On Failing to Capture some (or even all) of what is Communicated [chapter]

Kent Johnson
2009 Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy  
This paper examines a methodological argument launched against Cappelen and Lepore's "minimalist" semantics. The charge is that this semantic theory -and by implication a great many other ones -cannot be correct, because they fail to capture some of the "intuitive truth conditions" of the relevant sentences. In response, I argue that this charge rests on the claim that an acceptable scientific theory must (at least sometimes) capture all of the overt phenomena under study. But this claim, I
more » ... end, is false. In actual practice, scientific models will often never capture all of the behavior of the relevant phenomenon, and this feature does not undermine them as such. I maintain that semantic theorizing is just an instance of this more general aspect of scientific methodology. Keywords Linguistics · semantics · model · error · methodology Recently, Herman Cappelen and Ernie Lepore (hereafter CL) have developed and defended a particular view, semantic minimalism, regarding the general structure and scope of semantic theories for natural languages (CL, 2005). According to semantic minimalism, semantic context-sensitivity in our expressions is limited to a handful of expressions (e.g., I, you, she, this, that, tomorrow, etc.). In particular, there do not exist unobserved (i.e., phonologically and orthographically unrealized) context-sensitive elements in either the syntactic or semantic structure of an expression. As CL show in great detail, semantic minimalism contrasts sharply with virtually every other existing view about semantic theory. In particular, it is extremely common for semanticists and philosophers of language to assume that a correct semantics for (1a) and (2a) assigns the additional structure in (1b) and (2b) as part of the correct meaning of these sentences:
doi:10.1007/978-1-4020-8310-5_6 fatcat:k7sqp6alzneonfijjj6ydwdfvu