In this paper I argue that the idiosyncrasy of linguistic competence fosters semantic conceptions in which meanings are taken for granted, such as the one that Quine calls ‘uncritical semantics’ or ‘the myth of the museum’. This is due to the degree of automaticity in the use of language which is needed for fluent conversation. Indeed, fluent conversation requires that we speakers instinctively associate each word or sentence with its meaning (or linguistic use), and instinctively resort to the conceptual repertoire of our language, without calling into question that the meaning of a particular word, or the conceptual repertoire of our language, could have been different than they are. This habit of taking meanings for granted, inherent to our linguistic ability, sometimes interferes with our semantic research, hampering it. In order to illustrate this problem, I pinpoint four places in Quine’s work where, despite his acknowledged analytical rigour, and despite his congenital aversion to the habit of taking meanings for granted, he himself appears to slip into this habit, inadvertently.
Linguistic competence, meaning theory, myth of the museum, uncritical semantics