A priori knowledge and two-dimensional semantics

I have always been interested in the nature of meaning, a priority, necessity, and their interrelations.

Most of my work on these topics has focused on a promising semantic theory that explains these concepts and their interrelations. The theory is initially motivated by the idea that to adequately solve Frege’s puzzle, we need a Fregean solution that admits an internally accessible component to meaning, and that to account for externalist intuitions we also require an external component. This line of thinking leads naturally to a form of two-dimensional semantics, which posits that meanings have both an internal component that directly relates to apriority and an external component that directly relates to (metaphysical) necessity.

I have been working on this theory in collaboration with Ed Elliott (ANU) and Clas Weber (UWA). In 2013 we published a defence of epistemic two-dimensional semantics (E2D):

2013. ‘Epistemic Two-Dimensionalism and Arguments from Epistemic Misclassification’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91 (2):375-389 (with Edward Elliott and Clas Weber). (Published version, Preprint)

We defend E2D against an influential line of criticism, which we call arguments from epistemic misclassification. Such arguments conclude that E2D is mistaken from (i) the claim that E2D is committed to classifying certain sentences as a priori and (ii) the claim that such sentences are a posteriori. We aim to show that these arguments are unsuccessful as (i) and (ii) undercut each other. One must distinguish the general framework of E2D from a specific implementation of it. The framework is flexible enough to avoid commitment to the apriority of any particular sentence; only specific implementations are so committed. Arguments from epistemic misclassification are therefore better understood as arguments for favouring one implementation of E2D over another, rather than as refutations of E2D.

This paper has now given rise to three separate critical responses:

Schroeter, Laura. 2013. Epistemic Two-Dimensionalism and Empirical Presuppositions. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91/2: 391-4.

Speaks, Jeff. 2014. No Easy Argument for Two-Dimensionalism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92/4: 775-81.

Stillman, Richard. 2015. Unique Best Deserver Theory and Arguments From Misclassification. Australasian Journal of Philosophy. DOI:10.1080/00048402.2015.1009128

There has also been discussion of our debate with Speaks in:

Chalmers, D.J. 2014. Intensions and Indeterminacy. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 89 (1):249-269.

The three of us are (once again) teaming up to write another paper that continues to develop E2D. Our initial article drew the distinction between the general framework of E2D, and various specific implementations of it. In our new paper we aim to develop in detail a specific implementation of E2D called non-descriptivism. In the process, we aim to respond to the above mentioned criticisms to our original paper.

More to come as research on this project progresses!

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