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One might well wonder whether these two requirements can both be satisfied. For, if we describe a speaker’s (necessarily finite segment of) behaviour in the requisite manner, then it just seems clear that there will be too many consistent attributions of understanding. McDowell (in two papers: 1987, 1997) attempts to put Dummett’s thought under some stress here. He applauds Dummett’s insistence on manifestation (or publicity) as a rejection of psychologist accounts of meaning. Similarly he applauds Dummett’s insistence that the theory of meaning describes language use as a rational activity and the consequent rejection of behaviourism.

Similarly he applauds Dummett’s insistence that the theory of meaning describes language use as a rational activity and the consequent rejection of behaviourism. But McDowell insists that the correct way of satisfying these demands precisely presupposes rejecting full-bloodedness and embracing modesty in a theory of meaning. An insistence on full-bloodedness in the face of publicity risks a collapse into behaviourism – an inability to see the mindedness of linguistic behaviour. On the other hand modesty might seem like intellectual shirking.

Of course there may here be cases and cases. For it may be that one’s mastery of some portions of language – for example, that of syntax – can be explained adequately without appeal to the notion of knowledge. The argument has been focused on the primary target of a theory of meaning: knowledge of meaning. Dummett’s ruminations here are inconclusive. He is adamant that a theory of meaning (in the sense in which philosophers should be interested in such a beast) must make use of the notion of knowledge.

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