I’ve just discovered the writings of philosopher Jaroslav Peregrin, and came across a beautiful,
lucid article of his on meaning. It’s called What is
inferentialism? and I encourage anyone who cares about semantics, (machine) inference,
pragmatics, and empiricism to take a look at it.
Reading it I just wanted to cheer. Here is someone who (unlike me) is competent to
talk about these subjects, saying many things I have felt but have had difficulty articulating. Here are some teasers that I hope will inspire you to go read it:
…when I make an assertion, I commit myself to giving reasons for it
when it is challenged (that is what makes it an assertion rather than
just babble); and I entitle everybody else to reassert my assertion
reflecting any possible challenges to me.
First, inferentialism commits [the inferentialist] to a sentence holism, and so the
point of contact of language and the world cannot be on the word-object level, but rather
on the level sentence-situation or -action. Second, she is a normativist, hence she is not
interested in which responses in fact occur, but rather in which responses are correct.
I’ve been critical of objects and the idea of reference for a while now. To me sentences and propositions, by virtue of their role as “moves” in social interactions, are likely to have priority in a properly objective account of meaning. Many putative objects (e.g. corporations or mutable digital documents) border on being fictional, gaining their objecthood only through what we say about them; and many referring phrases seem to refer to different things, depending on what is being predicated. I think this opinion would make me what Peregrin calls a “strong inferentialist”.
Eventually I hope that thinking clearly about semantics ought to (among other things) help bring calm to the current mass hysteria which is the Semantic Web and Linked Data, and help steer all of that energy expenditure to improve its consequence.