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Meaning, Communication and Knowledge by Testimony

Dr. Douglas Patterson

Thursday, September 23, 2010, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Kansas State University, Department of Philosophy

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Why does meaning matter?  It is common to think that communication depends on it: were I to fail to know what your words mean, I would be unable to draw any conclusions either about what you are trying to convey to me when you talk, or about the world about which you talk, to the extent that I take your talking to express your knowledge.  I will argue that this is mistaken:  communication and the gathering of knowledge by testimony depend not on knowledge of the meanings of words, but rather on knowledge of what speakers mean by their words.  I intend by this more than a bland emphasis on speaker's meaning as opposed to meaning in a "public" language: communication and knowledge by testimony go just fine even if the speaker's words mean nothing at all in any language.  I'll develop these ideas, relate them to work on the semantic paradoxes, and, time permitting, discuss the role of the human language faculty in the facilitation of communication. To have a label, one could call the view I will present "non-factive cognitivism" about semantic theory: semantic competence is a psychologically real relation to a semantic theory, but the theory in question need not be true.

Dr. Douglas Patterson