Towards a Computational Account of Inferentialist Meaning

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Both in formal and computational natural language semantics, the classical correspondence view of meaning – and, more specifically, the view that the meaning of a declarative sentence coincides with its truth conditions – is widely held. Truth (in the world or a situation) plays the role of the given, and meaning is analysed in terms of it. Both language and the world feature in this perspective on meaning, but language users are conspicuously absent. In contrast, the inferentialist semantics that Robert Brandom proposes in his magisterial book ‘Making It Explicit’ puts the language user centre stage. According to his theory of meaning, the utterance of a sentence is meaningful in as far as it is a move by a language user in a game of giving and asking for reasons (with reasons underwritten by a notion of good inferences). In this paper, I propose a proof-theoretic formalisation of the game of giving and asking for reasons that lends itself to computer implementation. In the current proposal, I flesh out an account of defeasible inferences, a variety of inferences which play a pivotal role in ordinary (and scientific) language use.
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