The Ontological Argument Against Minimal Word Meanings

Emma Borg

in Pursuing Meaning

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199588374
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741487 | DOI:
The Ontological Argument Against Minimal Word Meanings

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This chapter examines what might be required of an account of lexical content if it is to underpin a minimalist approach to sentence level content. It is suggested that there are two conditions any such theory must meet: first, word meanings must be stable (i.e. in general, a term must make the same semantic contribution wherever it occurs) and, second, the semantic contribution made by expressions must be truth-conducive (word meanings must be the kinds of things which, when enough of them are put together in the right way, what is delivered is something truth-evaluable). These assumptions lead to a model of word meanings as probably atomic and broadly referential. However this kind of approach to word meaning has come under significant pressure from advocates of semantic internalism, such as Noam Chomsky. Thus in this chapter the relationship between semantic minimalism and the kind of semantic internalism proposed by Chomsky is examined, with particular focus on Chomsky's ontological arguments against minimal word meanings. The conclusion of the chapter is that the ontological arguments given do not suffice to show minimal word meanings are impossible.

Keywords: Chomsky; internalism; referential word meanings; ontology

Chapter.  9458 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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