Words without Meaning





According to the received view of linguistic communication, the primary function of language is to enable speakers to reveal the propositional contents of their thoughts to hearers. Speakers are able to do this because they share with their hearers an understanding of the meanings of words. Christopher Gauker rejects this conception of language, arguing that it rests on an untenable conception of mental representation and yields a wrong account of the norms of discourse.

Gauker's alternative starts with the observation that conversations have goals and that the best way to achieve the goal of a conversation depends on the circumstances under which the conversation takes place. These goals and circumstances determine a context of utterance quite apart from the attitudes of the interlocutors. The fundamental norms of discourse are formulated in terms of the conditions under which sentences are assertible in such contexts.

Words without Meaning contains original solutions to a wide array of outstanding problems in the philosophy of language, including the logic of quantification, the logic of conditionals, the semantic paradoxes, the nature of presupposition and implicature, and the nature and attribution of beliefs.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262072427 312 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262571623 312 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in


  • Words without Meaning is a bold, tightly argued, insightful book that challenges the received view that the primary function of linguistic communication is to reveal the speaker's contentful attitudes. In developing his alternative account of the normative character of linguistic discourse, Christopher Gauker breaks new ground on such topics as pragmatic presupposition, conversational implicature, and semantics. It is Gauker at his best.

    Reinaldo Elugardo

    Department of Philosophy, University of Oklahoma

  • Christopher Gauker has presented a novel theory of communication that makes no appeal to propositional contents. This is an important work that should influence the work of philosophers, linguists, psychologists, and cognitive scientists.

    Steven Davis

    Philosophy Department and Cognitive Science Programme, Carleton University, Ottawa

  • Gauker provides a concise and compelling critique of the received view of linguistic communication and the propositional account of belief that underpins it. He then develops a novel alternative, one that eschews appeal to meaning in favor of talk of objective contexts and assertibility conditions. Gauker's contextualist alternative to the received view is supported by its ability to provide promising solutions to a number of traditional problems in the philosophy of language. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the nature of linguistic communication.

    Marga Reimer

    Department of Philosophy, University of Arizona

  • Chris Gauker's articles over the last decade have been challenging dominant views of meaning and interpretation and working toward a new approach. Words Without Meaning widens the compass of his critique on many fronts, and advances an alternative conception of language centered around conversation and its goals. Gauker also demonstrates the illuminating consequences of eschewing platitudes once thought to be obligatory. The result is a deeply original approach to action, language and mind.

    Mitchell Green

    University of Virginia