, Volume 154, Issue 2, pp 231–257 | Cite as

Meaning Naturalism, Meaning Irrealism, and the Work of Language



I defend the hypothesis that organisms that produce and recognize meaningful utterances tend to use simpler procedures, and should use the simplest procedures, to produce and recognize those utterances. This should be a basic principle of any naturalist theory of meaning, which must begin with the recognition that the production and understanding of meanings is work. One measure of such work is the minimal amount of space resources that must go into storing a procedure to produce or recognize a meaningful utterance. This cost has an objective measure, called Kolmogorov Complexity. I illustrate the use of this measure for a naturalist theory of meaning by showing how it offers a straight solution to one of the most influential arguments for meaning irrealism: the skeptical challenge posed by Kripke’s Wittgenstein.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Chaitin, G. J. 1969‘On the Length of Programs for Computing Finite Binary Sequences: Statistical Considerations’Journal of the Association of Computing Machinary16407422Google Scholar
  2. Chomsky, N. 2000New Horizons in the Study of Language and MindCambridge University PressNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Davidson, D.: ‘Knowing One’s Own Mind’, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 61, 441–458.Google Scholar
  4. DeLancey,C.: 2005,‘Ontology and Teleofunctions: A Defense and Revision of the Systematic Account of Teleological Explanation’,Synthese.Google Scholar
  5. Devitt, M., Sterelny, K. 1999Language and Reality2MIT PressCambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  6. Fodor, J.A. 1981‘Methodological Solipsism’Behavioral and Brain Sciences363109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Kolmogorov, A.N. 1965‘Three Approaches to the Quantitative Definition of Information’Problems of Information Transmission117Google Scholar
  8. Kripke, S. 1982on Rules and Private LanguageHarvard University PressCambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  9. Lewis, D.: 1999a,‘New Work for a Theory of Universals’, in Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA, pp.8–55. Originally published in The Australasian Journal of Philosophy 61, 343–377.Google Scholar
  10. Lewis, D.: 1999b, ‘Putnam’s Paradox’, in Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA, pp.56–78. Originally published in The Australasian Journal of Philosophy 62, 221–236.Google Scholar
  11. Löfgren, L. 1966

    ‘Explicability of Sets and Transfinite Automata’

    Caianiello, E. eds. Automata TheoryAcademic PressNew York251268
    Google Scholar
  12. Merrill, G.H. 1980‘The Model-Theoretic Argument against Realism’Philosophy of Science476981CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Millikan, R. 1984Language, Thought, and Other Biological CategoriesThe MIT PressCambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  14. Millikan, R. 1993White Queen Psychology and Other Essays for AliceThe MIT PressCambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  15. Solomonoff, R. J.: 1964, ‘A Formal Theory of Inductive Inference, Part 1 and Part 2’, Information and Control, 7, 1–22, 224–254.Google Scholar
  16. Wittgenstein, L. 1953Philosophical Investigations, translated by G. E. M. AnscombeThe MacMillan CompanyNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. Wright, C. 2001Rails to InfinityHarvard University PressCambridge, MAGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyState University of New York at OswegoOswegoU.S.A

Personalised recommendations