Can I decide that my definite descriptions shall all conform to Russell’s theory? I simply stipulate that they do. It appears that I can indeed decide these things—my semantic will can create semantic facts. I can decide what my words and sentences, mean, since this is a matter of stipulation. […]
[…] so I decide to mean truth conditions by my sentences, not verification conditions. What is to stop me from doing that? I freely assign truth conditions to my sentences as their meanings. It’s a free country, semantically speaking. I can mean what I choose to mean—and I choose to mean truth conditions. I might even announce outright: “The meaning of my utterances is to be understood in terms of truth conditions, not verification conditions.”
But couldn’t someone of positivist or antirealist sympathies make the contrary decision? This person suspects that the sentences she has inherited from her elders are tainted with metaphysics, and she regards the concept of truth with suspicion; she wants her meaning to be determined entirely by verification conditions. She thus stipulates that her sentences are to be understood in terms of verification conditions, not truth conditions. When she says, “John is in pain” she means that the assertion conditions for that sentence are satisfied (John is groaning, writhing, etc.). She insists that there is no inaccessible private something lurking behind the behavioral evidence—no mysterious “truth condition”; there are just the criteria we use for making assertions of this type. She accordingly stipulates that her meanings shall conform to the verification conditions theory. This does not seem logically impossible: there could be a language conforming to the verificationist conception, given appropriate beliefs and intentions on the part of speakers. The traditional dispute has been over whether our actual language is subject to a truth conditions or a verification conditions theory, not over whether each theory is logically coherent.
Colin McGinn, Philosophical Provocations, Deciding to Mean p. 99ff, 2017
Added to diary 19 January 2018