Vague predicates are subject to forced-march sorites reasoning. Given a vague predicate Π, it is thus at least possible that there be a sequence of objects each of which is potentially predicable with Π meeting the following two conditions.
• The Static Conception of Semantics (Preliminary Version): A semantic theory should assign a proposition, conceived of as some carrier of meaning that can play the role of truth condition determination, to each (or at least each declarative) sentence.
Problems of Compositionality is a revised version of Zolt´an Szab´o’s 1995 doctoral dissertation. Of its five chapters, three have appeared (in heavily modified form) in print independently1, so I will concentrate most of my remarks on the second and third chapters, which remain unpublished outside the book. As it happens, I find these two chapters to be the most philosophically rewarding of the book. The principle of compositionality is a general constraint on the shape of a theory of meaning. Szab´o (...) gives the following initial formulation of the principle: The meaning of a complex expression is determined by the meanings of its constituents and by its structure. (3) Recent discussion of compositionality branches in a number of different directions, including (at least) disputes over the precise formulation of the principle, investigations of the mathematical features of various such formulations, exploration of a plethora of apparent counterexamples to the compositionality of natural languages, scholarly work on the history of the principle (especially its role in Frege), and employment of the principle as a tool in other philosophical disputes. Szab´o’s path through this thicket begins, in the first chapter, with a defense of an idiosyncratic version of the compositionality principle against some more traditional alternatives, proceeds in the second and third chapters to the oft-neglected and philosophically crucial task of asking why the principle of compositionality ought to be one we seek to impose, and concludes in the fourth and fifth chapters by considering and rejecting two putative counterexamples (manifesting in the semantics of adjectives and of definite descriptions) to the principle. The principle of compositionality is most commonly given a functional implementation – a language L is compositional iff the meaning of a complex expression α of L is a function of the meanings of the parts of α and the syntactic structure of α. Equivalently, L is compositional iff synonyms can be intersubstituted salva significa- tio in complex expressions of L.2 Szab´o, however, rejects the functional/substitutional.... (shrink)
A total theory of linguistic understanding is often taken to require three subtheories: a syntactic theory, a semantic theory, and a pragmatic theory. The semantic theory occupies an intermediary role – it takes as input structures generated by the syntax, assigns to those structures meanings, and then passes those meanings on to the pragmatics, which characterizes the conversational 1 impact of those meanings. Semantic theories thus seek to explain phenomena such as truth conditions of and inferential relations among sentences/utterances, anaphoric (...) relations among terms, and ambiguity and incoherence of expressions. (shrink)
§§3-4 of the Begriffsschrift present Frege’s objections to a dominant if murky nineteenth-century semantic picture. I sketch a minimalist variant of the pre-Fregean picture which escapes Frege’s criticisms by positing a thin notion of semantic content which then interacts with a multiplicity of kinds of truth to account for phenomena such as modality. After exploring several ways in which we can understand the existence of multiple truth properties, I discuss the roles of pointwise and setwise truth properties in modal logic. (...) I argue that thinking of supertruth and determinate truth as setwise truth properties allows an understanding of supervaluationist approaches to vagueness which escapes both Williamson’s objections to and a needless metalinguistic orientation of traditional supervaluationism. (shrink)
There is a puzzle regarding the semantics of quantification that is well-known among linguists and formal semanticists, but which has received relatively little attention from philosophers. The puzzle emerges most naturally if our semantic theory is categorical, satisfying two mutually supporting requirements.
Cosmological arguments attempt to prove the existence of God by appeal to the necessity of a first cause. Schematically, a cosmological argument will thus appear as: (1) All contingent beings have a cause of existence. (2) There can be no infinite causal chains. (3) Therefore, there must be some non-contingent First Cause. Cosmological arguments come in two species, depending on their justification of the second premiss. Non-temporal cosmological arguments, such as those of Aristotle and Aquinas, view causation as requiring explanatory (...) or conceptual priority, and thus insist that there can be no infinite regresses in such priority. Temporal cosmological arguments, also called kalam cosmological arguments due to their historical roots in Islamic kalam philosophers such as Abu Yusuf Ya'qub b. Ishaq al-Kindi and Abu Ali al-Hussain ibn Sina, view causation as requiring temporal priority, and thus insist that there can be no infinite temporal regresses.1 The kalam cosmological argument thus requires some supporting argument showing the incoherence of an infinite temporal regress of causally related events. William Lane Craig, in "The Finitude of the Past and the Existence of God"2, attempts to provide such an argument: (4) An actual infinite cannot exist. (5) An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite. (6) Therefore an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist. (9) I will not be concerned here with the general status of cosmological arguments, kalam or otherwise, or with contesting Craig's assumption that an infinite past would (unlike an infinite future) constitute a problematic actual infinity. I am rather concerned with Craig's general working principle, embodied in (4) above, that actual infinities are impossible. Craig, of course, is not alone in denying the possibility of the actually infinite. Resistance to such infinities is at least as old as Aristotle (Physics 3.5.204b1 – 206a8), and, as Craig rightly points out, persists through much of modern (i.e., post-scholastic, pre-twentieth-century) philosophy.. (shrink)
Conditionality is a modal feature (in only the trivial sense, in the case of the material conditional). For φ to be conditioned on ψ is for the appearance of φ and ψ to be connected in some way over some region of modal space.
Manley and Wasserman (2008) join the chorus of opposition to the possibility of conditional analysis of dispositions. But that score cannot be settled without more careful attention to the implicit philosophical methodology. Some of the opposition to such an analysis badly overestimates the effect of counterexamples, as if the Gettier example were sufficient to refute the possibility of conjunctive analysis of knowledge. A general objection to a form of analysis must satisfy a number of constraints, and Manley and Wasserman join (...) the chorus too in failing to satisfy them. Most significant is the optional presupposition that the conditional used in analysis will exhibit some sort of centring. We show that even a careful effort to repair and reform Manley and Wasserman's objection to provide a satisfactory argument requires, ultimately, appeal to centring. Worse, the particular positive proposal they offer is vulnerable to a minor variant of their own counterexample. (shrink)
Supervaluational accounts of vagueness have come under assault from Timothy Williamson for failing to provide either a sufficiently classical logic or a disquotational notion of truth, and from Crispin Wright and others for incorporating a notion of higher-order vagueness, via the determinacy operator, which leads to contradiction when combined with intuitively appealing ‘gap principles’. We argue that these criticisms of supervaluation theory depend on giving supertruth an unnecessarily central role in that theory as the sole notion of truth, rather than (...) as one mode of truth. Allowing for the co-existence of supertruth and local truth, we define a notion of local entailment in supervaluation theory, and show that the resulting logic is fully classical and allows for the truth of the gap principles. Finally, we argue that both supertruth and local truth are disquotational, when disquotational principles are properly understood. (shrink)
You are presented with a choice between two envelopes. You know one envelope contains twice as much money as the other, but you don't know which contains more. You arbitrarily choose one envelope -- call it Envelope A -- but don't open it. Call the amount of money in that envelope X. Since your choice was arbitrary, the other envelope (Envelope B) is 50% likely to be the envelope with more and 50% likely to be the envelope with less. But, (...) strangely, that very fact might make Envelope B seem attractive: Wouldn't switching to Envelope B give you a 50% chance of doubling your money and a 50% chance of halving it? Since double or nothing is a fair bet, double or half is more than fair. Applying the standard expectation formula, you might calculate the expected value of switching to Envelope B as (.50)½X [50% chance it has less] + (.50)2X [50% chance it has more] = (1.25)X. So, it seems, you ought to switch to Envelope B: Your expected return -- your return on average, over the long run, if you did this many times -- would seem to be 25% more. But obviously that's absurd: A symmetrical calculation could persuade you to switch back to Envelope A. Hence the paradox. (shrink)
As tends to be the way with philosophical positions, there are at least as many two-dimensionalisms as there are two-dimensionalists. But painting with a broad brush, there are core epistemological and metaphysical commitments which underlie the two-dimensionalist project, commitments for which I have no sympathies. A sketch of three signi?cant points of disagreement.
To say that this lump of sugar is soluble is to say that it would dissolve, if submerged anywhere, at any time and in any parcel of water. To say that this sleeper knows French, is to say that if, for example, he is ever addressed in French, or shown any French newspaper, he responds pertinently in French, acts appropriately or translates correctly into his own tongue.
Nevertheless, any competent speaker will know what it means. What explains our ability to understand sentences we have never before encountered? One natural hypothesis is that those novel sentences are built up out of familiar parts, put together in familiar ways. This hypothesis requires the backing hypothesis that English has a compositional semantic theory.
Since Kaplan’s "Demonstratives", it has become a common-place to distinguish between the character and content of an expression, where the content of an expression is what it contributes to "what is said" by sentences containing that expression, and the character gives a rule for determining, in a context, the content of an expression. A tacit assumption of theories of character has been that character is autonomous from content – that semantic evaluation starts with character, adds context, and then derives content. (...) One consequence of this autonomy thesis is that the rules for character can contain no variables bound by content-level operators elsewhere in the sentence. Tacit appeal to this consequence features essentially both in Jason Stanley’s recent argument that all contextual ambiguity must be linked to "elements in the actual syntactic structure of the sentence uttered" in his "Context and Logical Form" and in my arguments against character-based theories of complex demonstratives in my "Complex Demonstratives". However, I argue here that the autonomy thesis is unmotivated, and show that we can separate Kaplan’s notion of character into two independent components: an aspect of meaning which is context-sensitive, and an aspect of meaning that is exempted from scopal interactions with other operators. The resulting semantic framework allows constructions similar to Kaplan’s rejected notion of "monsters begat by elegance", but which are both more empirically adequate and more theoretically versatile. Having made the distinction between context-sensitivity and autonomy from scopal interaction, I show how it allows binding into the character of expressions and hence undermines the immediate success of both Stanley’s argument and my former argument against character-based theories of complex demonstratives, and discuss briefly the prospects for reinstating modified versions of those arguments. Finally, I show how that same distinction allows a defusing of Kripke’s modal argument against a descriptive theory of names. Once autonomy from semantic interaction is separated from context-sensitivity, the first of those two alone can be used to capture the modal rigidity of proper names.. (shrink)
Modal fictionalists propose to defuse the unwanted ontological commitments of modal realism by treating modal realism as a fictional story, and modal assertions as assertions, prefixed by a fictionalist operator, that something is true in that story. However, consideration of conditionals with modal antecedents raises the problem ofembedding, which shows that the simple prefixing strategy cannotsucceed. A compositional version of the fictionalist strategy isdeveloped and critiqued, and some general semantic morals aredrawn from the failures of both strategies.
The semantic puzzles posed by propositional attitude contexts have, since Frege, been understood primarily in terms of certain substitution puzzles. We will take as paradigmatic of such substitution puzzles cases in which two coreferential proper names cannot be intersubstituted salva veritate in the context of an attitude verb. Thus, for example, the following sentences differ in truth value: (1) Lois Lane believes Superman can fly. (2) Lois Lane believes Clark Kent can fly. despite the fact that "Superman" and "Clark Kent" (...) pick out the same individual.1 Equivalently, the following sentence may be true: (3) Lois Lane believes that Superman can fly, but that Clark Kent cannot fly. despite the coreferentiality of the names. (It will at times be convenient to appeal to this conjunctive attitude report in order to fix a single context of utterance.) Substitution failures such as these create a puzzle when conjoined with the assumptions (a) that attitude reports report a binary relation between an individual and some object of that individual's attitude and (b) that that object of the attitude is determined by the content of the complement sentence in the attitude report. If all of the terms in two complement sentences (e.g., "Superman can fly" and "Clark Kent can fly") have the same semantic content, then, prima facie, they ought to generate the same object of believe and, a fortiori, materially equivalent attitude reports. Frege, famously, attempts to defuse the puzzle by positing a semantic value of sense in addition to that of reference, and thereby distinguishing the semantic contents of the two complement sentences. (shrink)
A “slingshot” proof suggested by Kurt Gödel (1944) has been recast by Stephen Neale (1995) as a deductive argument showing that no non-truthfunctional sentence connective can permit the combined use, within its scope, of two truth-functionally valid inference principles involving deﬁ- nite descriptions. According to Neale, this result provides indirect support for Russell’s Theory of Descriptions and has broader philosophical repercussions because descriptions occur in non-truth-functional constructions used to motivate talk about (e.g.) necessity, time, probability, causation, obligation, facts, states of (...) affairs, and propositions. (shrink)
Sententialism: An adequate semantic theory for a language assigns semantic values to complex expressions (typically on the basis of the semantic values of the syntactic parts of those complex expressions), with the assignment process culminating in the assignment of appropriate semantic values (typically propositions or truth conditions) to entire sentences. Sententialism is so-called because it takes the task of semantic theory proper to be exhausted once semantic values have been assigned to full sentences. Beyond the sentence may lay further linguistic (...) phenomena broadly construed, such as various discourse properties and relations, but any such phenomena are relegated to the pragmatics. Sententialism thus typically goes hand-in-hand with a larger philosophical perspective according.. (shrink)