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Inscrutability and its Discontents

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That reference is inscrutable is demonstrated, it is argued, not only by W. V. Quine's arguments but by Peter Unger's “Problem of the Many.” Applied to our own language, this is a paradoxical result, since nothing could be more obvious to speakers of English than that, when they use the word “rabbit,” they are talking about rabbits. The solution to this paradox is to take a disquotational view of reference for one's own language, so that “When I use ‘rabbit,’ I refer to rabbits” is made true by the meaning of the word “refer.” The reference relation is extended to other languages by translation. The explanation for this peculiarly egocentric conception of semantics—questions of others’ meanings are settled by asking what I mean by words of my language—is to be found in our practice of predicting and explaining other people's behavior by empathetic identification. I understand other people's behavior by asking what I would do in their place.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Publication date: 2005-09-01

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