Though I’ve thought a lot about inscrutability and indeterminacy (well, I wrote my PhD thesis on it) I’ve always run a bit scared from the literature on Kripkenstein. Partly this is because the literature is so huge and sometimes intimidatingly complex. Partly it’s because I was a bit dissatisfied/puzzled with some of the foundational assumptions that seemed to be around, and was setting it aside until I had time to think things through.
Anyway, I’m now thinking about making a start on thinking about the issue. So this post is something in the way of a plea for information: I’m going to set out how I understand the puzzle involved, and invite people to disabuse me of my ignorance, recommend good readings or where these ideas have already been worked out.
To begin with, let’s draw a rough divide between three types of facts:
- Paradigmatically naturalistic facts (patterns of assent and dissent, causal relationships, dispositions, etc).
- Meaning-facts. (Of the form: “+” means addition, “67+56=123” is true, “Dobbin” refers to Dobbin.)
- Linguistic norms. (Of the form: One should utter “67+56=123” in such-and-such circs).
Kripkenstein’s strategy is to ask us to show how facts of (A) can constitute facts of kind (B) and (C). (An oddity here: the debate seems to have centred on a “dispositionalist” account of the move from A to B. But that’s hardly a popular option in the literature on naturalistic treatments of content, where variants of radical interpretation (Lewis, Davidson), of causal (Fodor, Field) and teleological (Millikan) theories are far more prominent. Boghossian in his state of the art article in Mind seems to say that these can all be seen as variants of the dispositionalist idea. But I don’t quite understand how. Anyway…)
One of the major strategies in Kripkenstein is to raise doubts about whether this or that constitutive story can really found facts of kind (C). Notice that if one assumes that (B) and (C) are a joint package, then this will simultaneously throw into doubt naturalistic stories about (B).
In what sense might they be a joint package? Well, maybe some sort of constraint like the following is proposed: unless putative meaning-facts make immediately intelligible the corresponding linguistic norms, then they don’t deserve the name “meaning facts” at all.
To see an application, suppose that some of Kripke’s “technical” objections to the dispositionalist position were patched (e.g. suppose one could non-circularly identify a disposition of mine to return the intuitively correct verdicts to each and every arithmetical sum). Still, then, there’s the “normative” objection: why are those the verdicts the ones one should return in those circumstances? And (right or wrongly) the Kripkenstein challenge is that this normative explanation is missing. So (according to the Kripkean) these ain’t the meaning-facts at all.
There’s one purely terminological issue I’d like to settle at this point. I think we shouldn’t just build it into the definition of meaning-facts that they correspond to linguistic norms in this way. After all, there’s lot of other theoretical roles for meaning other than supporting linguistic norms (e.g. a predicative/explanatory role wrt understanding, for example). I propose to proceed as follows. Firstly, let’s speak of “semantic” or “meaning” facts in general (picked out if you like via other aspects of the theoretical role of meaning). Secondly, we’ll look for arguments for or against the substantive claim that part of the job of a theory of meaning is to subserve, or make immediately intelligible, or whatever, facts like (C).
Onto details. The Kripkenstein paradox looks like it proceeds on the following assumptions. First, three principles are taken as target (we can think of them as part of a “folk theory” of meaning)
- the meaning-facts to be exactly as we take them to be: i.e. arithmetical truths are determinate “to infinity”; and
- the corresponding linguistic norms are determinate “to infinity” as well; and
- (1) and (2) are connected in the obvious way: if S is true, then in appropriate circumstances, we should utter S.
The “straight solutions” seem to tacitly assume that our story should take the following form. First, give some constitutive story about what fixes facts of kind (B). Then (supposing there’s no obvious counterexamples, i.e. that the technical challenge is met). Then the Kripkensteinian looks to see whether this “really gives you meaning”, in the sense that we’ve also got a story underpinning (C). Given our early discussion, the Kripkensteinian challenge needs to be rephrased somewhat. Put the challenge as follows. First, the straight solution gives a theory of semantic facts, which is evaluated for success on grounds that set aside putative connections to facts of kind (C). Next, we ask the question: can we give an adequate account of facts of kind (C), on the basis of what we have so far? The Kripkensteinian suggests not.
The “sceptical solution” starts in the other direction. It takes as groundwork facts of kind (A) and (C) (perhaps explaining facts of kind (C) on the basis of those of kind (A)?) and then uses this in constructing an account of (something like) (B). One Kripkensteinian thought here is to base some kind of vindication of (B)-talk on the (C)-style claim that one ought to utter sentences involving semantic vocabulary such as ” ‘+’ means addition”.
The basic idea one should be having at this point is more general however. Rather than start by assuming that facts like (B) are prior in the order of explanation to facts like (C), why not consider other explanatory orderings? Two spring to mind: linguistic normativity and meaning-facts are explained independently; or linguistic normativity is prior in the order of explanation to meaning-facts.
One natural thought in the latter direction is to run a “radical interpretation” line. The first element of a radical interpretation proposal is identify a “target set” of T-sentences, which the meaning-fixing T-theory for a language is (cp) constrained to generate. Davidson suggests we pick the T-sentences by looking at what sentences people de facto hold true in certain circumstances. But, granted (C)-facts, when identifying the target set of T-sentences one might instead appeal to what person’s ought to utter in such and such circs.
There’s no obvious reason why such normative facts need be construed as themselves “semantic” in nature, nor any obvious reason why the naturalistically minded shouldn’t look for reductions of this kind of normativity (e.g. it might be a normativity on a par with that involved with weak hypothetical imperatives, e.g. in the claim that I should eat this food, in order to stay alive, which I take to be pretty unscary.). So there’s no need to give up on reductionist project in doing things this way. Nor is it only radical interpretation that could build in this sort of appeal to (C)-type facts in the account of meaning.
One nice thing about building normativity into the subvening base for semantic facts in this way is that we make it obvious that we’ll get something like (a perhaps restricted and hedged) form of (iii). Running accounts of (B) and (C) separately would make the convergence of meaning-facts and linguistic norms seem like a coincidence, if it in fact holds in any form at all.)
Is there anything particularly sceptical about the setup, so construed? Not in the sense in which Kripke’s own suggestion is. Two things about the Kripke proposal (as I suggested we read it): it’s clear that we’ve got some kind of projectionist/quasi-realist treatment of the semantic going on (it’s only the acceptability of semantic claims that’s being vindicated, not “semantic facts” as most naturalistic theories of meaning would conceive them). Further, the sort of norms to which we can reasonably appeal will be grounded in practices of praise and blame in a linguistic community to which we belong, and given the sheer absence of people doing very-long sums, there just won’t be a practice of praise and blaming people for uttering “x+y=z” for sufficiently large choices of x, y and z. The linguistic norms we can ground in this way might be much more restricted than one might at first think: maybe only finitely many sentences S are such that something of the following form holds: we should assert S in circs c. Though there might be norms governing apparently infinitary claims, there is no reason to suppose in this setup that there are infinitely many type-(C) facts. That’ll mean that (2) and (3) are dropped.
In sum, Kripke’s proposal is sceptical in two senses: it is projectionist, rather than realist, about meaning-facts. And it drops what one might take to be a central plank of folk-theory of meaning, (2) and (3) above.
On the other hand, the modified radical interpretation or causal theory proposal I’ve been sketching can perfectly well be a realist about meaning-facts, having them “stretch out to infinity” as much as you like (I’d be looking to combine the radical interpretation setting sketched earlier with something like Lewis’s eligibility constraints on correct interpretation, to secure semantic determinacy). So it’s not “sceptical” in the first sense in which Kripke’s theory is: it doesn’t involve any dodgy projectivism about meaning-facts. But it is a “sceptical solution” in the other sense, since it gives up the claims that linguistic norms “stretch out” to infinity, and that truth-conditions of sentences are invariably paired with some such norm.
[Thanks (I think) are owed to Gerald Lang for the title to this post. A quick google search reveals that others have had the same idea…]