David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 9:194-205 (2010)
Could it ever be right to say that a language---as opposed to a speaker of the language---makes, or presupposes or somehow commits itself to certain claims? Such as that certain kinds of objects exist, or that things are a certain way? It can be tempting to think not, to think that languages are just the neutral media through which speakers make claims. Yet certain, surprisingly diverse, phenomena---analyticity, racial epithets, object-involving direct reference, arithmetic, and semantic paradoxes like the Liar---have pushed philosophers towards views according to which languages can have presuppositions or commitments of their own---to things like the existence of numbers, the marital status of bachelors, the existence of water, and even to contradictions or morally abhorrent views. In this paper I want to present some recent data from linguistics that supports a less commonly discussed, and rather surprising version of this idea: namely that English presupposes the existence of locations or places. In section one I do some work to clarify what this claim could possibly mean by identifying some central ways in which languages have been thought to presuppose various things about the world. In section two I present the core of the linguistic data and theory from the work of Susan Rothstein. In section three I compare it to some older work by David Kaplan, arguing that the significance of the new results is greater for the issue at hand, and then in the final section I examine the philosophical significance of this work. One might attempt to draw quite impressive conclusions: such as that the existence of space is analytic, and hence a priori. I will argue that such a conclusion here would be over hasty, and that what we really have is just a surprising fact about our not-so-neutral natural language
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