Deflating Compositionality

Paul Horwich

in Reflections on Meaning

Published in print November 2005 | ISBN: 9780199251247
Published online September 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780191603983 | DOI:
 Deflating Compositionality

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The meaning of any sentence derives from the meanings of its words and from how those words are syntactically combined with one another. But what explains this ‘principle of compositionality’, and what is its import? The answer is due to Davidson: that since we know (from Tarski) how to deduce the truth conditions of sentences from the referents of their words, we should explain it by identifying (or replacing) sentence-meanings with truth conditions and word-meanings with referents. This chapter offers a deflationary alternative according to which the meaning of a sentence is trivially compositional, since it is constituted by the facts concerning its structure and the meanings of its words. An important implication of this idea is that contrary to the writings of Fodor and Lepore, compositionality can place no constraint whatsoever on how word-meanings are engendered.

Keywords: compositionality; Davidson; Tarski; truth conditions; sentence-meanings; Fodor; Lepore

Chapter.  8538 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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