Knowledge ascriptions seem context sensitive. Yet it is widely thought that epistemic contextualism does not have a plausible semantic implementation. We aim to overcome this concern by articulating and defending an explicit contextualist semantics for ‘know,’ which integrates a fairly orthodox contextualist conception of knowledge as the elimination of the relevant alternatives, with a fairly orthodox “Amherst” semantics for A-quantification over a contextually variable domain of situations. Whatever problems epistemic contextualism might face, lack of an orthodox semantic implementation is not (...) among them. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to present an explanation for the impact of normative considerations on people’s assessment of certain seemingly purely descriptive matters. The explanation is based on two main claims. First, a large category of expressions are tacitly modal: they are contextually equivalent to modal proxies. Second, the interpretation of predominantly circumstantial or teleological modals is subject to certain constraints which make certain possibilities salient at the expense of others.
We design new languages, by and large, in order to bypass complexities and limitations within the languages we already have. But when we are concerned with language itself we should guard against projecting the simple and powerful syntax and semantics we have concocted back into the sentences we encounter. For some of the features of English, French, or Ancient Greek we routinely abstract away from in the process of formalization might be linguistic universals – the very features that set human (...) languages apart from all the other conceivable ones. How similar natural languages really are to formal ones is an empirical question for linguistics. (shrink)
Wayne Davis's Meaning, Expression and Thought argues that linguistic meaning is conventional use to express ideas. An obvious problem with this proposal is that complex expressions that have never been used are nonetheless meaningful. In response to this concern, Davis associates conventions of use not only with linguistic expressions but also with the modes in which such expressions can combine into larger expressions. I argue that such constructive conventions are in conflict with the principle of compositionality (as it is usually (...) understood) and that (at least in the cases Davis considers) they are unnecessary for semantic explanations. (shrink)
Wayne Davis’s Meaning, Expression and Thought argues that linguistic meaning is conventional use to express ideas. An obvious problem with this proposal is that complex expressions that have never been used are nonetheless meaningful. In response to this concern, Davis associates conventions of use not only with linguistic expressions but also with the modes in which such expressions can combine into larger expressions. I argue that such constructive conventions are in conflict with the principle of compositionality (as it is usually (...) understood) and that (at least in the cases Davis considers) they are unnecessary for semantic explanations. (shrink)
Leading scholars in the philosophy of language and theoretical linguistics present brand-new papers on a major topic at the intersection of the two fields, the distinction between semantics and pragmatics. Anyone engaged with this issue in either discipline will find much to reward their attention here. Contributors: Kent Bach, Herman Cappelen, Michael Glanzberg, Jeffrey C. King, Ernie Lepore, Stephen Neale, F. Recanati, Nathan Salmon, Mandy Simons, Scott Soames, Robert J. Stainton, Jason Stanley, Zoltan Gendler Szabo.
Philosophers and linguists alike tend to call a semantic theory ‘Russellian’ just in case it assigns to sentences in which definite descriptions occur the truth-conditions Russell did in ‘On Denoting’. This is unfortunate; not all aspects of those particular truth-conditions do explanatory work in Russell's writings. As far as the semantics of descriptions is concerned, the key insights of ‘On Denoting’ are that definite descriptions are not uniformly referring expressions, and that they are scope-bearing elements. Anyone who accepts these two (...) claims can account for Russell's puzzle cases the way he did. Russell had no substantive argument for the claim that ‘The F is G’ entails ‘There is at most one F’; in fact, he had important misgivings about it. I outline an argument against this claim, and I argue that by holding on to uniqueness contemporary semanticists make a momentous mistake: they keep the illusion alive that there is a way to account for linguistic meaning without addressing what linguistic expressions are for. (shrink)
Sententialism is the view that intensional positions in natural languages occur within clausal complements only. According to proponents of this view, intensional transitive verbs such as 'want', 'seek' or 'resemble' are actually propositional attitude verbs in disguise. I argue that 'conceive' (and a few other verbs) cannot fit this mould: conceiving-of is not reducible to conceiving-that. I offer a new diagnosis of where Berkeley's 'master argument' goes astray, analysing what is odd about saying that Hylas conceives a tree which is (...) not conceived. A sententialist semantics cannot account for the absurdity in attitude ascriptions of this type: we need to acknowledge irreducibly non-propositional (but none the less de dicto) conceiving. (shrink)
I argue against the standard view that ontological debates can be fully described as disagreements about what we should believe to exist. The central thesis of the paper is that believing in Fs in the ontologically relevant sense requires more than merely believing that Fs exist. Believing in Fs is not even a propositional attitude; it is rather an attitude one bears to the term expressed by 'Fs'. The representational correctness of such a belief requires not only that there be (...) Fs, but also that the term expressed by 'Fs' should not misrepresent them. In certain cases we might believe that there are Fs without believing our conception of Fs applies to them. This may well be the situation we are in with regard to abstract entities of various sorts. (shrink)
A fictionalist attitude towards an area of discourse encourages us to assent to certain sentences of that discourse without believing that they are true. Prima facie, this amounts to a suggestion that we should also assent to sentences of the form 'S but I don't believe that S'. Traditional versions of fictionalism have an answer to this challenge, but I argue that the answer is unavailable for a currently popular type of fictionalism. This is bad news for fictionalism in general (...) because the currently popular variety is the one that deals best with the Quine-Putnam indispensability argument. (shrink)