Two Roles for Propositions: Cause for Divorce?

Noûs 47 (3):409-430 (2013)
Abstract
Nondescriptivist views in many areas of philosophy have long been associated with the commitment that in contrast to other domains of discourse, there are no propositions in their particular domain. For example, the ‘no truth conditions’ theory of conditionals1 is understood as the view that conditionals don’t express propositions, noncognitivist expressivism in metaethics is understood as advocating the view that there are not really moral propositions,2 and expressivism about epistemic modals is thought of as the view that there is no such thing as the proposition that Jack might be at home, over and above the proposition that Jack is at home.3 Of course, it is nearly always acknowledged that advocates of a nondescriptivist theory need not deny that there are conditional, moral, or modal propositions ‘at the end of the day’ – for if they also endorse a deflationary reading of talk about propositions, as famously advocated by Simon Blackburn, then they can employ such deflationary talk just as much as the rest of us. They just don’t appeal to propositions to do any of the work in their theories. Rather, they ‘earn the right’ to talk about propositions.4 It is the aim of this paper to upset this way of thinking about the proper attitude of nondescriptivists toward propositions, and to advocate a more constructive and in some ways more radical alternative on behalf of the nondescriptivist. I will begin by introducing and developing a set of problems that are faced by any nondescriptivist theory which tries to do without propositions. All of these problems are easily solved by any view which postulates propositions across the board, but none of them are solved by merely deflationary talk about propositions – their most promising solutions require propositions to do real theoretical work, and therefore the problems themselves remind us of and illustrate some of the important reasons why it is worth positing propositions in the first place..
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