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PUTNAM BEYOND PUTNAM: UNDERSTANDING, PRAGMATISM, HUMANISM

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Chapter Summary

It seems natural to think that one of the businesses of the philosophy of language is to provide an explanation of the understanding of language. It is the aim of the present essay to show that and why this is not so.Instead, I shall hold that both meaning and understanding go beyond the scope of traditional philosophy of language. Philosophers widely agree today that the meaning of linguistic expressions is to be explained by recourse to the use of words and sentences; an explanation of this use does not only take recourse to linguistic but to any kind of human practices, and according to Wittgenstein these in turn can neither be fully described from outside these practices nor can they be theoretically captured once and for all.On the account suggested here a model of understanding in general yields a model of the content of linguistic expressions. Such a model of understanding calls for a renewal of philosophy as well as a recasting of philosophical argument and procedure.To sketch this project I shall review Putnam’s struggle for an adequate theory of meaning and reference. In trying to disconnect understanding from meaning as far as psychological aspects are concerned, Putnam catches a “problem of reference.” A comparable problem finds reflection in Kripke’s influential reading of Wittgenstein on rules and private language. In both cases the problem grows from an inadequate use of two central notions, namely objectivity and subjectivity. An alternative reading of Wittgenstein along the lines of McDowell and later Putnam allows a new, pragmatic view on understanding, its subjects, and its objects.

10.1163/9789401205849_009
/content/books/b9789401205849s009
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