, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 149-162

Neuropsychological data, intuitions, and semantic theories

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Abstract

Some neuropsychologists claimed to have shown that country names (e.g., France, Madagascar) are closer to common nouns than to people's names with respect to mental processing: their results were presented as showing that ``country names are not pure referencing expressions''. Psychological findings of this kind appear to have a bearing on semantic theses concerning proper names. It can be argued, however, that no such findings can disconfirm (or confirm) a semantic theory for they do not belong in its empirical basis, which does not consist of data concerning the mental processing of language but of data concerning speakers' semantic intuitions. I argue that the contention that the generation of semantic intuitions could be utterly inconsistent with the mental processing of language is implausible. If semantic theory is to be immunized against psychological findings (in line with its antipsychologistic tradition) we ought to see it as based on what we rationally ought to say in such and such circumstances, i.e. as a partly normative, not entirely naturalistic discipline.