For a large class of cases-though not for all-in which we employ the word “meaning” it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language. Wittgenstein (1953, §43)
The purpose of this paper is to defend Wittgenstein’s idea – his so-called “usetheory” of meaning – against what is perhaps the most influential of the many arguments that have been levelled against it. I’m thinking of Kripke’s critique of “dispositionalism”, which is a central component of his celebrated essay, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language.1 Kripke argues that meaning a certain thing by a word is not a matter of being disposed to use it in a certain way. And his argument has been well-received. Most commentators, whatever they say about Kripke’s overall line of thought (leading up to his “sceptical conclusion” about meaning), tend to agree at least that the use-theory has been elegantly demolished.2 My main objective is to combat this impression.