by clearing up a misunderstanding about what the thesis amounts to. The misunderstanding is that according to it, failing to use an expression in accordance with the norms which constitute its meaning amounts to changing the expression’s meaning. If this was what the thesis claimed, then it would indeed be easy to show that meaning norms do not yield prescriptions and cannot be followed. However, there is another reading: what is constitutive of meaning is not the norm’s being followed, but the norm’s being applicable. On this reading, some standard arguments against the thesis lose their force. After discussing the alternative reading and its consequences, the paper goes on to sketch a model of how norms of meaning become applicable in the first place. This model supports the view that talk of meaning has its pragmatic home in contexts of linguistic calibration.
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Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy.Williams, Bernard Arthur Owen

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