How do words get their meanings? What happens when you think and speak? What are meanings, and where are they? Are they in dictionaries, in people’s heads, or somehow out there in the world? What exactly do we mean when we speak of the meaning of a word? These questions are the topic of the essay “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’”, which was written by Professor Hilary Putnam and appeared in 1975. It can be found in many places, for instance in his collected papers and in particular in the book The Twin Earth Cronicles: Twenty Years of Reflection on Hilary Putnam’s “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’”, Sharpe 1996. This book contains not only Putnam’s original essay, but also twenty articles written by other philosophers about Putnam’s essay. We will first read the original essay and then some of the articles. The authors of these articles are Zemach, Mellor, Schwartz, Searle, Sterelny, Burge (three articles), Dennett, Loar, Fodor (two), Jackson und Pettit, Stalnaker, McGinn, Crane, McDowell, Davidson, McKinsey, and Bilgrami. The articles are collected under three headings: 1. natural kinds and philosophy of language, 2. mental content and mental causation, 3. self-knowledge. This should give an idea what Putnam’s essay is all about. If there is enough interest, the seminar will be continued in the following semester. I plan to give a series of seminars on theories of meaning, including views from Frege, Kripke and others. Hence this is a chance for students to develop a deeper understanidng of this topic.
In 2010, Tyler Burge will come to Tsing Hua University for a conference on his work. This seminar will also be a chance to get familiar with some of Burge’s work.