Simple Tasks, Abstractions, and Semantic Dispositionalism

Dialectica 66 (4):453-470 (2012)
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According to certain kinds of semantic dispositionalism, what an agent means by her words is grounded by her dispositions to complete simple tasks. This sort of position is often thought to avoid the finitude problem raised by Kripke against simpler forms of dispositionalism. The traditional objection is that, since words possess indefinite (or infinite) extensions, and our dispositions to use words are only finite, those dispositions prove inadequate to serve as ground for what we mean by our words. I argue that, even if such positions (emphasizing simple tasks) avoid the traditional form of Kripke's charge, they still succumb to special cases of the finitude problem. Furthermore, I show how such positions can be augmented so as to avoid even these special cases. Doing so requires qualifying the dispositions of interest as those possessed by the abstracted version of an actual agent (in contrast to, say, an idealized version of the agent). In addition to avoiding the finitude problem in its various forms, the position that results provides new materials for appreciating the role that abstracting models can play for a dispositionalist theory of meaning.
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