Thinking how to Live


Richard Marshall interviews Allan Gibbard in 3:AM Magazine:

3:AM: You’re well known in philosophical circles for developing a theory of meaning. You claim that linguistic meaning is normative. Before discussing what this claim is, can you first say something about the competing theories that you found wanting?

AG: The view in my book isn’t precisely that “linguistic meaning is normative”. Rather, the thesis I explore is that claims as to what something means are normative claims. This is a view about the meaning of ‘meaning’, about the concept of meaning rather than the nature of meaning. For the most part, so far as I can think, there aren’t competitors around to my metatheory of meaning, because writers on meaning don’t generally talk about what the things they say about meaning mean. The issue they address is what a word’s meaning such-and-such consists in.

Metaethics, in contrast, in the wake of G. E. Moore, is a field that explicitly treats the meanings of terms. “Analytic” philosophy more generally for a long time followed Moore and centered on analyses of meanings. From standard taxonomies in metaethics, we can, if we like, devise corresponding views one might take on the meaning of meaning claims: theories that are versions of analytical naturalism, a non-naturalism that says that a term’s meaning is a non-natural property of the term, and perhaps some form of non-cognitivism for meaning claims. The obvious approach to the meaning of meaning claims, though, is to try to define the concept of meaning in naturalistic terms, in terms that can fit into a purely empirical science. A central question for me, then, is why I reject treating meaning as a concept within a purely empirical science.

More here.