Louise Cummings

Can there ever be a theory of utterance interpretation?

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Communicative Rationality; Putnam, H.; Theoretical Desiderata; Unintelligibility; Utterance Interpretation.

In this paper, I tackle what appears to be a rather simple question: can there ever be a "theory" of utterance interpretation? It will be contended that a theory of utterance interpretation is not beyond the intellectual grasp of present-day pragmatists so much as it is a construct which lacks sense and is unintelligible. Although many of our most successful theories exhibit desiderata such as simplicity, completeness and explanatory power, it will be argued that these same desiderata are problematic when it is utterance interpretation that is the focus of theoretical efforts. The case in support of this claim sets out from a detailed analysis of the rational, intentional, holistic character of utterance interpretation and draws on the insights of the American philosopher Hilary Putnam. To the extent that a theory of utterance interpretation is not a difficult empirical possibility to realize so much as it is an endeavour which leads to an unintelligible outcome, we consider where this situation leaves pragmatists who have a substantial appetite for theory construction.

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