Meaning Constitution and Epistemic Rationality

Paul Horwich

in Reflections on Meaning

Published in print November 2005 | ISBN: 9780199251247
Published online September 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780191603983 | DOI:
 Meaning Constitution and Epistemic Rationality

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Our beliefs and inferential transitions are subject to evaluation as rational or irrational by reference to general epistemic norms. But what could determine certain norms as the correct ones? This chapter explores and opposes the answer that certain patterns of belief formation (e.g., in arithmetic and in deductive logic) are justified by virtue of the fact that they constitute the relevant concepts or the meanings of the relevant words (e.g., ‘number’, ‘successor’, ‘every’, ‘not’, etc.). This ‘semantogenetic’ proposal goes back to Hilbert, Poincare, and the logical positivists, and was recently defended by Boghossian, Peackocke, Hale, and Wright. Among the arguments developed against it are that although it might account for the epistemic legitimacy of certain beliefs, it cannot explain why certain commitments are epistemically obligatory; and that the practices that provide words with their meanings are ‘conditionalized’ and therefore do not coincide (even approximately) with the practices recommended by our epistemic norms.

Keywords: rational; epistemic norms; justified; arithmetic; logic; Boghossian; Peacocke; Hale; Wright; legitimacy

Chapter.  14271 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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