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The davidsonian project of a compositional semantics for natural languages

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Michel P. Assis Navarro
Total Authors: 1
Document type: Doctoral Thesis
Press: São Paulo.
Institution: Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH/SBD)
Defense date:
Examining board members:
Joao Vergilio Gallerani Cuter; Marcelo Silva de Carvalho; Roberto Horácio de Sá Pereira; Caetano Ernesto Plastino; Edelcio Gonçalves de Souza
Advisor: Joao Vergilio Gallerani Cuter

In this dissertation I carry out a sistematic exposition and examination of Donald Davidsons semantic project to construct a compositional theory of meaning for natural languages by exploring the recursive structure of an interpretative truth theory à lá Tarski. In this strategy, a theory of meaning must be able to capture the general linguistic ability of any speaker of a language to produce and interpret new sentences. The requirement that the theory be compositional is the fundamental criterion that guides Davidson\'s enterprise and ii is at the basis of the project of elucidating the compositional aspect of meaning via the use of a theory of truth of the Tarskian type. I argue that Davidson\'s project attempts to lay the groundwork for a research program on natural language semantics which, while not hegemonic in the field and viewed with skepticism by some, is the only example so far of an attempt to systematically illuminate the compositional aspect of the meanings of broad fragments of natural languages without a direct appeal to abstract entities associated with the expressions of a language, such as properties, senses, propositions, intensions, etc. Two topics about the project received detailed attention. Firstly, I focus on issues of philosophical foundations raised by the proposal. I approach Davidson\'s objections to theories that quantify over meanings by discussing the problems he identifies in analyzes that reify the intensional layer of the meanings of the expressions of a language, especially neo-Fregean systems, such as those proposed by Rudolf Carnap and Alonzo Church. Based partly on Davidson\'s criticism, which is scarcely examined in the literature, and without which there is a risk of a misinterpretation of the ambitions of the project, I maintain, along with the neo-Davidsonian semanticists Ernie Lepore & Kirk Ludwig (2005; 2007), that Davidson does not attempt to provide a semantics which is characterized by substituting or reducing a theory of meaning to a truth theory. The idea is that a compositional theory of meaning can be presented as a body of knowledge about an interpretive truth theory. Davidson does not seek to eliminate the intensional layer of the expressions. What is sought is to avoid its reification. Another part of the thesis focuses on the effort to accommodate in the theory a set of linguistic phenomena proper to natural languages: context-sensitive expressions such as personal and demonstrative pronouns, which force the relativization of the truth predicate of to the contexts of use; Restricted quantification; Sentences with action verbs that describe causal relationships between events; Opaque contexts created by sentences with propositional attitude verbs, and the difficulty of dealing with these contexts without introducing intensional entities. I also examine the foundational aspects of Lepore & Ludwig\'s semantics, which undoubtedly widens the scope of linguistic phenomena that can be explained by a theory motivated by Davidson\'s project. In the authors\' method, it is established, among other conditions - following Davidsons approach - that it is not enough to know the informational content expressed by the axioms of a theory of truth. It is also necessary to know what content the axioms convey. That is, one has to know the meanings of the axioms. By systematizing this knowledge in the form of a theory, they associate, through a list, a sense/intension to each axiom. For each expression of the object language there must be an axiom in the theory, and the meaning of this axiom must be the content of the semanticist / interpreter\'s knowledge so that he is able to employ a truth theory to interpret the subsentential expressions and the sentences of the object language. If my observation is correct, in the structure of the authors theory the reification of the meanings of the axioms occurs, which would be a strong indication that the semantics they construct does not fulfill the purpose of being a theory immune to the introduction of intensional entities. Moreover, this association of a semantic content to each axiom via quantification seems to imply a more serious question: the signaling of intensional objects to the expressions of the object language. Thus, if my considerations are correct, the semantics of the authors seems not to be configured as an alternative to neo-Fregean theories, in the sense of fulfilling what they do, without in the structure of the theory having to postulate intensional entities. (AU)

FAPESP's process: 12/17304-0 - The Davidsonian program of a truth-condition semantics for natural languages: its empirical scope and ontological commitments
Grantee:Michel Platiny Assis Navarro
Support Opportunities: Scholarships in Brazil - Doctorate