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Boghossian, Miller and Lewis on Dispositional Theories of Meaning

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Paul Boghossian has pointed out a ’circularity problem’ for dispositionalist theories of meaning: as a result of the holistic character of belief fixation, one cannot identify someone’s meaning such and such with facts of the form S is disposed to utter P under conditions C, without C involving the semantic and intentional notions that such a theory was to explain. Alex Miller has recently suggested an ’ultra-sophisticated dispositionalism’ (modelled on David Lewis’s well known version of functionlism) and has argued that this version of dispositionalism escapes Boghossian’s ’circularity problem’. Miller argues, nonetheless, that another of Boghossian’s criticisms of dispositionalism, ’the infinity problem’ still applies to this ’ultra-sophisticated dispositionalism’: C will still draw upon a potential infinity of mediating background clusters of belief. The present paper argues that the feature that ’the infinity problem’ presents as problematic is a feature of a host of familiar explanations. Our fundamental difficulty in this area is not our inability to understand how a more general model can be applied to a particular domain (the intentional understood as dispositional) but our failure to understand that general model itself (dispositional explanation).
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, University of Southampton, UK

Publication date: 2000-09-01

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