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Temporal Externalism and the Normativity of Linguistic Practice

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AbstractTemporal externalists expand Putnam’s and Burge’s semantic externalisms to argue that later uses of words transform the semantic significance (extension or meaning) of earlier uses. Conflicting intuitions about temporal externalism often turn on different conceptions of linguistic practice, which have mostly not been thematically explicated. I defend a version of temporal externalism that replaces the familiar regularist and normative-regulist conceptions of linguistic practice or use. This alternative identifies practices neither by regularities of use, nor by determinate norms governing their constituent performances, but by the ways those performances bear upon and are accountable to one another. Performances are intelligible as part of a larger pattern of practice, but different performances extend that pattern in partially conflicting ways. The essentially anaphoric concepts of “issues” and “stakes” allow us to talk about how alternative extensions of past performance conflict or otherwise mis-align (what is “at issue” in those performances), and what differences it would make to extend the practice in one way rather than another (what is “at stake”). The result is to recognize both the interdependence of linguistic performances, and the open texture of concepts, by situating them within broader patterns of discursive interaction with changing circumstances.

Affiliations: 1: Wesleyan


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