Eternalism and Propositional Multitasking: in defence of the Operator Argument

Synthese 189 (1):199-219 (2012)
It is a widely held view in philosophy that propositions perform a plethora of different theoretical roles. Amongst other things, they are believed to be the semantic values of sentences in contexts, the objects of attitudes, the contents of illocutionary acts, and the referents of that-clauses. This assumption is often combined with the claim that propositions have their truth-values eternally. In this paper I aim to show that these two assumptions are incompatible: propositions cannot both fulfill the mentioned roles and be eternally true or false. Following Kaplan and Lewis’s Operator Argument, I argue that compositional semantic values of sentences in contexts do not correspond to eternal propositions. Thus, either we regard the non-eternal entities that in fact realize the semantic role of propositions as also fulfilling the remaining propositional roles, or we abandon the assumption that there is a unique realizer of all the roles. The Operator Argument has recently come under attack, mainly for its tense-logical assumptions. However, rejecting these assumptions is not a sufficient defense of the compatibility of the two claims, since the extensional alternative to the tense-logical framework does not allow us to universally retain eternal propositions as compositional semantic values of sentences either.
Keywords Propositions  Semantic values  Eternalism  Temporalism  Operator Argument  Compositionality  Sententiality
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-012-0092-0
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