, Volume 78, Issue 2, pp 277-291
Date: 06 Apr 2012

Incarnating Kripke’s Skepticism About Meaning

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Abstract

Although Kripke’s skepticism leads to the conclusion that meaning does not exist, his argument relies upon the supposition that more than one interpretation of words is consistent with linguistic evidence. Relying solely on metaphors, he assumes that there is a multiplicity of possible interpretations without providing any strict proof. In his book The Taming of the True, Neil Tennant pointed out that there are serious obstacles to this thesis and concluded that the skeptic’s nonstandard interpretations are “will o’ wisps.” In this paper, contra Tennant, I demonstrate how to construct alternative interpretations of the language of algebra. These constructed interpretations avoid Tennant’s objections and are shown to be interdefinable with the standard interpretation. Kripke’s skepticism is, as it were, an incarnate demon. In contrast, it is currently uncertain whether the same technique is generally applicable to the construction of an alternative interpretation of natural language. However, the reinterpretation of those aspects of natural language that directly relate to numbers seems to be a promising candidate for the development of nonstandard interpretations of natural language.