The Normativity of Thought and Meaning


In recent years the normativity of thought and meaning has been the subject of an extensive debate. What is at issue is whether intentionality has normative features, and if so, whether that constitutes a problem for naturalistic attempts to account for intentional phenomena. The origin of the debate is Saul Kripke’s interpretation of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s later philosophy, published in Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language. Kripke claimed, on behalf of Wittgenstein, that dispositional accounts of linguistic meaning - accounts, i.e., which attempt to reduce semantic phenomena to facts about how speakers are disposed to employ words - fail to ground the factuality of semantic statements. From this, and other arguments, the far reaching conclusion was drawn by Kripke’s Wittgenstein that there are no semantic facts, that every application of a word is “a leap in the dark”. This position has become known as meaning scepticism. In the present essay, it will be argued that meaning scepticism is incoherent, but that the normativity argument is interesting in its own right. The development of the debate will be traced, primarily through detailed consideration of the writings of Paul Boghossian, who has shifted the focus from the normativity of linguistic meaning to that of belief. It will be contended that even though Boghossian’s attempt to locate a normativity of belief fails, there is a related form of normativity that has to do with the intrinsic badness of false beliefs. Also, suggestions made by Kripke regarding the normativity of intentions will be investigated, and related to contemporary arguments in the philosophy of rationality. The tentative conclusion is that there are some interesting kinds of normativity associated with the intentional, but of a somewhat different variety than those usually discussed.



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Karl Karlander
Stockholm University

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