Scientific pluralism and semantics

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2023-12

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Abstract

This project is a case study in Scientific Pluralism focused on formal natural language semantics. The case study presents a novel characterization of Scientific Pluralism while arguing for a Pluralist approach to semantics. I begin by describing the plural state of the field. I show the lack of consensus among five different types of background constraints that govern semantic theorizing. Semantics consists of a set of more-or-less distinct projects partially defined by the background constraints practitioners adhere to. With this description in hand, I present a Pluralist view with two main parts. First, I briefly argue that semantics should maintain multiple projects and discuss consequences of doing so. Since this ground has been covered extensively in the Scientific Pluralism literature, the bulk of the discussion centers around the second part of the view. I extend typical Pluralisms by arguing that semantic background constraints should be viewed as soft. A soft background constraint may remain vague, and it may be overridden without being rejected when it conflicts with other background constraints. I apply my Pluralist view to Taxonomic Monism, a background constraint commonly expressed in some form throughout the literature. Taxonomic Monism provides a goal for semantic theorizing, saying that semantic theories should aim to state the meaning of every expression in the language. I argue that we should view Taxonomic Monism as a soft constraint in several ways, and I discuss the consequences of doing so.

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