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Open Access Dissertation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Year Degree Awarded
Philosophy of Language | Philosophy of Mind
In this dissertation, I defend a Russellian form of descriptivism. The main supporting argument invokes a relation between meaning and thought. I argue that the meanings of sentences are the thoughts people use them to express. This is part of a Gricean outlook on meaning according to which psychological intentionality is prior to, and determinative of, linguistic intentionality.
The right approach to thought, I argue in Chapter 1, is a type of functionalism on which thoughts have narrow contents. On this view, the attitude ascriptions of a regimented psychology capture what people really believe and desire. These attitude ascriptions have content clauses that are what David Lewis calls ‘modified Ramsey sentences.’
I then conclude that, since the meanings of sentences are the narrow contents of the thoughts speakers use them to express, the meanings of sentences can also be represented with such descriptive sentences. I extend the view so that it applies to individual words. The resulting view is a form of descriptivism.
Referring, I claim in Chapter 2, is the expression of a de re attitude. I argue that the non-psychological, de re individuation of thoughts captures only contingent features of these thoughts. Furthermore, whether a thought counts as de re depends on the attributor’s context. These two characteristics carry over to reference. The referential properties of speech acts and expressions are merely contingent features. Furthermore, whether a speech act or expression counts as referring depends upon the attributor’s context.
In Chapter 3, I apply this version of descriptivism to indexicals, demonstratives and names. Indexicals turn out to have non-descriptive, context-insensitive, semantically determined meanings. Demonstratives have descriptive, context-sensitive, pragmatically determined meanings. Names, finally, have descriptive, context-insensitive, semantically determined meanings.
In the final chapter, I address Putnam's model-theoretic argument, the most formidable obstacle to the form descriptivism outlined here. I criticize Lewis's ‘magnetist’ solution that invokes primitive naturalness because it is committed to the existence of incorrigible error about the external world. I suggest an empiricist approach on which psychological intentionality, and so ultimately linguistic intentionality as well, is anchored in experience.
van der Gaast, Brandt H., "A Defense of Russellian Descriptivism" (2014). Doctoral Dissertations. 243.