Date of Completion


Embargo Period



philosophy, philosophy of language, philosophy of linguistics, linguistics, semantics, meaning, content, truth, compositionality

Major Advisor

Lionel Shapiro

Associate Advisor

Michael Lynch

Associate Advisor

William Lycan

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


The purpose of this dissertation is to clarify the relationship between two research programs engaged in the investigation of linguistic meaning: the philosophy of language, broadly conceived, and semantics as it is pursued within generative linguistics.

It is often assumed that philosophers of language and semanticists in linguistics are working broadly within the same research program, addressing the same questions about language, its meaning, and its use. At least, it is assumed that the two research programs are continuous with one another, so that each places important constraints on the other. Philosophical theories of meaning, the thought goes, must square with the findings of our best linguistics. Theories in linguistic semantics, on the other hand, are constrained by philosophical conceptions of what it takes to be an adequate theory of meaning.

Consequently, notions that have been central to the philosophical study of meaning---notions of meaning, content, and truth---are also taken to play central roles in semantic theories. The dissertation argues that this view is mistaken. Semantic theories are not theories of meaning in any philosophically important sense, the semantic value of an expression does not even partly determine the content it is used to express, and facts about the truth-conditions and truth-conditional contributions of expressions do not play any explanatory role in truth-conditional semantics. The upshot is that the relations which notions of meaning, content and truth bear to linguistic semantics are more distant than is typically assumed, as are the relations between contemporary linguistics and the philosophy of language.