Meaning, Understanding and Knowledge

5th International Symposium for Cognition, Logic and Communication

7-9 August 2009, Riga, Latvia - Conference programme

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The symposium will take place on 7-9 August 2009 at the University of Latvia in Riga and is co-hosted by the Center for Cognitive Sciences and Semantics of the University of Latvia and the Department of Philosophy at Kansas State University.

Aim and Scope

Does understanding a language consist in knowing what its expressions mean? Although it may seem obvious that it does, this thesis has recently been questioned by members of a number of different camps.  For example, some “inconsistency theorists” claim that because standard semantically paradoxical arguments (e.g., liar-like arguments) appear to competent speakers to be sound in virtue of meaning, this shows that linguistic competence—whatever exactly that consists in—cannot be knowledge, since what it grasps (e.g., a given semantic principle) need not be true.  Leaving aside the apparent non-factivity of linguistic competence, others have noted that because understanding is not subject to Gettier-style cases, it follows that that notion—however it's to be understood—cannot be knowledge.  Furthermore, some have taken standard accounts of the sub-personal nature of semantic competence to suggest that understanding might not be worth taking as knowledge.

In a different vein, some have suggested that competent speakers can and do take on ontological commitments that they do not, or cannot, support. So-called “pretense-theorists” (whether semantic or pragmatic) have proposed that these commitments, and the phenomenology and nature of understanding generally, are best accounted for by a kind of fictionalist approach. On this type of view, speakers talk “as if” they have various commitments and “as if” expressions have meanings that are known or grasped, but these appearances should not be taken realistically. 

In view of these developments, an extended reconsideration of the epistemic conception of understanding presses.  Possible topics, while they can include those mentioned above, are not restricted to them. The following topics (and relatives of them) also strike us as potentially promising: views of (say) understanding which see it is a kind of practical ability—one that falls short of knowledge; error theories that are based on the rejection of meanings qua abstracta; skeptical views that are (roughly) along “Kripkensteinian” lines; or views that are based on works in historical traditions. 

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