Review: "Situations and Attitudes," by J. Barwise and J. Perry

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Journal of Symbolic Logic
Situation semantics is a theory of meaning based on what the authors call ecological realism where meaning is located in the interaction of living things and their environment. Meanings are neither mental representations nor transcendent Platonic forms, on this theory, but arise out of recurring relations between situations, relations that organisms must become attuned to if they are to survive. Humans are in particular attuned to the use of language, which in turn is the guide to the other uniformities across situations that we are able to recognize. To know a human language is to be able to exploit the intricate relation between utterance events, or discourse situations, and other aspects of objective reality, a relation that ultimately depends on the way the linguistic community uses that language, i.e., on the conventional constraints that obtain in that community. What the authors propose, accordingly, is a relational theory of meaning according to which a meaning is a relation between different types of situations, and a linguistic meaning in particular is a relation between utterances or statements and described situations (called the interpretations of the statements). The meaning of a simple declarative sentence, for example, is a conventional constraint between statements made with that sentence and their interpretations (the situations described). The primary function of language, on this view, is to convey information, which in general is under-determined by, and therefore is to be distinguished from, the interpretation of a statement. (The fallacy of misplaced information assumes that all of the information contained in an utterance comes from its interpretation.)
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Cocchiarella, N. Review: "Situations and Attitudes," J. Barwise and J. Perry, the MIT Press, Cam- bridge and London, 1983; review in Journal of Symbolic Logic, vol. 51(2) (June 1986): 470-472.
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