On “The Meaning of Meaning” (1975).
So if per Kripke (we’re following the thread from #126), meaning is NOT a matter of having a description in your head, then what is it? Hilary Putnam reformulates Kripke’s insight in terms of Twin Earths: If Earth-water is H2O, and on Twin Earth, they have something that looks just like water but is a different compound, then we wouldn’t call that water, right? Putnam says part of what makes up the meaning of a word is an implicit pointing to the stuff around us, so it’s relative to the speaker: The Twin Earthers saying “water” are referring to the stuff around them, not H2O. So even though we and the Twin Earthers both have the same mental contents, our reference points at different stuff.
Mark, Wes, and Dylan are rejoined by Matt Teichman for this gripping discussion, which in addition to covering that main essay also touched on Putnam’s articles “It Ain’t Necessarily So” (1962) and “Is Semantics Possible” (1970). Learn more about the topic and get the readings.
End song: “In the Boatyard” by Mark Lint & the Madison Lint Ensemble. Instruments recorded 2004, vocals (and Daniel Gustafsson’s organ) added just now.
Putnam image by Corey Mohler.