Utterances in situated activity are about the world. Theories and systems normally capture this by assuming references must be resolved to real-world entities in utterance understanding. We describe a number of puzzles and problems for this approach, and propose an alternative semantic representation using discourse relations that link utterances to the nonlinguistic context to capture the context-dependent interpretation of situated utterances. Our approach promises better empirical coverage and more straightforward system building. Substantiating these advantages is work in progress.
It would be ever so nice if there were a viable analytic/synthetic distinction. Though nobody knows for sure, there would seem to be several major philosophical projects that having one would advance. For example: analytic sentences2 are supposed to have their truth values solely in virtue of the meanings (together with the syntactic arrangement) of their constituents; i.e., their truth values are supposed to supervene on their linguistic properties alone.3 So they are true in every possible world where they mean (...) what they mean here.4 So they are necessarily true. So if there were a viable analytic/synthetic distinction (‘a/s distinction’ often hereafter), we would understand the necessity of at least some necessary truths. If, in particular, it were to turn out that the logical and/or the mathematical truths are analytic, we would understand why they are necessary. It would be ever so nice to understand why the logical and/or mathematical truths are necessary (cf. Gibson 1998; Quine 1998). (shrink)
Plato did it. Aristotle did it. All the great philosophers did it. You do it and we do it: we draw philosophical conclusions from linguistic data. Although we all do it, the degree, manner, and intensity to which it is done varies. Some have made piecemeal observations about language (e.g., “all these different things have the same term predicated of them”) to draw metaphysical conclusions (e.g., “there is some one existing thing that all these different entities share”). Others have made (...) observations about how all people – or at least, some important subset of them – employ a term (e.g., “we don’t say an action is voluntary unless we wish to say that it was done for (or in) an unusual reason (or manner)”) to draw conclusions about human agency (e.g., “actions that are done in the normal way in the normal course of events are neither free nor compulsory”). And others have looked to how people would talk were certain actual conditions not to be true (e.g., “we would say that we were still talking about Aristotle even if it were to turn out that he didn’t teach Alexander the Great”) to infer necessary features of the semantic realm (e.g., that some propositions must contain an actual individual and not a description of an individual). Still others have looked to empirical results from the science of linguistics (e.g., “the types of complements allowed by the verbs believes and knows are different”) to draw epistemological conclusions (e.g., “knowledge of something does not imply belief of it”), or again “the distributional facts concerning knows that and knows how are the same” to draw the conclusion “practical knowledge is a kind of theoretical knowledge”. (shrink)
It’s been, for some time now, a pet thesis of ours that compositionality is the key constraint on theories of linguistic content. On the one hand, we’re convinced by the usual arguments that the compositionality of natural languages1 explains how L-speakers can understand any of the indefinitely many expressions that belong to L.2 And, on the other hand, we claim that compositionality excludes all “pragmatist”3 accounts of content; hence, practically all of the theories of meaning that have been floated by (...) philosophers and cognitive scientists for the last fifty years or so. A number of objections to our claim have been suggested to us, but none that we find persuasive (see, for example, the discussions of the “uniformity principle” and of “reverse compositionality” in Fodor and Lepore 2002). These objections have a common thread: they all grant that mental and linguistic content are compositional but challenge the thesis that compositionality is incompatible with semantic pragmatism. In this paper, we want to consider an objection of a fundamentally different kind, namely, that it doesn’t matter whether compositionality excludes semantic pragmatism because compositionality isn’t true; the content of an expression supervenes not on its linguistic structure4 alone but on its linguistic structure together with the context of its tokening.5.. (shrink)
We’re lucky in that many (so far about twenty)1 extremely able philosophers have read and commented on our work in print. A slightly discouraging fact is that all these commentators seem to think we are completely, utterly mistaken. On the positive side: Our critics seem to disagree about what we’re completely wrong about. On the one hand, radical contextualists (e.g. Travis) find our objections against them off the mark, but our objections to moderate contextualism dead-on. On the other hand, the (...) moderate contextualists (e.g. Szabo) think that our objections against them fail, but our objections to radical contextualism are strong (Szabo, concludes that we ‘present strong arguments against radical contextualism, but only a weak case against moderate contextualism’). This means we’ve got our work cut out for us—defending the middle ground from every which way— something we are more than pleased to do. (shrink)
It matters to a number of projects whether monomorphemic lexical items (‘boy’, ‘cat’, ‘give’, ‘break’, etc.) have internal linguistic structure. (Call the theory that they do the Decomposition Hypothesis (DC).) The cognitive science consensus is, overwhelmingly, that DC is true; for example, that there is a level of grammar at which ‘breaktr’ has the structure ‘cause to breakint’ and so forth. We find this consensus surprising since, as far as we can tell, there is practically no evidence to support it. (...) (For example, there is no psychological evidence that you can’t have a word that expresses the concept BREAKTR unless you have the concept CAUSE. But there ought to be if CAUSE is a constituent of BREAKTR) This isn’t, of course, to say that there are no prima facie arguments at all for DC. The best one’s we’ve heard are the Impossible Word Arguments (IWA). That being so we’re very interested in whether IWAs are, in fact, sound. (shrink)
I conclude that there is no such thing as a language, not if a language is anything like what many philosophers and linguists have supposed. There is therefore no such thing to be learned, mastered or born with. (Davidson, 1986, p. 446).
A standard view about the quotation is that ‘the result of enclosing any expression...in quotation marks is a constant singular term’ [Wallace 1972, p.237]. There is little sense in treating the entire complex of an expression flanked by a right and left quotation mark, a quotation term for short, as a ‘constant singular term’ of a language L if that complex is not, in some sense, itself a constituent of L. So, just as (1) contains twenty-seven tokened symbols (including twenty-three (...) roman letters, three spaces and a period), so too, on the standard view about quotation terms, (2) contains twenty-nine tokened symbols (including twenty-two roman letters, four spaces, a left and right quotation mark, and a period). (shrink)
Roger Gibson has achieved as much as anyone else, indeed, more, in presenting and defending Quine’s philosophy. It is no surprise that the great man W.V. Quine himself said that in reading Gibson he gained a welcome perspective on his own work. His twin books The Philosophy of W.V. Quine and Enlightened Empiricism have no rivals. We are all indebted to Roger. The essay that follows is intended not only to honor him but also to continue a theme that runs (...) throughout his (and Quine’s) work, namely, the seamless division between science and philosophy. The techniques we invoke are consonant with the naturalistic conception of language that central themes of Professor Gibson’s writings, namely, that language is “a social art to be studied empirically” (Enlightened Empiricism, p. 64). (shrink)
When we wish to frame or to communicate a precise and nuanced argument, we should first clarify whatever meaningful distinctions our reasoning exploits. That’s why every good paper begins by defining its terms. A tiger is a large and ferocious predatory cat, yellow with black stripes. A bachelor is an unmarried man. Freedom is the capacity to choose one’s actions for oneself, independent of causal forces in the outside world. Knowledge is justified true belief. Getting clear on our concepts is (...) the process of analysis. It is such a fundamental part of philosophical practice that the preponderance of contemporary philosophical writing in English today is described as ‘analytic’. (shrink)
A Companion to Donald Davidson presents newly commissioned essays by leading figures within contemporary philosophy. Taken together, they provide a comprehensive overview of Davidson’s work across its full range, and an assessment of his many contributions to philosophy.
Starting with Frege, the semantics (and pragmatics) of quotation has received a steady flow of attention over the last one hundred years. It has not, however, been subject to the same kind of intense debate and scrutiny as, for example, both the semantics of definite descriptions and propositional attitude verbs. Many philosophers probably share Davidson's experience: ‘When I was initiated into the mysteries of logic and semantics, quotation was usually introduced as a somewhat shady device, and the introduction was accompanied (...) by a stern sermon on the sin of confusing the use and mention of expressions’ (Davidson 1979, p. 79). Those who leave it at that, however, miss out on one of the most difficult and interesting topics in the philosophy of language. (shrink)
(i) Under what conditions are two utterances utterances of the same word? (ii) What are words? That these questions have not received much attention is rather surprising: after all, philosophers and linguists frequently appeal to considerations about word and sentence identity in connection with a variety of puzzles and problems that are foundational to the very subject matter of philosophy of language and linguistics.1 Kaplan’s attention to words is thus to be applauded. And there is no doubt that his discussion (...) contains many useful insights. Nevertheless, we find his picture deeply flawed for a variety of crosscutting reasons. Our aim in this paper is to further advance an understanding of the nature of words, both by remedying the problems with Kaplan’s account, and also by achieving a suitable perspective on what the metaphysical investigation of word identity can hope to achieve. Our discussion divides into four parts. In Part One, we examine and critique Kaplan’s discussion of a contrast integral to his own account: that between the type-token and the stage-continuant conceptions of words. In Part Two, we present three constraints on any account of words and two further themes in Kaplan’s discussion central to his conception of words – the role of repetition and the constitutive authority of intentions. While these ideas have laudable motivations, we argue they are far from the best way of making good on the insights that drive them. The final two sections take a skeptical turn. In Part Three, we express doubt about Kaplan’s presumption of the importance of what he calls ‘common currency names’, thus raising a suspicion that he may be in pursuit of chimera. Finally, in Part Four, we express pessimism about whether interesting answers to question (i) above will be forthcoming, and suggest that the legitimacy of our word ontology need not depend on the availability of such answers. Along the way, we tease apart a number of metaphysical questions in the vicinity of the topic of word individuation – questions that are often not disentangled – and consider how the discussion of the previous parts bears on them.. (shrink)
Philosophy and Poetry is the 33rd volume in the Midwest Studies in Philosophy series. It begins with contributions in verse from two world class poets, JohnAshbery and Stephen Dunn, and an article by Dunn on the creative processthat issued in his poem. The volume features new work from an internationalcollection of philosophers exploring central philosophical issues pertinent topoetry as well as the connections between the two domains.
The commonplace view about metaphorical interpretation is that it can be characterized in traditional semantic and pragmatic terms, thereby assimilating metaphor to other familiar uses of language. We will reject this view, and propose in its place the view that, though metaphors can issue in distinctive cognitive and discourse effects, they do so without issuing in metaphorical meaning and truth, and so, without metaphorical communication. Our inspiration derives from Donald Davidson’s critical arguments against metaphorical meaning and Richard Rorty’s exploration of (...) the diverse uses of language. But unlike these authors we ground our discussion squarely in distinctions about causal mechanisms in cooperative activity developed by H.P. Grice and others. (shrink)
Now I may not be an educated man . . . But it seems to me to go against common sense to ask what the poet is ‘trying to say’. The poem isn’t a code for something easily understood. The poem is what he is trying to say.
Donald Davidson (1917 – 2003) was born in Springfield, Massachusetts , and raised, from 1924, in Staten Island, New York. He was educated both as an undergraduate and graduate at Harvard University. After a stint in the navy during the Second World War, which interrupted his graduate education, he returned to Harvard to complete a dissertation on Plato‟s Philebus in 1949. He became one the most important philosophers of second half of the 20 t h century.
The Oxford Handbooks series is a major new initiative in academic publishing. Each volume offers an authoritative and up-to-date survey of original research in a particular subject area. Specially commissioned essays from leading figures in the discipline give critical examinations of the progress and direction of debates. Oxford Handbooks provide scholars and graduate students with compelling new perspectives upon a wide range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences. -/- Ernie Lepore and Barry Smith present the definitive reference work (...) for this diverse and fertile field of philosophy. A superb international team contribute more than forty brand-new essays covering topics from the nature of language to meaning, truth, and reference, and the interfaces of philosophy of language with linguistics, psychology, logic, epistemology, and metaphysics. It will be an essential resource for anyone working in the central areas of philosophy, for linguists interested in syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, and for psychologists and cognitive scientists working on language. (shrink)
Language Turned on Itself examines what happens when language becomes self-reflexive; when language is used to talk about language. Those who think, talk, and write about language are habitual users of various metalinguistic devices, but reliance on these devices begins early: kids are told, 'That's called a "rabbit"'. It's not implausible that a primitive capacity for the meta-linguistic kicks in at the beginning stages of language acquisition. But no matter when or how frequently these devices are invoked, one thing is (...) clear: they present theorists of language with a complex data pattern. Herman Cappelen and Ernest Lepore show that the study of these devices and patterns not only represents an interesting and neglected project in the philosophy of language, but also carries important consequences for other parts of philosophy. -/- Part I is devoted to presenting data about various aspects of our metalinguistic practices. In Part II, the authors examine and reject the four leading metalinguistic theories, and offer a new account of our use of quotation in a variety of different contexts. But the primary goal of this book is not to promote one theory over another. Rather, it is to present a deeply puzzling set of problems and explain their significance. (shrink)
This paper evaluates arguments presented by John Perry (and Ken Taylor) in favor of the presence of an unarticulated constituent in the proposition expressed by utterance of, for example, (1):1 1. It's raining (at t). We contend that these arguments are, at best, inconclusive. That's the critical part of our paper. On the positive side, we argue that (1) has as its semantic content the proposition that it is raining (at t) and that this is a location-neutral proposition. According to (...) the view we propose, an audience typically looks for a location when they hear utterances of (1) because their interests in rain are location- focused: it is the location of rain that determines whether we get wet, carrots grow, and roads become slippery. These are, however, contingent facts about rain, wetness, people, carrots, and roads – they are not built into the semantics for the verb 'rain'. (shrink)
The work of Donald Davidson (1917-2003) transformed the study of meaning. Ernie Lepore and Kirk Ludwig, two of the world's leading authorities on Davidson's work, present the definitive study of his widely admired and influential program of truth-theoretic semantics for natural languages, giving an exposition and critical examination of its foundations and applications.
This paper responds to a critical review of our 2005 book Donald Davidson: Meaning, Truth, Language and Reality, by Frederick Stoutland. It identifies a number of serious misreadings of both Davidson and the book.
Reading these excellent commentaries we already wish we had written another book—a more comprehensive, clearer, and better defended one than what we have. We are, however, quite fond of the book we ended up with, and so we’ve decided that, rather than to yield, we’ll clarify. These contributions have helped us do that, and for that we are grateful to our critics. We’re lucky in that many (so far about twenty)1 extremely able philosophers have read and commented on our work (...) in print. A slightly discouraging fact is that all these commentators seem to think we are completely, utterly mistaken. On the positive side: Our critics seem to disagree about what we’re completely wrong about. On the one hand, radical contextualists (e.g. Travis) find our objections against them off the mark, but our objections to moderate contextualism dead-on. On the other hand, the moderate contextualists (e.g. Szabo) think that our objections against them fail, but our objections to radical contextualism are strong (Szabo, concludes that we ‘present strong arguments against radical contextualism, but only a weak case against moderate contextualism’). This means we’ve got our work cut out for us—defending the middle ground from every which way— something we are more than pleased to do. We start with general points of clarification, points it will be useful to reference from time to time when discussing each commentary. (General Comment #4 is the most important, and we will make reference to it repeatedly in what follows.). (shrink)
A general and fundamental tension surrounds our concept of what is said. On the one hand, what is said (asserted, claimed, stated, etc.) by utterances of a significant range of sentences is highly context sensitive. More specifically, (Observation 1 (O1)), what these sentences can be used to say depends on their contexts of utterance. On the other hand, speakers face no difficulty whatsoever in using many of these sentences to say (or make) the exact same claim, assertion, etc., across a (...) wide array of contexts. More specifically, (Observation 2 (O2)), many of the sentences in support of (O1) can be used to express the same thought, the same proposition, across a wide range of different contexts. (shrink)
This paper advances a general argument, inspired by some remarks of Davidson, to show that appeal to meanings as entities in the theory of meaning is neither necessary nor sufficient for carrying out the tasks of the theory of meaning. The crucial point is that appeal to meaning as entities fails to provide us with an understanding of any expression of a language except insofar as we pick it out with an expression we understand which we tacitly recognize to be (...) a translation of the term whose meaning we want to illuminate by the appeal to assigning to it a meaning. The meaning drops out as irrelevant: the work is done, and can only be done, by matching terms already understood with terms they translate. (shrink)
Ernie Lepore and Barry Smith present the definitive reference work for this diverse and fertile field of philosophy. A superb international team contribute forty brand-new essays covering topics from the nature of language to meaning, truth, and reference, and the interfaces of philosophy of language with linguistics, psychology, logic, epistemology, and metaphysics. It will be an essential resource for anyone working in the central areas of philosophy, for linguists interested in syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, and for psychologists and cognitive scientists (...) working on language. (shrink)
Ernest Lepore and Kirk Ludwig present the definitive critical exposition of the philosophical system of Donald Davidson (1917-2003). Davidson's ideas had a deep and broad influence in the central areas of philosophy; he presented them in brilliant essays over four decades, but never set out explicitly the overarching scheme in which they all have their place. Lepore's and Ludwig's book will therefore be the key work, besides Davidson's own, for understanding one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century.
In Insensitive Semantics (2004), we argue for two theses â€“ Semantic Minimalism and Speech Act Pluralism.Â In this paper, we outline our defense against two objections often raised against Semantic Minimalism. We begin with five stage-setting sections. These lead to the first objection, viz., that it might follow from our view that comparative adjectives are context insensitive. We defend our view against that objection (not, as you might expect, by denying that implication, but by endorsing it). Having done so, we (...) address a second objection, viz., that Semantic Minimalism makes it difficult to see what role semantic content plays in communicative exchanges. We respond and end with a reversal, i.e., we argue that even though the second objection fails against us, it works against those who raise the objection. In particular, we show that our critics, especially, Carston (2002) and Recanati (2004), end up with a notion of communicated content that fails various tests for psychological reality. (shrink)
In Insensitive Semantics (2004), we argue for two theses – Semantic Minimalism and Speech Act Pluralism. In this paper, we outline our defense against two objections often raised against Semantic Minimalism. We begin with five stage-setting sections. These lead to the first objection, viz., that it might follow from our view that comparative adjectives are context insensitive. We defend our view against that objection (not, as you might expect, by denying that implication, but by endorsing it). Having done so, we (...) address a second objection, viz., that Semantic Minimalism makes it difficult to see what role semantic content plays in communicative exchanges. We respond and end with a reversal, i.e., we argue that even though the second objection fails against us, it works against those who raise the objection. In particular, we show that our critics, especially, Carston (2002) and Recanati (2004), end up with a notion of communicated content that fails various tests for psychological reality. (shrink)
Davidson, Donald (Herbert) (b. 1917, d. 2003; American), Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor, University of California at Berkeley (1986–2003). Previously Instructor then Professor in Philosophy at: Queens College New York (1947–1950), Stanford University, California (1950–1967), Princeton University (1967–1969), Rockefeller University, New York City (1970–1976), University of Chicago (1976–1981), University of California at Berkeley (1981–2003). John Locke Lecturer, University of Oxford (1970).
Critics and champions alike have fussed and fretted for well over fifty years about whether Russell’s treatment is compatible with certain alleged acceptable uses of incomplete definite descriptions, where a description (the F( is incomplete just in case more than one object satisfies its nominal F, as in (1).
Our aim in the present paper is to investigate, from the standpoint of truth-theoretic semantics, English tense, temporal designators and quantifiers, and other expressions we use to relate ourselves and other things to the temporal order. Truth-theoretic semantics provides a particularly illuminating standpoint from which to discuss issues about the semantics of tense, and their relation to thoughts at, and about, times. Tense, and temporal modifiers, contribute systematically to conditions under which sentences we utter are true or false. A Tarski-style (...) truth-theoretic semantics, by requiring explicitly represented truth conditions, helps to sharpen questions about the function of tense, and to deepen our insight into the contribution the tenses and temporal modifiers make to what we say by using them. (shrink)
Following Aristotle (who himself was following Parmenides), philosophers have appealed to the distributional reflexes of expressions in determining their semantic status, and ultimately, the nature of the extra-linguistic world. This methodology has been practiced throughout the history of philosophy; it was clarified and made popular by the likes of Zeno Vendler and J.L. Austin, and is realized today in the toolbox of linguistically minded philosophers. Studying the syntax of natural language was fueled by the belief that there is a conceptually (...) tight connection between the syntax of our language and its semantics, and the belief that there is a similarly tight connection between the semantics of our language and metaphysical facts about the world. We are less confident than our colleagues about the relation syntax has to semantics and metaphysics. In particular, we do not believe that the current status of theoretical syntax (or semantics or metaphysics) provides much support for either of the above two beliefs. We will illustrate our view with a case study regarding the status of complex demonstratives. We will show that a recent and particularly subtle syntactically based argument for the semantic/metaphysical status of complex demonstratives does not in fact show what semantic category complex demonstratives are in. Since the devil always lies in the details, we cannot extract a general method for undermining any argument that is similar in spirit. However, our case study will act as a cautionary note against any theory that attempts to derive important philosophical consequences from the shapes of sentences. (shrink)
Indexicals are linguistic expressions whose meaning remain stable while their reference shifts from utterance to utterance. Paradigmatic cases in English are ‘I’, ‘here’, and ‘now’. Recently, a number of authors have argued that various constructions in our language harbor hidden indexicals. We say ’hidden’ because these indexicals are unpronounced, even though they are alleged to be real linguistic components. Constructions taken by some authors to be associated, or to ‘co-habit’, with hidden indexicals include: definite descriptions and quantifiers more generally (hidden (...) indexical refers to a domain – Davies (1981), Westerstahl (1985), Soames (1986), Higginbotham (1988), Stanley and Williamson (1995)), propositional attitude verbs (hidden indexical refers to a mode of presentation – Richard (1990)), comparative adjectives (hidden indexical refers to comparison classes – Partee (1989), Kamp (1975), Ludlow (1989)). An interesting recent addition is the view that all nouns are associated with a hidden indexical referring to a domain restriction (Stanley and Szabo (2000), Stanley (2002)). (shrink)
Bertrand Russell, in the second of his 1914 Lowell lectures, Our Knowledge of the External World, asserted famously that ‘every philosophical problem, when it is subjected to the necessary analysis and purification, is found either to be not really philosophical at all, or else to be, in the sense in which we are using the word, logical’ (Russell 1993, p. 42). He went on to characterize that portion of logic that concerned the study of forms of propositions, or, as he (...) called them, ‘logical forms’. This portion of logic he called ‘philosophical logic’. Russell asserted that ... some kind of knowledge of logical forms, though with most people it is not explicit, is involved in all understanding of discourse. It is the business of philosophical logic to extract this knowledge from its concrete integuments, and to render it explicit and pure. (p. 53) Perhaps no one still endorses quite this grand a view of the role of logic and the investigation of logical form in philosophy. But talk of logical form retains a central role in analytic philosophy. Given its widespread use in philosophy and linguistics, it is rather surprising that the concept of logical form has not received more attention by philosophers than it has. The concern of this paper is to say something about what talk of logical form comes to, in a tradition that stretches back to (and arguably beyond) Russell’s use of that expression. This will not be exactly Russell’s conception. For we do not endorse Russell’s view that propositions are the bearers of logical form, or that appeal to propositions adds anything to our understanding of what talk of logical form comes to. But we will be concerned to provide an account responsive to the interests expressed by Russell in the above quotations, though one clarified of extraneous elements, and expressed precisely. For this purpose, it is important to note that the concern expressed by Russell in the above passages, as the surrounding text makes clear, is a concern not just with logic conceived narrowly as the study of logical terms, but with propositional form more generally, which includes, e.g., such features as those that correspond to the number of argument places in a propositional function, and the categories of objects which propositional.... (shrink)