The Composition of Meanings

Paul Horwich

in Meaning

Published in print December 1998 | ISBN: 9780198238249
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597725 | DOI:
 The Composition of Meanings

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Each sentence derives its meaning from what its component words mean and from its syntactic structure. And the thesis of this chapter is that this is so because the meaning‐property of a sentence (e.g. ’x means DOGS BARK’) is nothing over and above the property of being constructed in a certain way from primitives with certain meanings (e.g. ’x results from substituting words whose meanings are DOG and BARK into a schema whose meaning is NS V’). In this explanation of how sentence meanings are ’composed’, absolutely nothing is presupposed about the source of word meaning (e.g. about which properties constitute ’x means DOG’, ’x means BARK’, or ’x means NS V’). Thus (contrary to Fodor and Lepore) the possibility of compositionality imposes no constraint on how the meanings of words are engendered. In particular, we see that compositionality gives us no reason to accept Davidson's explication of meaning in terms of truth conditions.

Keywords: compositionality; Davidson; Fodor; Lepore; meaning; sentences; syntactic structure; truth conditions

Chapter.  11706 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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