research10.1007/s11097-016-9458-y

Semantic inferentialism as (a form of) active externalism

Abstract

Within contemporary philosophy of mind, it is taken for granted that externalist accounts of meaning and mental content are, in principle, orthogonal to the matter of whether cognition itself is bound within the biological brain or whether it can constitutively include parts of the world. Accordingly, Clark and Chalmers (Analysis 58(1):7–19, 1998) distinguish these varieties of externalism as ‘passive’ and ‘active’ respectively. The aim here is to suggest that we should resist the received way of thinking about these dividing lines. With reference to Brandom’s (1994, 2000, Inquiry 47:236–253, 2008) broad semantic inferentialism, we show that a theory of meaning can be at the same time a variety of active externalism. While we grant that supporters of other varieties of content externalism (e.g., Putnam 1975 and Burge (Philosophical Review 95:3–45, 1986) can deny active externalism, this is not an option for semantic inferentialists: On this latter view, the role of the environment (both in its social and natural form) is not ‘passive’ in the sense assumed by the alternative approaches to content externalism

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This paper was published in Enlighten.

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