Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Externalism and Intentionalism are compatible

In his argument against intentionalism, Matt Yglesias makes the conflation between semantic internalism and moderate intentionalism that wrongly turned me off from semantic externalism throughout my second year of grad school. Here are the views being regarded as incompatible:

semantic externalism: the belief that the meaning of a term is determined, in whole or in part, by factors external to the speaker.

moderate intentionalism: the belief that the meaning of a term is determined by the speaker's intention.

The key point is that externalism can apply to the contents of intentions too. When we're trying to determine the content of an intention, we might go to factors outside the speaker. Suppose I have an intention to kiss the cute girl whose name I didn't get at the bar the other night. Let's say her name turns out to be Jenny. Jenny has an identical twin, Katie, who wasn't there, but who would have created the exact same internal representations in me if she had been there in Jenny's place. So which girl do I intend to kiss? Obviously, Jenny. Now, there's nothing internal to me that differentiates between the two of them. But because of a fact external to me (that my mental representations were caused by Jenny and not Katie) I can still intend to kiss the one girl instead of the other. When I meet both of them, I may not know which one I am intending to kiss. But there still is a right answer.

If externalism can be true of the contents of intentions in this way, there's no problem reconciling semantic externalism and intentionalism. Just drop the externalist stuff into the content of the linguistic intention.

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