Anthropologism, naturalism, and the pragmatic study of language

José Medina*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This paper is a critical assessment of Wittgenstein's anthropological perspective and Quine's naturalistic perspective as solutions to the problem of semantic indeterminacy. The three stages of my argument try to establish the following points: (1) that Wittgenstein and Quine offer two substantially different philosophical models of language learning and cognitive development; (2) that unlike Quine's naturalism, Wittgenstein's anthropologism is not committed to semantic skepticism; and (3) that Wittgenstein's anthropological perspective is a more promising approach to pragmatics because it avoids the pitfalls of intellectualism and the philosophical strictures of empiricism and behaviorism. The central conclusion of the argument is the thesis of contextual determinacy , according to which meanings are only radically indeterminate in the abstract but become contextually determinate in specific conversational settings and interactions. I offer further support for this thesis in a discussion of recent ethnomethodological research in conversation analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-573
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2004


  • Context/contextualism
  • Conversation analysis
  • Language learning
  • Meaning
  • Semantic skepticism
  • Wittgenstein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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