Names, descriptions, and demonstratives raise well-known logical, ontological, and epistemological problems. Perhaps less well known, amongst philosophers at least, are the ways in which some of these problems not only recur with pronouns but also cross-cut further problems exposed by the study in generative linguistics of morpho-syntactic constraints on interpretation. These problems will be my primary concern here, but I want to address them within a general picture of interpretation that is required if wires are not to be crossed. That (...) picture will be sketched in sections 3 and 4; subsequent sections will focus on pronouns and binding, drawing heavily on what has preceded. (shrink)
The idea that an utterance of a basic (nondeviant) declarative sentence expresses a single true-or-false proposition has dominated philosophical discussions of meaning in this century. Refinements aside, this idea is less of a substantive theses than it is a background assumption against which particular theories of meaning are evaluated. But there are phenomena (noted by Frege, Strawson, and Grice) that threaten at least the completeness of classical theories of meaning, which associate with an utterance of a simple sentence a truth-condition, (...) a Russellian proposition, or a Fregean thought. And it may well be the case that a framework within which utterances express sequences of propositions provides much of what is needed to account for the relevant phenomena, a better overall picture of the way language works, and an enticingly uniform perspective on a variety of semantic problems. I do not myself take to theories that multiply propositions by appealing to propositions “presupposed” or to pairs of Fregean and Russellian propositions, or theories that show no respect for a distinction between semantics and pragmatics— where the former is the study of propositions whose general form and character is determined by word meaning and syntax—or for theories that blithely abandon general principles of composition and semantic innocence. I would like to sketch a package based on four interconnected ideas: (i) the meaning of an individual word is a sequence of instructions for generating a sequence of propositions (in conjunction with compositional instructions (syntax) and elements of context); (ii) utterances themselves are not bearers of truth or falsity; (iii) judgements of truth, falsity, commitment, and conflict are shaped, in part, by the weights attached to individual 1 propositions that occur in sequences expressed by utterances, weights that may be set (and reset) by contextual considerations; (iv) Fregean senses are superfluous; propositions might as well be Russellian (Mont Blanc and all its snow fields will do as well as any mode of presentation).. (shrink)
lt is widely held that entertaining a belief or forming a judgement involves the exercise of conceptual capacities; and to this extent the representational content of a belief or judgement is said to be "con— ceptual". According to Gareth Evans (1980), not all psychological states have conceptual content in this sense. In particular, perceptual states have non—conceptual content; it is not until one forms a judgement on the basis of a perceptual experience that one touches the realm of conceptual content.
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)
This paper attempts to raise a question for the everyday view that language is a means of communication, a system of marks or sounds which we use to convey thoughts and describe the world. It first isolates the assumptions behind this everyday view before raising questions about them.
The work of the late Paul Grice (1913–1988) exerts a powerful influence on the way philosophers, linguists, and cognitive scientists think about meaning and communication. With respect to a particular sentence φ and an “utterer” U, Grice stressed the philosophical importance of separating (i) what φ means, (ii) what U said on a given occasion by uttering φ, and (iii) what U meant by uttering φ on that occasion. Second, he provided systematic attempts to say precisely what meaning is by (...) providing a series of more refined analyses of utterer’s meaning, sentence meaning, and what is said. Third, Grice produced an account of how it is possible for what U says and what U means to diverge. Fourth, by characterizing a philosophically important distinction between the “genuinely semantic” and “merely pragmatic” implications of a statement, Grice clarified the relationship between classical logic and the semantics of natural language. Fifth, he provided some much needed philosophical ventilation by deploying his notion of “implicature” to devastating effect against certain overzealous strains of “Ordinary Language Philosophy,” without himself abandoning the view that philosophy must pay attention to the nuances of ordinary talk. Sixth, Grice undercut some of the most influential arguments for a philosophically significant notion of “presupposition.” Today, Grice’s work lies at the center of research on the semantics-pragmatics distinction and shapes much discussion of the relationship between language and mind. In a nutshell, Grice has forced philosophers and linguists to think very carefully about the sorts of facts a semantic theory is supposed to account for and to reflect upon the most central theoretical notions, notions that otherwise might be taken for granted or employed without due care and attention. To be sure, Grice’s own positive proposals have their weaknesses; but in the light of his work any theory of meaning that is to be taken at all seriously must now draw a sharp line between genuinely semantic facts and facts pertaining to the nature of human interaction.. (shrink)
When philosophers talk about descriptions, usually they have in mind singular definite descriptions such as ‘the finest Greek poet’ or ‘the positive square root of nine’, phrases formed with the definite article ‘the’. English also contains indefinite descriptions such as ‘a fine Greek poet’ or ‘a square root of nine’, phrases formed with the indefinite article ‘a’ (or ‘an’); and demonstrative descriptions (also known as complex demonstratives) such as ‘this Greek poet’ and ‘that tall woman’, formed with the demonstrative articles (...) ‘this’ and ‘that’. Following the custom in philosophy, in this chapter often we use ‘description’ as short for ‘definite description’; and following the custom in linguistics, often we use ‘definite’, ‘indefinite’, and ‘demonstrative’ as shorthand nouns. For the most part we focus on definite and indefinites, although a few words about demonstratives are called for. At the centre of debates about descriptions is the matter of whether they are devices of reference or of predication (simple or higher-order), and much discussion focuses on how various proposals are to be incorporated into broader theories of the semantics of natural language. But philosophical interest goes beyond the confines of linguistics, logic, and the philosophy of language because choices made about the semantics of descriptions have repercussions elsewhere, particularly in epistemology and metaphysics. A simple match of form and meaning appears to fail.1 First, many occurrences of expressions of both forms ‘the φ’ and ‘a φ’ appear to be used to talk about particular individuals. Consider (1). (shrink)