Carsten Martin Hansen
March 19, 2010
Holism is widely held to be a fundamental feature of human language and thought, but we lack a firm grasp of the nature and extent of its holistic character. The paper deals with the problem of distinguishing between various forms of semantic holism, and the grounds for preferring a particular one of them. It does so via a discussion of Michael Dummett's important contributions to the debate. I favour a more restricted species of holism than the one Dummett officially defends, but for reasons that are congenial to a leading idea in his philosophy - that we need a notion of meaning consonant with the fact that language-use is, typically, a rational activity. This would appear to entail that the meaning of an expression besuch that it can be brought to bear on the rational control of speech acts performed by a competent speaker. Following on from there, we can see how our cognitive capacities are the source of a fundamental restriction on the kind of complexity that the meanings of the expressions of a language can have. This gives significant support for a moderate variety of semantic holism.