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Against referential semantics

Sztencel, Magdalena (2012) Against referential semantics. In: Bourdier, V., Brehaux, K., Dunphy-Blomfield, J., Frath, P. and Hilgert, E., (eds.) Res-per-nomen III : La référence, la conscience et le sujet énonciateur. Reims, Editions et Presses Universitaires de Reims, pp. 485-498

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This paper critically engages with Jerry Fodor‟s (1998, 2008) notion of referential semantics. I argue that Fodor‟s referentialism about semantic content is untenable for two reasons. First, it presupposes internalist content in the guise of mind-dependent properties that our minds attribute to mind-external entities. Furthermore, it is these properties that compose and not, as Fodor argues, reference.
Relatedly, Fodor‟s „lexical-conceptual isomorphism‟ (i.e. the assumption that „atomic‟ concepts just are word meanings) raises problems. First, it incorrectly predicts one-to-one mapping between words and concepts. Second, referential equivalents like English shallow and French peu profond indicate that at least some „atomic‟ concepts have compositional content. The isomorphism is also incompatible with Fodor's view that thought is not necessarily language-dependent.
Overall, I argue that the notion of referential semantics is conceptually untenable and, in the light of problems with lexical-conceptual isomorphism, it is also methodologically unmotivated. In the context of the externalist-internalist debate about the nature of semantic content, the problems with Fodor‟s referentialism strongly tip the balance in favour of internalism.

Item Type: Book Section
Status: Published
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
School/Department: School of Education, Language and Psychology
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/1055

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