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behavioral theory of meaning

Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


P hilosophy of language Behaviorism rejects any account of the mental that requires positing inner and publicly inaccessible items and claims that overt behavior, construed in terms of a stimulus-response model, provides the basis for understanding mental life. By applying this approach to analyze the concept of meaning, some philosophers suggest that the meaning of an utterance is the response it evokes in an audience in a particular context. The forerunner of this tendency was John B. Watson. The linguist L. Bloomfield put forward a simple version of such a theory that claims that meaning can be identified with regularly evoked behavioral responses. Charles Morris , who assumed that every meaningful expression is a sign for something, elaborated a more sophisticated version of this theory, based on dispositions to respond rather than actual overt responses. According to Morris, meaning is identified with considered dispositions to response produced by utterances. A certain level of behavioral disposition is sufficient for a mental life. Charles L. Stevenson 's discussion of the emotive meanings of evaluative terms also falls within this theory. However, the theory does not leave room for the relation between a sentence and the sorts of things it is used to talk about. Moreover, behavior does not always carry with it mental states. The theory ceased to be a focus of philosophical ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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