The synthesis of concepts: inferentialism and semantic theory in Hume, Kant, and Hegel Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Landy, David
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Philosophy
  • I re-cast the history of Modern philosophy as a debate about the nature and content of mental representations, a debate that is first made explicit by Hume, and which crescendos with the contrasting theories of Hume and Kant. Hume is a sophisticated relationalist who believes that content is fixed by a relation between a mental entity and that which it represents. Kant, on the other hand, rejects relationalism on the grounds that it makes impossible our representing as such a world of objects bearing lawful relations to one another. Since he argues that this is necessary for representing oneself as a single, unified subject of experience persisting through time, he concludes that relationalism is untenable. Kant presents inferentialism—the thesis that the content of a representation is constituted by that representation’s role in a system of inference—as a viable alternative to relationalism. Hegel accepts the Kantian picture, emphasizes the normativity involved in the inferential articulation of concepts, and argues that this is an essentially social affair. By reading these figures in this way I am able to reveal the motivations behind their semantic programs and uncover arguments that have been underappreciated in scholarship on Modern philosophy and in contemporary semantic theory. The most significant of these is Kant’s argument from the necessary co-representation of self and world to an inferentialist theory of conceptual content.
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  • Nelson, Alan Jean
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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