Meaning just ain’t in any individual head, an inter-subjective approach to meaning.

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Guillem Adrover Clar


Putnam’s Twin Earth thought experiment creates a division between externalist and internalist approaches to meaning regarding whether we believe that internal duplicates can differ in meaning when they utter the same word or not. I argue that Putnam’s externalist approach is wrong because he treats individuals as the subjects of the thought experiment when the appropriate subject for such thought experiments should be communities of individuals, thus acknowledging the social dimension of meaning. I reconstruct Putnam’s argument and show that it depends crucially on whether Oscar1 and Oscar2 mean the same thing when they say water. By means of analogy to another thought experiment, Archimedes’ Gold, I show that indeed they mean the same thing, relative to the context provided in the thought experiment. In the process of doing so I highlight what we lose if we take an invariantist approach to meaning.

I also provide an example against internalism and in favour of inter- subjectivism about meaning, arguing that the external elements to meaning are not in the world, but are properties of communities of speakers and their contexts. This is done through showing a proposition whose truth value does not seem to depend neither solely on internal characteristics nor the state of the external world, but rather on the characteristics of the relevant community of speakers. In this way I highlight what is wrong with the usual interpretations of what Putnam’s Twin Earth experiment shows.

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