Meaning, mistake and miscalculation

Paul Coates

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13 Citations (Scopus)


The issue of what distinguishes systems which have original intentionalityfrom those which do not has been brought into sharp focus by Saul Kripke inhis discussion of the sceptical paradox he attributes to Wittgenstein.In this paper I defend a sophisticated version of the dispositionalistaccount of meaning against the principal objection raised by Kripke in hisattack on dispositional views. I argue that the objection put by the sceptic,to the effect that the dispositionalist cannot give a satisfactory account ofnormativity and mistake, in fact comprises a number of distinct lines ofargument, all of which can be satisfactorily answered by the dispositionalist. Two central problems raised by the sceptic consist in explaining (1) theextension of the term which a subject uses, and (2) the fact that the subjectintends to use the term with that extension, and is thus justified in her use.I adapt a suggestion of Blackburn's, that the extension of a word is fixed bya person's extended first-order dispositions to use it, and suggest that thereis no coherent possibility of a subject being disposed to makesystematic mistakes in connection with many ordinary words; the scepticalproblem does not apply in the same way throughout language. It is furtherargued that an account which appeals to a subject's second-orderdispositions to maintain a consistent pattern of extended first-orderdispositions to use words is able to provide a naturalistic basis to answerthe normative questions about justification of use. Three other variants ofthe mistake objection which are also revealed by a careful examination ofKripke's arguments are distinguished and it is shown that the dispositionalisthas adequate resources to meet them. The appeal to second-order dispositions provides a principled way ofdistinguishing between those systems (animal or machine) which have originalintentionality, and those which do not.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-197
JournalMinds and Machines
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1997


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