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date: 20 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The phrase ‘theory of meaning’ can mean a number of things in the history of analytic philosophy of language. It may denote an attempt to ‘analyze, elucidate, or determine the empirical content of, the concept of meaning in general’. This we can call an informal theory of meaning. Alternatively, it may denote a particular kind of formal theory concerning a specific language. This we can call a formal theory of meaning. This chapter discusses the capacity of formal theories of meaning to shed light on our ability to understand novel utterances. It first provides a brief outline of Gottlob Frege’s views on meaning; this is followed with an account of Donald Davidson’s critique of Frege and his idea that Tarskian truth-theories can serve as formal theories of meaning for natural languages. A critical look at Davidson is followed by an exposition and critical discussion of the debate between Michael Dummett and John McDowell concerning ‘modesty’ and ‘full-bloodedness’ in theories of meaning.

Keywords: theory of meaning, analytic philosophy, philosophy of language, novel utterances, Donald Davidson, Gottlob Frege, natural languages, Michael Dummett, John McDowell, Crispin Wright, modesty

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