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Meaning, Language Games and Inference

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Host: Prof. John Barnden

Abstract: Over the past three decades or so, the influential philosopher Robert Brandom has developed an alternative to the traditional truth-conditional conception of meaning. His account grounds sentence meanings in the practical mastery of a particular kind of language game. In this game – the game of giving and asking for reasons – inferential practices play a pivotal role. Given the emphasis in Brandom’s work on ‘doings’, it may come as a surprise that he has fleshed out his foundational theory of meaning using a set-theoretical formalisation. I will argue that a proof-theoretic formalisation (along the lines of [1, 2]), which treats inferences as genuine doings, is viable and compatible with Brandom’s key insights into meaning and logic. On this view, logical vocabulary enables language users to make explicit the (non-logical material) inferential practices that they engage in. In other words, logic is conceived of as a practice for turning ‘knowing how’ into ‘knowing that’.


[1] Towards a Computational Account of Inferentialist Meaning. AISB50 , 2014. Available at:

[2] Dialogue Structure and Logical Expressivism. Synthese, 2011. Available at:

This talk is part of the Artificial Intelligence and Natural Computation seminars series.

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