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Chalmers and Semantics

CEU Building
Thursday, November 28, 2019, 3:30 pm – 5:10 pm



The Fregean theories of meaning have now been somewhat less popular due to arguments of Kripke and others. A notable recent exception is David Chalmers’ epistemic two-dimensional semantics. This broadly Fregean approach has received a lot of attention in the current philosophy of language. Chalmers puts forward an ambitious philosophical program: without assuming in advance any independently-grounded Fregean meanings, he aims to “ground” or “construct” such meanings and apparently to convince even a sceptic about Fregean meanings. At the same time, Chalmers seeks to restore “the golden triangle” of apriority, necessity and analyticity that Kripke and others seemingly broke.

Chalmers’ theory is a variant of the possible world approaches and utilizes the general two-dimensional framework. The relevant “possible worlds” of the first dimension, or “scenarios” (as Chalmers prefers to call them), in Chalmers’ theory are, though, all worlds which are possible relative to truths that are a priori knowable (thus they may not all be metaphysically possible). Intension of this first dimension are intended to play the role of Fregean meanings, and provide an account of cognitive significance of, e.g., identity statements involving co-extensional but non-synonymous expressions (such as “the morning star is the evening star”).         

I shall analyze more carefully what, more exactly, Chalmers’ theory can and what it cannot achieve. I shall dig into the foundations of Chalmers’ program and its presuppositions.  I shall argue that certain circularities are lurking behind Chalmers’ theory, and that it is founded on some rather strong philosophical assumptions. I conclude that it is unclear whether it can deliver all it promises.