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Saving Incommensurability: Semantic Theory of Meaning or Semantic Theory of Science?

Soazig Le Bihan
p. 97-105


Carrier’s paper is mainly a defence of incommensurability as “a sensible notion”, on the basis of the context theory of meaning. I shall here discuss his semantic reconstruction of the notion. His argument consists in exhibiting cases where incommensurability is instantiated thanks to a symmetrical proof of untranslatability, based on a distinction between two determinants of the meaning of a concept. I shall mainly show that a logical asymmetry in the distinction hinders the argument from achieving its goal. I shall then defend that a notion that plays a secondary role in Carrier’s argument, i.e. “the set of situation to which a concept is properly applied”, should be placed at centre stage for the determination of the meaning of a concept and thence for the appraisal of the notion of incommensurability. I shall finally sketch an alternative reconstruction of the notion of incommensurability, based on the semantic view of science instead of the semantic theory of meaning.

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Author's notes

Comment on Martin Carrier, “Semantic Incommensurability and Empirical Comparability: the Case of Lorentz and Einstein”. I would like to thank Robert Nola, as well as Anouk Barberousse, who have both offered comments and advice, and forced me to present my ideas in a much clearer way, even if they are certainly not the ones to blame for the theses developped here, of which I take on the responsability.


Electronic reference

Soazig Le Bihan, « Saving Incommensurability: Semantic Theory of Meaning or Semantic Theory of Science? », Philosophia Scientiæ [Online], 8-1 | 2004, Online since 23 June 2011, connection on 23 March 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/philosophiascientiae.594

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About the author

Soazig Le Bihan

LPHS, Université Nancy 2; Universität Bielefeld

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