Can we say what we mean?: Expressibility and background

Pragmatics and Cognition 17 (2):283-308 (2009)
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The aim of this paper is to discuss a basic assumption tacitly shared by many philosophers of mind and language: that whatever can be meant, can be said. It specifically targets John Searle's account of this idea, focusing on his Principle of Expressibility . In the first part of the paper, PE is exposed underlining its analyticity and its relevance for the philosophy of language , mind , society and action . In the critical part, the notion of Background is taken into account in order to re-evaluate two basic distinctions: the one between sentence and utterance meanings , and the one between native and type speakers . PE is reconsidered in the light of the previous arguments as a methodological strategy that does not prevent uses of language from eventual semantic excesses and deficits , and a complementary Principle of Expression Fallibility is finally proposed.
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