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Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary
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Arne Naess and Empirical


Semantics
Siobhan Chapman

University of Liverpool , UK
Published online: 20 Jan 2011.

To cite this article: Siobhan Chapman (2011) Arne Naess and Empirical
Semantics, Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, 54:1, 18-30, DOI:
10.1080/0020174X.2011.542946
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Inquiry,
Vol. 54, No. 1, 1830, February 2011

Arne Naess and Empirical Semantics

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SIOBHAN CHAPMAN
University of Liverpool, UK

(Received 5 May 2010)

ABSTRACT This article focuses on Arne Naesss work in the philosophy of language,
which he began in the mid-1930s and continued into the 1960s. This aspect of his work
is nowadays relatively neglected, but it deserves to be revisited. Firstly, it is intrinsically
interesting to the history of analytic philosophy in the twentieth century, because Naess
questioned some of the established philosophical methodologies and assumptions of his
day. Secondly, it suggests a compelling but unacknowledged intellectual pedigree for some
recent developments in linguistics. Naesss philosophy of language developed from his
reaction against logical positivism, in particular against what he saw as its unempirical
assumptions about language. He went on to establish empirical semantics, in which
the study of language was based on real-life linguistic data, drawn primarily from questionnaires issued to philosophically nave subjects. He also experimented with methods
for occurrence analysis, but concluded that the collection and analysis of sufficiently
large bodies of naturally-occurring data was impractical. Empirical semantics was not
well received by Naesss philosophical contemporaries. It was also seen as being at odds
with contemporary trends in linguistics. However, some present-day branches of linguistics have striking resonances with Naesss work from as much as seventy years ago. In
sociolinguistics, questionnaires have become an established means of collecting linguistic
data. In corpus linguistics, advances in technology have made Naesss unobtainable ideal
of occurrence analysis a viable methodology. Some of the principal conclusions reached
as a result of this methodology are strikingly similar to Naesss own findings.

I. Introduction
Arne Naess was active in the philosophy of language from early in the 1930s
into the 1960s. During this time he established and led what became known as
the Oslo School of Philosophy, centred on Naesss commitment to empirical semantics. This comprised not just a philosophical outlook or a series
of tenets, but in fact a thoroughgoing critique of contemporary established
philosophy and a pioneering new approach to philosophical methodology.
Correspondence Address: Siobhan Chapman, University of Liverpool, School of English,
Chatham Street, Liverpool, L69 7ZR, UK. Email: src@liverpool.ac.uk
0020-174X Print/1502-3923 Online/11/01001813 2011 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/0020174X.2011.542946

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Arne Naess and Empirical Semantics

19

This aspect of Naesss work is now largely overshadowed by his later work on
ethics and ecology, and is in fact rarely cited either by philosophers of language or by linguists. But it merits serious reconsideration, for two distinct
reasons. Firstly, in its own right it deserves a place in the history of analytic
philosophy in the twentieth century. Secondly, and perhaps even more strikingly, it has resonances with much more recent developments in the discipline
of linguistics, in terms both of methodology and of findings.
This article will consider the philosophical background against which
Naess developed empirical semantics and briefly outline both his views on
methodology and some of his findings. It will survey the generally rather
unenthusiastic reception of Naesss work among his contemporary philosophers and the assumption, which seems to have been mutually held, that his
views on language were not really consistent with the emergent discipline of
linguistics. Finally, it will argue that a fresh and much more positive assessment of empirical semantics is suggested by more recent developments in
linguistics, particularly in the fields of sociolinguistics and corpus linguistics.
II. Naess and the Vienna Circle
The key to understanding the motivation for Naesss development of empirical semantics lies in the work of the Vienna Circle, the group of like-minded
philosophers and scientists who met regularly in the late 1920s and early
1930s. Naess initially admired their dogmatic brand of logical positivism,
but he quickly began to react against some of the assumptions and methodologies on which it was based. This reaction informed the outlook and the
methodologies that distinguished empirical semantics.
Naess travelled to Vienna in 1934, soon after graduating from the
University of Oslo. He was quickly invited to attend meetings of the Vienna
Circle, one of very few outsiders ever to receive such an invitation. At that
time, the Vienna Circle were concerned with distinguishing between statements that were philosophically interesting and those that were meaningless.
Statements that they considered to be scientifically and therefore philosophically acceptable were those that were capable of being conclusively established
to be either true or false. This category comprised analytic statements, true by
virtue of the meanings of the words they contained; statements of mathematics and of logic, true by virtue of the formal system to which they belonged;
and those synthetic sentences that were not inherently true but were amenable
to an identifiable process of verification by observation. All other types of
statements, including most controversially the statements concerned with
religious and ethical topics, they labelled as meaningless, or as pseudostatements. This made the more speculative style of philosophy typically
practiced in metaphysics anathema to them. As Moritz Schlick, the leader
of the Vienna Circle, had expressed it a few years earlier: The empiricist does
not say to the metaphysician what you say is false, but what you say asserts

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Siobhan Chapman

nothing at all! He does not contradict him, but says I dont understand you
(Schlick, 1932, p. 107).
Naess was troubled by the dismissal of much of what was said in philosophical discussion, and by extension much of what was said in everyday life,
as pseudo-statements. It seemed to him that if an idea could be expressed in
ordinary language it must be worth analysing, and should not be too easily
dismissed by philosophers. The Vienna Circles sweeping application of the
term meaningless ignored how language was actually used and understood.
As such, for all the Vienna Circles claims to rigid empiricism, their dogmas
rested on some unempirical assumptions about language. As Naess put it
in an interview many years later: They imagined they had perfect knowledge of ordinary language about their mother tongue. So, to me, they were
anti-empirical, as they thought that their analysis of the use of or, for example, was much deeper than what you could get from statistics (Naess, in
Rothenberg, 1993, p. 28).
For Naess, a truly empirical approach to language, and therefore a valid
means of assessing the statements it could be used to make, must be based
on available evidence of how it is actually used, rather than on the intuitive
preconceptions favoured by the Vienna Circle. The reference to statistics in
the above quotation is telling. At much the same time, Naess began to think
about ways in which empirical data about language could in practice be collected and analysed. In this connection he developed an interest in the then
relatively new discipline of sociology, in which empirical evidence was collected by presenting subjects with questionnaires and subjecting the results
of these questionnaires to statistical analysis. In considering this method as
a possible source of evidence about language, Naess was going well beyond
what counted as legitimate in the Vienna Circles tightly constrained account
of scientific methodology. Naess urged that any method of gathering information that was relevant to the subject under study should be considered
permissible. A later review of a book that he initially wrote at about this time
summarised his position: Naess thus gives priority to research areas not to
any specific scientific method (Storheim, 1959, p. 190).
Naesss interest in the ordinary use of language, his unease with philosophical pronouncements that he considered to be unempirical and his
commitment to the use of questionnaires to collect data and statistics to
analyse them were all in place by the middle of the 1930s. These three factors underpinned everything that was to happen subsequently in empirical
semantics.
III. Naess on truth
Naesss first major work of empirical semantics concerned the philosophically loaded term truth, and was published in 1938 in a monograph entitled
Truth as Conceived by Those Who Are Not Professional Philosophers. Naess

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was perplexed both by the large and diverse number of claims to be found in
philosophy about the proper definition of truth, and also by the tendency
of professional philosophers to make confident but unsupported pronouncements about the common, or non-philosophical conception of truth. He
argued that any philosophical account of truth must be based on knowledge
of how ordinary people use and understand the term. Because simple observation of linguistic usage was unlikely to yield enough evidence about truth to
be statistically interesting, he argued that such knowledge was best obtained
by questioning a sample of ordinary people about their understanding of the
term. Naess assembled a group of 250 informants, importantly all without
any formal philosophical training, and collected evidence of their responses
to a variety of experiments involving questionnaires. The most significant of
these was to record the informants response to the question: What is the
common characteristic of that which is true? (Naess, 1938, p. 23).
Naess collated the responses and categorised them into thirty-seven different response types. The following summaries of these types, expressed in
Naesss own words, are representative:
response: agreement with reality
response: agreement with the facts of the case
response: that they can be proved
response: agreement between statement and observation
response: what I perceive directly by my senses
response: scientists statements
response: what the majority says
response: it serves life
response: a thing that must and ought to be accepted by all
(Naess, 1938, pp. 424 and 668)
Naess concluded, firstly, that professional philosophers were simply wrong
when they claimed without empirical support to know how the term truth
is ordinarily conceived of outside philosophical discussions. There simply
was no such thing as a single, identifiable, ordinary conception of truth.
Secondly he argued that the types of response that he had collected from ordinary people were in fact remarkably similar, despite differences in phrasing
and in sophistication of expression, to many of the major philosophical theories of truth. Naess identified in his informants responses theories of truth
allied to those of pragmatism, relativism and logical positivism itself, among
others.
Reviews of Truth as Conceived by Those Who Are Not Professional
Philosophers in the academic journals were generally not favourable. This is
perhaps not surprising, given the implication of Naesss work that serious
consideration of one of the central topics of philosophy was not exclusive to
professional philosophers. However, reviewers tended to comment on Naesss
unconventional methodology rather than his findings or more specific claims.

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Ernest Nagel predicted that Naesss working practice would not be generally
well received: This is an interesting book, not without amusing features . . .
[but Naess] will no doubt remain an outcast from the philosophical community (Nagel, 1939, pp. 78 and 79). Jared Moore was harsher in his criticism:
The author tries desperately hard to be scientific, but seems to have little
to show for it when all is done and recorded (Moore, 1939, p. 490). Naess
himself had no doubt that the hostile reception of his book was due to the
challenges it posed to the philosophical establishment, in terms both of its
methodology and of its broader implications:
I used questionnaires. At that time, 193738, they were looked upon as
the absolute bottom of doing research. They couldnt be taken seriously
at all. And then it implied that I had an undignified, really atrocious
view of one of the great problems of humanitynamely, the problem
of truth. Taking seriously what those schoolboys and housewives were
saying was a kind of caricature of philosophy. (Naess, in Rothenberg,
1993, p. 49)

IV. Later work


Naess was not deterred either from his commitment to the empirical study
of language as a basis for philosophical inquiry or from his belief that philosophical discussion could and should be democratised to include the voices of
non-philosophers. He remained convinced that knowledge of language had no
special status; like knowledge of any other natural phenomenon it must draw
on evidence from observation and data collection. He continued throughout
the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s to develop and refine his use of questionnaires
as a means of collecting this data. In many publications he makes an explicit
case for this methodology, arguing for instance that data collected using questionnaires are often apt to reveal or suggest as much to the researcher as do
penetrating meditations or introspections based on data found in ones own
head or gathered in an informal way (Naess, 1960, p. 481; see also Naess,
1949, 1953, 1956, 1956/8, 1957, 1961).
During his work on truth he had become convinced that the meanings of words, even philosophically salient words like truth itself, were not
fixed, but varied according to factors such as situation, purpose and, crucially, individual producer and interpreter. He developed the thesis that the
extent to which meaning could be clearly identified, or what he called the
preciseness of meaning, was a matter of degree. Different degrees of preciseness were found in, and were appropriate to, different types of language
use. Formal philosophical discussion, for instance, required a relatively high
degree of preciseness, whereas casual everyday conversation would tolerate a
much lower level. He consulted informants using questionnaires concerning
their awareness of the preciseness of their own interpretations. Often these

Arne Naess and Empirical Semantics

23

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questionnaires were presented in laboratory conditions, but sometimes Naess


made an attempt to capture the responses of subjects involved in real life contexts of language use, as this striking account of an experiment conducted in
the 1950s illustrates:
The experimenter announced a lecture to an association of students of
physics, and about 250 gathered in an auditorium. After talking for
about twenty minutes the lecturer said: The earth is surrounded by
a gravitational field in a rather natural context, but without particular
stress. This was a signal to a mob of assistants to invade the gathering with copies of a questionnaire which were handed to the students.
The basic question read: How did you interpret the utterance The
earth is surrounded by a gravitational field? Do any of the following
sentences convey to you what the utterance conveyed to you?
Two classes of answers are of particular interest, the I do not
know answers and the no discrimination answers. They reveal the
limits of the definiteness of interpretation among hearers. (Naess,
1981, p. 14344)
Naess was particularly interested in these two types of negative answer
because they suggested the extent to which subjects can attend to language
use and apparently understand it, at least to their own satisfaction, with very
little preciseness, or definiteness of interpretation at all.
His next major work was Interpretation and Preciseness, circulated in a
series of mimeographed studies in the years following the Second World War
and eventually published in a single volume in 1953. In this, Naess turned
his attention to two key topics in the philosophy of language: the validity
of synonymity and the credibility of the distinction between analytic and
synthetic sentences. Both topics were focuses of interest and controversy in
mid-twentieth-century analytic philosophy. In his own approach to them,
Naess made use of his interest in the degrees of preciseness identifiable in
the production and interpretation of language. Both synonymity and analyticity depend on a notion of linguistic meaning that is fixed or determinate.
Linguistic expressions cannot be said to be synonymous, or to have the same
meaning as each other, if they cannot first be said to have an identifiable meaning. Analytic statements are those that depend for their truth on the meanings
of the words they contain; again, they depend on the possibility of establishing meaning a priori. Naess developed a series of questionnaires by which to
test the validity of synonymity and analyticity in terms of peoples actual use
and understanding of language. Typically, these focused on some particular
pair of words or expressions, and asked subjects to consider what effect substituting these expressions for each other would have for their interpretation
of example texts. For example, in the question quoted below, U and T
are variables for which any pair of potentially synonymous expressions can

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be substituted. Subjects were asked to read and consider a particular short


text that contained the expression T. Then they were asked: Suppose the
formulation U (here, U is mentioned) had occurred in the text instead of T,
and in Ts place. Would U have expressed the same proposition to you as T
did when you read T? (Naess, 1947/51, vol. 1, p. 10).
Naess found that his subjects were sometimes prepared to say that substituting one expression for another in a text would leave the proposition
unchanged, or in effect that the two expressions were synonymous. But he
found that such judgments were not fixed; they varied between individual
subjects and between the contexts provided by the sample texts. Naesss controversial conclusion was that synonymity did exist, but that it was a matter
of degree; it was possible to describe pairs of expressions as being more or less
synonymous with each other, relative to people and to context.
If T0 and T1 is [sic] synonymous within the group of persons P1, and
within the group of situations S1, whereas U0 and U1 is synonymous
within a group of persons P2 and a group of situations S2, none of
which are totally included in P1 or S1, but at least one of which includes
at least one of the groups P1 or S1, then it is said that the relation of
synonymity between U0 and U1 extends further than that between T0
and T1. (Naess, 1947/51, vol. 1, p. 18)
If synonymity varied in extent with context, it followed that analyticity too
must be relative. The relationship between a pair of expressions might serve
in some contexts to make a sentence containing them analytic, but need not
necessarily do so in every possible context. So Naesss second and equally
controversial conclusion was the following: An expression can be analytic in
relation to some rules but synthetic in relation to others (Naess, 1966, p. 75).
Naesss empirical approach to semantics could hardly have taken him further
away from the dogmas of logical positivism, which relied on a settled notion
of analyticity for one of its criteria of meaningfulness.
Naess devoted a lot of attention in Interpretation and Preciseness to the current and potential methodologies of empirical semantics. He acknowledged
that, despite its advantages, there were drawbacks to the reliance on questionnaires; in particular, people who were perfectly capable of using and understanding an expression were not always able to give a useful account of how
they did these things. Ideally, questionnaires should be replaced, or at least
supplemented, by data drawn from a collection of actual spontaneous uses
of a particular expression under investigation, such as from published texts
that were produced for other, non-philosophical purposes. However, the task
of collecting, collating and analysing sufficient quantities of data to perform
what Naess termed occurrence analysis was simply prohibitive. He considered possible approaches to the problem, such as storing occurrences on
series of index cards, but concluded that the process remained impracticable.
Occurrence analysis might be an ideal for the empirical semanticists, but:

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The non-existence of a method by which meanings can be seen by observation of use is one of the strong reasons not to abandon the synonymity
questionnaire (Naess, 1947/51, vol. 6, p. 2).
The topics that Naess was working with in the middle part of the twentieth century were absolutely central to the concerns of contemporary analytic
philosophy. The conclusions he was reaching were striking, and had something in common with ways in which other philosophers were questioning the
assumptions of formal approaches to language such as the one espoused by
the Vienna Circle. Certainly, Naesss work was cited by and drew responses
from some of the leading analytic philosophers of the time. But their reactions continued to be in general wary, hostile or dismissive; Naess remained
the philosophical outsider that Nagel had predicted he would be.
Rudolf Carnap, a prominent member of the Vienna Circle and a strong
early influence on Naesss philosophical development did express interest in
empirical semantics, and maintained a friendly correspondence with Naess.
However, Naess himself was convinced that Carnap never fully appreciated,
or at least never fully acknowledged, the extent of the challenge that his work
on truth and other topics posed to logical positivism. In fact, Carnap seems
to have purposely marginalised and even suppressed Naesss work. Naess
recalled how at a conference in the 1930s Carnap dissuaded him from presenting the work that would lead to Truth as Conceived by Those Who Are Not
Professional Philosophers: I agreed, having the feeling that nobody would
think it even meaningful to do empirical research on ordinary language
(Naess, 1981, p. 145, emphasis in original).
The American philosopher W. V. O. Quine might have been expected to be
more sympathetic. He had himself criticised logical positivism for its unempirical assumptions, and had argued that the study of language should proceed
by means of linguistic fieldwork. But his own methodology remained very
much that of the armchair philosopher, and he caricatured Naess as responding to the question of how language should be studied with a simplistic ask
the natives (Quine, 1970, p. 392).
At much the same time as Naess was circulating the mimeographed studies
that constituted Interpretation and Preciseness, J. L. Austin was pioneering the
methods of ordinary language philosophy at Oxford. Like Naess, he was
insistent on the importance to philosophers of consulting everyday usage,
but he had very different ideas as to how this should be done. Whereas
Naess shunned professional philosophers as informants, Austin relied almost
exclusively on the intuitions of himself and a select group of his colleagues.
Geoffrey Warnock reported how Austin was careful to distinguish the programme he had in mind from the kind of Gallup-poll, empirical team work
which Naess believed in, and which Austin regarded as, in principle, misguided (Warnock, 1963, p. 14n.; see also Warnock, 1973, p. 43; Urmson
et al., 1965, p. 80). Naesss enthusiasm for finding out about the intuitions
of ordinary people on philosophical matters seems to have been the main

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reason why Austin wanted to disassociate ordinary language philosophy from


empirical semantics.

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V. Naess and linguistics


If empirical semantics was greeted with little enthusiasm by the philosophical establishment, it also seemed to have little in common with contemporary
linguistics. As Naess and other philosophers of the Oslo School continued to
develop their empirical methodologies during the 1950s and into the 1960s,
linguistics became dominated by the new mentalist approach pioneered by
Noam Chomsky. According to this, language existed primarily as an internal structure of knowledge in the mind of the speaker, determined by innate
mental properties. Actual instances of language use might provide some indirect clues as to the nature of this structure, but were subject to a variety
of performance factors and were ultimately of little interest to the linguist.
This approach was certainly not compatible with Naesss insistence that it
was possible to discuss language only in relation to the specifics of context
and speaker. This incompatibility was noted by Hans Skjervheim in a later
commentary:
The general view upon language which is the working presupposition
of Interpretation and Preciseness is just the opposite of the fundamental principles of structuralist linguistics. Naess argues that only speech
occurrences have a real existence; language is a rational reconstruction
based on speech occurrences, thus it is a fictitious entity. (Skjervheim,
1982, p. 129)
Skjervheim in fact criticised Naess for failing to engage with contemporary
linguistics. In his reply, Naess indicated that he was from the start aware of the
incompatibilities, and for that reason chose not to participate in mainstream
linguistic discussion. My kind of detailed empirical studies of terms such
as true, it is the case, certain, democracy could scarcely contribute to
structural linguistics. Strictly speaking there was, however, no such interesting
opposition as suggested by Skjervheim (Naess, 1982, p. 147).
However, some developments in linguistics subsequent to Chomskys initial influence, and subsequent also to Naess ceasing active engagement in the
academic study of language, are remarkably close in both methodology and
findings to claims Naess was making as much as seventy years ago. Various
fields of linguistics have in recent decades urged the importance of studying
language in context and of consulting observable evidence of language use,
in part in reaction to Chomskys attempt to restrict linguistic inquiry to intuitively consulted judgments of grammaticality. Here we will consider briefly
sociolinguistics and corpus linguistics.
Sociolinguistics locates language in the context of social practice more generally, and necessarily relies on data concerning how people behave and react

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linguistically in various social settings. The pioneers of sociolinguistics were


closely concerned with how such data should best be collected. Drawing,
like Naess, on established practice in sociology, they identified a variety of
relevant methods, which Joshua Fishman summarised at the start of the 1970s
as participant observation, survey methods, experimental designs and depth
interviews (Fishman, 1971, p. 6). The use of questionnaires to gather data
from nave subjects has become established as a central methodology in sociolinguistics. However, it is striking that sociolinguistic methodology has from
the start been seen as properly pluralistic. Writing at much the same time
as Fishman, leading sociolinguist William Labov argued that data from a
variety of distinct sources and methods, properly interpreted, can be used
to converge on right answers to hard questions (Labov, 1972, p. 119). This
chimes with Naesss early eclecticism in relation to scientific method, noted by
Storheim as a feature of his work in the 1930s, and also with his later interest
in mixing the use of questionnaires and occurrence analysis: Generally . . . it
is convenient to use questionnaires at first, and then go into occurrence analysis, or to mix both methods during all the stages of the investigation (Naess,
1947/51, vol. 6, p. 52).
Corpus linguistics is one of the newest branches of linguistics, and is also
the one that has the most in common with empirical semantics. Developments
in computer technology in the last two or three decades have made possible
the storage, sorting and analysis of huge bodies of naturally occurring texts in
machine-readable form; modern corpora often amount to many millions of
words each. In effect, corpus linguistics has made Naesss unobtainable ideal
of occurrence analysis a reality, with computers obviating the need for cumbersome and limited systems of filing cards, and the size of corpora making
possible the analysis of significant samples of linguistic usage. Corpus linguists claim that studying such samples gives a unique access to the nature
of a language. In fact, they claim that concordances, the sorted outputs of
corpus analysis, are the only source of information about many linguistic
patterns that are not otherwise apparent: A major part of the patterning
revealed by concordances is the extent of phraseology, which is not obvious
to speakers, and has indeed been ignored by many linguists (Stubbs, 2001,
p. 153). Commenting in an interview on his motivations during the 1950s,
Naess claimed that examining occurrences of language use reveals rules that
we as users of ordinary language dont know anything about, even though we
use the words all day long (Naess, in Rothenberg, 1993, p. 27).
There are also striking similarities between empirical semantics and corpus linguistics in terms of the conclusions drawn about language, and about
meaning in particular. Naesss work on truth in the 1930s convinced him that
meanings were not fixed; meanings, and in fact language itself were always
relative to contexts, producers and interpreters. This was the conviction that
marked his point of departure from logical positivism, and that later made
his work incompatible with Chomskyan linguistics. But corpus linguists, too,

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have argued for the mutability and instability of meaning. Wolfgang Teubert,
for instance, has claimed, as a central tenet of corpus linguistics: There is
no true and no fixed meaning. Everyone can paraphrase a unit of meaning
however they like, therefore the meaning of any lexical item type is always
provisional (Teubert, 2005, p. 67). In Interpretation and Preciseness, Naess
argued that context was paramount in determining how a word could be interpreted: A great deal of plausible interpretations of the words isolated from
the sentence are not plausible in that particular context defined by the sentence (Naess, 1947/51, vol. 1, p. 32). Corpus linguists have even replicated
in more detail Naesss challenge to the idea of synonymity, or at least to the
idea that synonymity is a fixed category to which certain pairs of expressions
belong: Corpora have been used to detect subtle semantic distinctions in
near synonyms (McEnery et al., 2006, p. 103).
Linguistics remains, of course, a multifaceted discipline. Work is still being
conducted both in the broadly Chomskyan framework of mentalism and in
the more empirical approaches represented by sociolinguistics and corpus linguistics. (For a discussion of the diversity of current approaches to linguistics,
and of the relative positions of these two broad traditions, see Chapman,
2008.) Mentalist linguists are in general ready to identify a broader philosophical context for their work. Chomsky himself, for instance, has drawn
attention to his place in a tradition of rationalist philosophy, particularly
in relation to the Enlightenment and the work of Descartes (for instance,
Chomsky, 1966). Empirical linguists generally have less to say about their
philosophical pedigree. However, a scrutiny of empirical semantics suggests
that it can be seen as an intellectual forerunner by those working in some
of the more empirical branches of linguistics. These recent developments in
linguistics have, in turn, something to offer to our understanding of empirical semantics; they suggest that it is time for a revision of Naesss status as
an outsider to established ways of studying language. Present-day linguists
are carrying out work that Naess aspired to but was not able to see through
because of the technological restrictions of his time. In some cases, their actual
findings resonate closely with Naesss unfashionable hunches and predictions.
Naesss philosophy of language was innovative, unprecedented and very controversial in the middle of the twentieth century. But it is highly pertinent to
some of the major ways in which the academic study of language is currently
being conducted.1
Note
1.

I am grateful for very helpful comments on and discussion of earlier versions of this paper
from audiences at the English Language Research Seminar and the Stapledon Philosophy
Colloquium at the University of Liverpool in March 2006, and at the Arne Naess Memorial
Seminar in Oslo in June 2009. I would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for
Inquiry and, in particular, Kristian Bjrkdahl, for their help in preparing this paper for
publication.

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