Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 5, pp 1221–1242 | Cite as

The cognitivist account of meaning and the liar paradox

  • Mark Pinder


A number of theorists hold that literal, linguistic meaning is determined by the cognitive mechanism that underpins semantic competence. Borg and Larson and Segal defend a version of the view on which semantic competence is underpinned by the cognition of a truth-conditional semantic theory—a semantic theory which is true. Let us call this view the “cognitivist account of meaning”. In this paper, I discuss a surprisingly serious difficulty that the cognitivist account of meaning faces in light of the liar paradox. I raise an argument to the effect that, in light of linguistic evidence concerning the liar paradox, the cognised semantic theory is inconsistent. This contradicts the cognitivist account. I consider a range of possible responses to the difficulty, raising problems for each. The liar paradox poses a serious difficulty to the cognitivist account of meaning, and it is unclear whether the difficulty can be resolved.


Cognitivism Meaning Liar paradox Truth condition Semantics Inconsistency 



For very helpful comments, feedback and discussion on the current and previous versions of this paper, I would like to thank Emma Borg, Øystein Linnebo, Samir Okasha, an anonymous referee and, in particular, Anthony Everett. This paper has evolved out of research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK).


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of BristolBristolUK

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