Zeitschrift Für Semiotik 34 (3-4):141-185 (2014)

Axel Mueller
Northwestern University
This article analyzes whether Brandom’s ISA (inferential-substitutional-anaphoric) semantics as presented in Making It Explicit (MIE) and Articulating Reasons (AR) can cope with problems resulting from inferentialism’s near-implied meaning holism. Inferentialism and meaning holism entail a radically perspectival conception of content as significance for an individual speaker. Since thereby its basis is fixed as idiolects, holistic inferentialism engenders a communication-problem. Brandom considers the systematic difference in information among individuals as the „point“ of communication and thus doesn’t want to diminish these effects of inferentialism. Instead, explains communication with a model of “navigating among perspectives without sharing contents”. The crucial element in this navigation-model is the functioning of anaphoric connections between tokens uttered in discourse that can be used by every individual speaker in their own perspectival semantic substitution-economies. The heart of Brandom’s semantics is the thesis of the purely inferential, hence non-referential nature of anaphora, coupled with the claim that anaphoric-inferential semantic mechanisms yield sufficient conditions for mutually successful “information-extraction” or interpretation. This article disputes the thesis and denies the claim. Regarding the former it is observed that all of Brandom’s plausible reconstructions of anaphoric discourse-structures rely on covert “reference-infiltrations” that can’t be eliminated. Regarding the latter, a new argument based on context-sensitive semantic phenomena in anaphoric settings shows that the crucial distinction between initiator or anaphoric antecedent and anaphoric dependent cannot be drawn according to Brandom’s own premises without overt and irreducible referential premises. The article concludes that either Brandom’s semantics can offer determinate contents, but then must accept genuinely referential semantic primitives, or else it leaves utterance-contents undeterminable and hence cannot explain communication.
Keywords Brandom  Semantics  Inferentialism  Holism and Content  Communication
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References found in this work BETA

Literal Meaning.François Recanati - 2002 - Cambridge University Press.
Making It Explicit.Isaac Levi & Robert B. Brandom - 1996 - Journal of Philosophy 93 (3):145.
On Quantifier Domain Restriction.Jason Stanley & Zoltán Gendler Szabó - 2000 - Mind and Language 15 (2-3):219--61.

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