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Is There Something in Common? Forms and the Theory of Word Meaning


Plato's reflections on Forms have generally been overlooked, in contemporary Philosophy of Language, as a serious resource for illuminating the notion of word meaning. In part, this is due to the influence of Wittgenstein's critical reflections on looking for ‘something in common’ as explanatory for use of a general term. I argue that, far from being undermined, appeal to Forms can both help explain, and provide corrective critical insight into, Wittgenstein's observations. Plato's reflections provide insight into word meaning that is relevant for contemporary research. Relevant considerations include (1) an explanation as to why an item is F; (2) looking to ‘what something is’; (3) the compresence of opposites; (4) whether participation in a Form involves approximation to the Form.

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