Model-theoretic semantics as model-based science

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In the early days of natural language semantics, Donald Davidson issued a challenge to those, like Richard Montague, who would do semantics in a model-theoretic framework that gives a central role to a model-relative notion of truth. Davidson argued that no theory of this kind can claim to be an account of real truth conditions unless it first makes clear how the relativized notion relates to our ordinary non-relativized notion of truth. In the 1990s, Davidson’s challenge was developed by Etchemendy into an argument against the model-theoretic account of logical consequence, one that also threatens the attempt to capture natural language entailment relations in modeltheoretic terms—one of the central desiderata of semantics. Nevertheless, the modeltheoretic framework has flourished within natural language semantics. But it has flourished without any consensus among semanticists as to how to answer Davidson’s challenge. The aim of this essay is to develop an answer. I argue that model-theoretic semantics is best understood as model-based science: a semantics for a natural language is a scientific model of truth conditions. This makes good sense of the way model-theoretic tools are used in natural language semantics. And it allows us to answer Davidson’s challenge by showing how a theory that employs a relativized notion of truth manages to tell us about ordinary truth conditions. Moreover, I argue that it helps us see how semantics can provide genuine explanations for natural language entailment and other truth-conditional phenomena.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSynthese
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2020

Keywords

  • Entailment
  • Model theory
  • Model-based science
  • Semantics
  • Truth conditions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences(all)

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