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Worlds, Models and Descriptions

John F. Sowa
Studia Logica: An International Journal for Symbolic Logic
Vol. 84, No. 2, Ways of Worlds 2: On Possible Worlds and Related Notions (Nov., 2006), pp. 323-360
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20016834
Page Count: 38
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Worlds, Models and Descriptions
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Abstract

Since the pioneering work by Kripke and Montague, the term possible world has appeared in most theories of formal semantics for modal logics, natural languages, and knowledge-based systems. Yet that term obscures many questions about the relationships between the real world, various models of the world, and descriptions of those models in either formal languages or natural languages. Each step in that progression is an abstraction from the overwhelming complexity of the world. At the end, nothing is left but a colorful metaphor for an undefined element of a set W called worlds, which are related by an undefined and undefinable primitive relation R called accessibility. For some purposes, the resulting abstraction has proved to be useful, but as a general theory of meaning, the abstraction omits too many significant features. So much information has been lost at each step that many philosophers, linguists, and psychologists have dismissed model-theoretic semantics as irrelevant to the study of meaning. This article examines the steps in the process of extracting the pair (W,R) from the world and the way people talk about the world. It shows that the Kripke worlds can be reinterpreted as part of a Peircean semiotic theory, which can also include contributions from many other studies in cognitive science. Among them are Dunn's semantics based on laws and facts, the lexical semantics preferred by many linguists, psychological models of how the world is perceived, and philosophies of science that relate theories to the world. A full integration of all those sources is far beyond the scope of this article, but an outline of the approach suggests that Peirce's vision is capable of relating and reconciling the competing sources.

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