New SEP entry: Theories of Meaning

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has just published a new entry on “Theories of Meaning,” written by Jeff Speaks (Philosophy, Notre Dame). To access the entry, please click here. Here is the introduction, followed by links to the various sections of the entry.

Theories of Meaning

The term “theory of meaning” has figured, in one way or another, in a great number of philosophical disputes over the last half-century. Unfortunately, this term has also been used to mean a great number of different things.

Here I focus on two sorts of “theory of meaning.” The first sort of theory — a semantic theory — is a theory which assigns semantic contents to expressions of a language. Approaches to semantics may be divided according to whether they assign propositions as the meanings of sentences and, if they do, what view they take of the nature of these propositions.

The second sort of theory — a foundational theory of meaning — is a theory which states the facts in virtue of which expressions have the semantic contents that they have. Approaches to the foundational theory of meaning may be divided into theories which do, and theories which do not, explain the meanings of expressions of a language used by a group in terms of the contents of the mental states of members of that group.

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