Semantic dispositionalism, idealization, and ceteris paribus clauses

Kai Yuan Cheng*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Kripke (Wittgenstein on rules and private language: an elementary exposition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass, 1982) rejected a naturalistic dispositional account of meaning (hereafter semantic dispositionalism) in a skeptical argument about rule-following he attributes to Wittgenstein (Philosophical investigation. Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1958). Most philosophers who oppose Kripke's criticisms of semantic dispositionalism take the stance that the argument proves too much: semantic dispositionalism is similar to much of our respected science in some important aspects, and hence to discard the former would mean to give up the latter, which is obviously wrong. In this paper, I shall discuss and reject a recent defense of Kripke by Kusch (Analysis 65(2):156-163 2005; Sceptical guide to meaning and rules: defending Kripke's Wittgenstein. McGill-Queen's, London, 2006). Kusch attempts to show that semantic dispositionalism differs from the sciences, and consequently, Kripke's attack can only target semantic dispositionalism, but not the sciences. Specifically, Kusch identifies some important features of the sciences with regard to how it employs idealization and ceteris paribus clauses, and argues that the ways in which semantic dispositionalism uses them are dramatically different. I argue that, upon close examination, the two are more similar than otherwise in each of those features.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-419
Number of pages13
JournalMinds and Machines
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2009


  • Ceteris paribus
  • Dispositions
  • Finiteness
  • Idealization
  • Meaning


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