Sunday, June 01, 2008

Foundations of semantics

It occurred to me that I don't have a very good idea about either the origins or the foundations of semantics, primarily logical. In particular, why something counts as a semantics and whether this exhausts the possibilities for the concept are both a bit opaque to me. This is a bit open ended and vague, but that is roughly where I'm at. I'm not sure where to look for insight into this topic. A quick Google search reveals that, as expected, Tarski has an article on the matter, entitled "The semantic conception of truth and the foundations of semantics". There is something on this topic in one of the early chapters of Marconi's book Lexical Meaning. I think somewhere Brandom says something short about this. Apart from that, I have very little idea about where to look. It seems like Montague might have some thoughts on this. Possibly Kreisel or Carnap as well. Although, I am not sure where to look for any of those philosophers. Any suggestions?


Ole Thomassen Hjortland said...

I think Tarski's 'The Establishment of Scientific Semantics' might be a paper of interest. Also, Carnap's 'Meaning and Necessity' is another candidate text. Yet another earlier source which contains some pre-model-theoretic ideas on semantics is the Frege-Hilbert correspondence. (Although this is strictly speaking not explicitly about semantics.)

If you're interested in the development of Tarski semantics I seem to remember reading that the first mature statement of Tarski's model-theory (i.e., in its contemporary form, not in the form of the 1933 paper) is in 'Undecidable Theories' (1953, coauthored with Mostowski). Come to think of it, I think I have this from Etchemendy's book.

I'm very interested in this history myself, so if you come up with good sources, write a post on it!

Ansten Mørch said...

If you're willing to bracket logical, and italicize origins, then you may be interested in Norman Kretzmann's lemma Semantics, History of, in the MacMillan Encyclopedia of philosophy; that's actually quite an enlightening piece.
Another encyclopedia, the Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie is usually very good on the history of, well, words (thus, by Ogden and Richards, concepts).

Greg said...

For Carnap, take a look at "Foundations of Logic and Semantics" (1939) in one of the early Encyclopedia of Unified Science volumes for a quasi-popular account, which is spelled out more fully in 1942's Foundations of Semantics.

One thing that really helped me sort out what I was reading in Carnap and Tarski on the one hand and in current logic texts on the other was Wilfred Hodges' 1986 article "Truth in a Structure" in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (or whatever that's called). In particular, the modern notion of 'model' is NOT the one Tarski, Carnap, et al. were originally working with. (I think the modern notion was actually first fully introduced in John Kemeny's undergraduate thesis (!), written under Church, and published in JSL in the late 40s ('47?).)

I've also just started looking at Barbara Partee's chapter on Montague Grammar in the Handbook of Logic and Language (1997), in order to close that gap in my knowledge. It's great so far; I dunno if that's the kind of thing you're looking for or not.

joyrexus said...

For a larger historical perspective (unfortunately quite rare), see Coffa's "The Semantic Tradition from Kant to Carnap: To the Vienna Station".

Many of Michael Friedman's essays cover similar territory.

There's also Soames' volume 2. (But if you read this be sure to also read Rorty's now infamous review.)

For some reflections on the emergence of contemporary formal semantics from a linguistic perspective see Barbara Partee's paper.