Asymmetrical dependence between causal laws does not account for meaning

In V. Abrusci (ed.), Prospettive della Logica e della Filosofia della scienza. ETS. pp. 307-316 (1998)
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Abstract

In (1990), Jerry Fodor has defended a naturalized conception of meaning for Mentalese expressions which relies on the notion of asymmetric dependence. According to this conception, any naturalized theory of meaning must be able to account for the fact that meaning is robust, namely that any token of a certain Mentalese expression “x” retains the expression’s meaning, X, for any Y (≠ X) which happens to cause it. Now, this robustness of “x”‘s meaning can precisely be explained in terms of the subsistence of an asymmetric dependence of any nomic connection between Ys and “x”‘s tokens on another nomic connection between Xs and “x”‘s tokens. According to Fodor, then, this relation between nomic connections can account in perfectly naturalistic terms for “x” meaning X, by providing a sufficient condition for such a meaning. In what follows, however, I will try to show, first, that the subsistence of asymmetric dependencies of the kind envisaged by Fodor is not enough for assigning meaning to a certain expression. Indeed, there are dependencies of this kind which are meaning-irrelevant. Secondly, I will claim that asymmetric dependence relations are not able even to support for the robustness of meaning. For there are cases in which according to the structure of these relations we would have to conclude that meaning is altered although robustness would require to have it unchanged.

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Alberto Voltolini
Università degli Studi di Torino

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