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Jerry Fodor

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William James Earle

Stephen Schiffer

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Semantic externalism is the view that meaning and mental content are determined by relations to the world of objects and properties outside the physical boundaries of the subject of mental states. What you mean by your words–what you're thinking when you're thinking about something–is essentially constituted by the world at large. It has become customary to formulate externalism in terms of so-called twin earth cases–cases where (some kinds of) content do not supervene on inner states, but this formulation can be shown to be too limited to be of any great use in characterizing a theory of mind. A more general formulation of externalism is defended in chapter 1, one that characterizes all content.

That externalism has untoward consequences for belief-desire psychology is a familiar point, but, given the predominance of twin earth formulations, the problem of content's explanatory role is often construed as the problem of content's failing to supervene. In chapter 2 we argue that this is a mistake. Externalism in its most general formulation has consequences for all content in explanation, not just content that fails to supervene on inner states. If content is externalistically individuated, then content is redundant in causal explanation. In chapter 2 we examine the redundancy problem and consider the options for its solution.

Part one of chapter 3 concerns the further–unnoticed–consequence of externalism that requires a reconsideration of Davidson's charge that Fregean semantic theories fail the test of 'semantic innocence.' If meaning is partly determined by reference, then what an expression refers to in an opaque context, is, ultimately, its reference. Part two of chapter 3 concerns the consequences of externalism for analytic truth. If meaning is partly determined by reference, a question arises as to what becomes of the classical philosophical distinction between analytic and synthetic truth; between 'truth in virtue of meaning alone' and 'truth in virtue of meaning and the world.' Chapter 3 concludes with an account of analytic truth from the perspective of semantic externalism.


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