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What Is Meaning?
Scott Soames

Paperback | 2012 | $23.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691156392
144 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 30 line illus.
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The tradition descending from Frege and Russell has typically treated theories of meaning either as theories of meanings (propositions expressed), or as theories of truth conditions. However, propositions of the classical sort don't exist, and truth conditions can't provide all the information required by a theory of meaning. In this book, one of the world's leading philosophers of language offers a way out of this dilemma.

Traditionally conceived, propositions are denizens of a "third realm" beyond mind and matter, "grasped" by mysterious Platonic intuition. As conceived here, they are cognitive-event types in which agents predicate properties and relations of things--in using language, in perception, and in nonlinguistic thought. Because of this, one's acquaintance with, and knowledge of, propositions is acquaintance with, and knowledge of, events of one's cognitive life. This view also solves the problem of "the unity of the proposition" by explaining how propositions can be genuinely representational, and therefore bearers of truth. The problem, in the traditional conception, is that sentences, utterances, and mental states are representational because of the relations they bear to inherently representational Platonic complexes of universals and particulars. Since we have no way of understanding how such structures can be representational, independent of interpretations placed on them by agents, the problem is unsolvable when so conceived. However, when propositions are taken to be cognitive-event types, the order of explanation is reversed and a natural solution emerges. Propositions are representational because they are constitutively related to inherently representational cognitive acts.

Strikingly original, What Is Meaning? is a major advance.


"This is an outstanding book, probably the best philosophy book I have read this year. . . . The book will not only be of great importance to professional philosophers and linguists but it will also be an accessible and invaluable asset to students."--Anthony Everett, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"Derived from three lectures at Soochow University, Taipei, this book retains the relatively informal style that must have made those lectures both enjoyable and highly informative."--Choice

"Soames's excellent book will drive research on this important topic for some time to come."--Brian Ball, Canadian Journal of Philosophy

"Scott Soames' new book, What Is Meaning?, is an important book, both in the issues it raises and in its shortcomings. It is the first serious discussion of meaning (not 'semantic content' or some other term designed to sidestep the real issue) by a leading analytic philosopher of language in a long while, and its findings lead to a more realistic understanding of meaning and language."--Sergeiy Sandler, European Legacy


"This is a highly original book from a major figure in the philosophy of language. Scott Soames approaches classic problems about intentionality and the unity of the proposition in a new way. The writing and argumentation are admirably clear and straightforward, and there are careful historical discussions. This book makes an important contribution."--Robert Stalnaker, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Chapter 1: Meanings 1
Chapter 2: Frege and Russell: The Real Problem of "the Unity of the Proposition" 11
Chapter 3: Why Truth Conditions Are Not Enough 33
Chapter 4: Propositions and Attitudes: Davidson's Challenge and Russell's Neglected Insight 49
Chapter 5: Toward a Theory of Propositions: A Deflationary Account 69
Chapter 6: The Cognitive-Realist Theory of Propositions 99
Chapter 7: Expanding the Cognitive-Realist Model 109
Index 131

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