https://doi.org/10.31979/2151-6014(2010).010106">
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Abstract

Any philosophical method that treats the analysis of the meaning of a sentence or expression in terms of a decomposition into a set of conceptually basic constituent parts must do some theoretical work to explain the puzzles of intensionality. This is because intensional phenomena appear to violate the principle of compositionality, and the assumption of compositionality is the principal justification for thinking that an analysis will reveal the real semantical import of a sentence or expression through a method of decomposition. Accordingly, a natural strategy for dealing with intensionality is to argue that it is really just an isolable, aberrant class of linguistic phenomena that poses no general threat to the thesis that meaning is basically compositional. On the other hand, the later Mohists give us good reason to reject this view. What we learn from them is that there may be basic limitations in any analytical technique that presupposes that meaning is perspicuously represented only when it has been fully decomposed into its constituent parts. The purpose of this paper is to (a) explain why the Mohists found the issue of intensionality to be so important in their investigations of language, and (b) defend the view that Mohist insights reveal basic limitations in any technique of analysis that is uncritically applied with a decompositional approach in mind, as are those that are often pursued in the West in the context of more general epistemological and metaphysical programs.

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