Some Remarks on Putnam's Contributions to Semantics

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Abstract

After a critical discussion of Putnam's early work on the analytic–synthetic distinction, this article discusses seven contributions that Putnam has made to the philosophy of language. These contributions are (1) to understanding the role of definitions in science and in ordinary discourse; (2) to recognizing the role of stereotypes in explaining meaning; (3) to acknowledging the minimal role of explicative understanding in having linguistic competence with natural kind words; (4) to distinguishing sharply between identifying natural kinds and determining their more fundamental natures; (5) to exploring a division of linguistic labour – a role for social interaction in determining reference, especially of natural kind terms; (6) to establishing a broadly unified causal account of the reference of ordinary natural kind terms and scientific physical magnitude terms; and (7) to reviving a conception of scientific language that allows for trans-theoretical reference and one sort of trans-theoretical meaning.

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