The other day at Language Log there was a post directing us to a philosophically-themed Dinosaur Comic, where T-Rex jubilantly schools philosophers with his deflationary solution to the sorites paradox. I have a number of comments about that, but for now I want to address one aspect of one of the comments there (as you'll see, that will be plenty for today). The commenter, Marinus, after giving an excellent explanation of why the sorites paradox is indeed a real problem in philosophy, suggests that some philosophers, Wittgenstein among them, are committed to the idea that it is impossible for anyone to use a word incorrectly. Marinus does not mention any other such philosophers, and the attribution to Wittgenstein seems like a stretch, or is at least not obvious.
Putting Wittgenstein to one side for now, I can attest that Akeel Bilgrami, following Davidson, has stated explicitly that “normativity is irrelevant to the meaning of words” (“Norms and Meaning”). Here, however, I would like to give some reasons why such talk of using words wrongly is perfectly natural, and, more importantly, can be harmless even by Davidsonian lights. That is, it will seem at first that in helping myself to properly semantic normative considerations, I invite the Platonism which both Davidson and Bilgrami correctly reject. My task will be to show, or at least suggest, that in so doing I issue no such invitation. (Bilgrami actually does qualify his claims somewhat, but not in the way I would prefer. I'll say a bit about this at the end.)
Lynxes and ocelots are members of the cat family…