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Summary

Presupposition has been a widely discussed topic in the philosophical and linguistic tradition since the beginning: Frege, in Über Sinn und Bedeutung (1892), claims that the use of a singular term presupposes the existence of the individual denoted. The Fregean example was that to give a truth value to the sentence

(1) Kepler died in misery

we need to take for granted the truth of the proposition

(1a) Kepler existed

Therefore, (1a) is a semantic presupposition of (1). Since the Fregean stance, analytic scholars have given the following definition: a sentence p semantically presupposes a sentence q if we need the truth of q in order to treat p as endowed with sense, that is, as either true or false. If the presupposition is lacking, then the sentence p lacks a truth value (i.e. is neither true nor false). Russell, in On Denoting (1905), launched a strong criticism of the Fregean theory of semantic presupposition, contrasting the Fregean view with a new “theory of definite descriptions”. From this perspective, every sentence is either truth or false, and the role of a proper name (or a description to which every proper name can be reduced, according to Russell) is to express an existence claim. This solution allows to give a truth value to sentences with non-denoting terms, like “The present king of France is bald”, which should be translated as “There is an individual who is at present King of France and he is unique and he is bald”; formally:

(2) ∃x[F(x)˄∀y[F(y)→y=x]˄C(x)]

In this case, given that there is no individual who is presently the King of France, the sentence is false.

It was only in the 50s that ordinary language philosophy developed a new concept of presupposition. Starting with Strawson (1950) and with Austin (1962), the concept of presupposition was no longer linked to necessary conditions for the evaluation of the truth of a sentence, but was a necessary condition for the felicity or appropriateness of a speech act. With Stalnaker (1973) analytic philosophy abandoned the notion of semantic presupposition to treat presupposition as a propositional attitude. The theory changed its focus from the semantic level of sentences to the pragmatic level of utterances, therefore including the ‘cognitive context’ of the speakers background of beliefs, assumptions, presumptions, etc. In Stalnaker’s view the common ground of a conversation at a particular time is the set of propositions that participants in that conversation at that time mutually believe to be accepted as true and that, for that reason, they take for granted. Hence, in this perspective, a pragmatic presupposition is a prerequisite for appropriateness of assertions: an assertion of a sentence p is appropriate only if the common ground includes the presupposition q required by p, namely, q is believed as accepted as true by the interlocutors (Stalnaker, 2002).

In more recent times, several scholars have treated the problem of presuppositions within dynamic semantic theories, i.e. formal representations of language structure aimed at modelling the growth of information in the course of a discourse, like Update Semantics (Heim 1992) and Discourse Representation Theory (Kamp & Reyle, 1993). The passage from the level of singular utterances to the wider level of the discourse structure has shown us that the distinction between semantic and pragmatic presuppositions, that once seemed like a neat division, is not so tidy after all. On the one hand, presuppositions are considered an essential prerequisite for understanding the content expressed by an utterance and for the coherence of the semantic relations between the sentences that constitute a discourse. In this respect, therefore, they play a purely semantic role. On the other hand, the process of presupposition accommodation is highly sensitive to contextual factors like, for example, speakers’ willingness to maintain a cooperative attitude with their interlocutors. In this view, therefore, they can be considered a pragmatic phenomenon, related to contextual aspects.

When dealing with presuppositions, many theoretical problems and contrasts have to be tackled. Specifically, there are three main open questions in the current linguistic and philosophical debate:

(i) a first problem concerns what ‘presupposing’ means, i.e. what it is for a proposition to be taken for granted. The question at stake is to determine what are the mental states speakers have towards presuppositions; in particular, when new information is conveyed as presupposed and is accommodated within the common ground by the interlocutors (Stalnaker 2002, Gauker 2003).

(ii) A second major issue regards the role of presupposition triggers (i.e. all the lexical items and syntactic constructions that activate presuppositions). Besides a traditional taxonomy of presupposition triggers, there are now new attempts to better explain the mechanisms underlying the understanding of different categories of triggers and to provide a new classification (Abusch 2002, 2010).

(iii) Finally, a third central topic is the so called ‘presupposition projection problem’, namely, the problem of how complex sentences inherit the presuppositions of their components depending on the logical operator in use (Heim 1992, Geurts 1999). 

Key works Common ground; presupposition triggers; presupposition projection; accommodation; global context; local context; presupposition failure.
Introductions

Stalnaker R (1973) Presuppositions. The Journal of Philosophical Logic 2:447-457

Stalnaker R (2002) Common Ground. Linguistics and Philosophy 25(5-6):701-721

Heim I (1992) Presupposition projection and the semantics of attitude verbs. Journal of Semantics 9(3):183-221

Abusch, D., (2010). “Presupposition triggering from alternatives”, Journal of Semantics,

27(1), 1-44.

Geurts, B., (1999). Presuppostions and Pronouns, Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Related categories

281 found
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  1. Presuppositions, Negation, and Existence.Barbara Abbott - unknown
    Last year (2005) marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of Russell’s classic ‘On denoting’. It should not cast any shadow on that great work to note that the problems it provided solutions to are still the subject of controversy. Two of those problems involved noun phrases (NPs) which fail to denote. Russell’s examples (1a) and (1b) (1) a. The king of France is bald. b. The king of France is not bald. are puzzling because they have the form of (...)
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  2. Where Have Some of the Presuppositions Gone?Barbara Abbott - unknown
    Some presuppositions seem to be weaker than others in the sense that they can be more easily neutralized in some contexts. For example some factive verbs, most notably epistemic factives like know, be aware, and discover, are known to shed their factivity fairly easily in contexts such as are found in (1). (1) a. …if anyone discovers that the method is also wombat-proof, I’d really like to know! b. Mrs. London is not aware that there have ever been signs erected (...)
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  3. An Information Packaging Approach to Presuppositions and Conventional Implicatures.Barbara Abbott - forthcoming - Topoi:1-13.
    Within the relevant semantics and pragmatics literature the terms “presupposition” and “conventional implicature” are used in a variety of different, but frequently overlapping, ways. The overlaps are perhaps not surprising, given that the two categories of conveyed meaning share the property of remaining constant in the scope of other operators—the property usefully characterize as projectivity. One of my purposes in this paper will be to try to clarify these different usages. In addition to that we will explore two additional properties (...)
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  4. Presuppositions and Common Ground.Barbara Abbott - 2008 - Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (5):523-538.
    This paper presents problems for Stalnaker’s common ground theory of presupposition. Stalnaker (Linguist and Philos 25:701–721, 2002) proposes a 2-stage process of utterance interpretation: presupposed content is added to the common ground prior to acceptance/rejection of the utterance as a whole. But this revision makes presupposition difficult to distinguish from assertion. A more fundamental problem is that the common ground theory rests on a faulty theory of assertion—that the essence of assertion is to present the content of an utterance as (...)
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  5. A Note on Quasi-Presuppositions and Focus.M. Abrusan - 2013 - Journal of Semantics 30 (2):257-265.
    This squib argues that so-called quasi-presupposition effects of adverbial modification are due to the fact that the modifier is focused.
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  6. Presupposition Cancellation: Explaining the ‘Soft–Hard’ Trigger Distinction.Márta Abrusán - 2016 - Natural Language Semantics 24 (2):165-202.
    Some presuppositions are easier to cancel than others in embedded contexts. This contrast has been used as evidence for distinguishing two fundamentally different kinds of presuppositions, ‘soft’ and ‘hard’. ‘Soft’ presuppositions are usually assumed to arise in a pragmatic way, while ‘hard’ presuppositions are thought to be genuine semantic presuppositions. This paper argues against such a distinction and proposes to derive the difference in cancellation from inherent differences in how presupposition triggers interact with the context: their focus sensitivity, anaphoricity, and (...)
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  7. Presuppositional and Negative Islands: A Semantic Account. [REVIEW]Márta Abrusán - 2011 - Natural Language Semantics 19 (3):257-321.
    This paper proposes a new explanation for the oddness of presuppositional and negative islands, as well as the puzzling observation that these islands can be obviated by certain quantificational elements. The proposal rests on two independently motivated assumptions: (i) the idea that the domain of manners contains contraries and (ii) the notion that degree expressions range over intervals. It is argued that, given these natural assumptions, presuppositional and negative islands are predicted to lead to a presupposition failure in any context.
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  8. Predicting the Presuppositions of Soft Triggers.Márta Abrusán - 2011 - Linguistics and Philosophy 34 (6):491-535.
    The central idea behind this paper is that presuppositions of soft triggers arise from the way our attention structures the informational content of a sentence. Some aspects of the information conveyed are such that we pay attention to them by default, even in the absence of contextual information. On the other hand, contextual cues or conversational goals can divert attention to types of information that we would not pay attention to by default. Either way, whatever we do not pay attention (...)
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  9. Presupposition Triggering From Alternatives.D. Abusch - 2010 - Journal of Semantics 27 (1):37-80.
    This paper considers a set of presupposition triggers including focus, questions, ‘contrastive’ statives and an ‘affirmation/negation’ construction involving and not, where presuppositions are cancellable. It is proposed that these constructions, rather than having strict semantic presuppositions, have representations involving alternative sets in the sense of alternative semantics of questions and focus and that a default process generates a presupposition from the alternative set. Presupposition projection facts are dealt with by stating a default constraint referring to dynamic denotations. The analysis can (...)
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  10. Intentionality and First Person Reference.Kelly Alberts - 1987 - Philosophy Research Archives 13:613-636.
    Roderick Chisholm contrasts semantic theories that presuppose “the primacy of the intentional” with those that presuppose “the primacy of the linguistic”. In The First Person he attempts to develop an analysis of first person singular reference that presupposes the primacy of the intentional. In this paper I attempt to develop a semantics of first person singular reference (what I call ‘I-reference’) that presupposes the primacy of the linguistic. I do three things in the paper. First, I criticize Chisholm’s (and Frege’s) (...)
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  11. On Presuppositions and Presupposing.R. Allen - 1997 - Appraisal 1:3-8.
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  12. Fundamental Beliefs and Presuppositions Supplementary Conference Issue.R. T. Allen - 1997 - R.T. Allen.
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  13. Context, Content, and Epistemic Transparency.Mahrad Almotahari & Ephraim Glick - 2010 - Mind 119 (476):1067-1086.
    We motivate the idea that presupposition is a transparent attitude. We then explain why epistemic opacity is not a serious problem for Robert Stalnaker's theory of content and conversation. We conclude with critical remarks about John Hawthorne and Ofra Magidor's alternative theory.
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  14. Maximize Presupposition and Two Types of Definite Competitors.Luis Alonso-Ovalle, Paula Menéndez-Benitob & Florian Schwarz - 2011 - In Suzi Lima, Kevin Mullin & Brian Smith (eds.), Proceedings of NELS 39 - Volume 1. Amherst, MA: GLSA. pp. 29-40.
    Indefinites impose an anti-uniqueness condition on their domain of quantification. The sentence in (1), for instance, cannot be felicitously uttered when it is taken for granted that John has only one friend (Hawkins 1978, 1991, Heim 1991).
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  15. Maximize Presupposition and Two Types of Definite Competitors.Luis Alonso-Ovallea - unknown
    Indefinites impose an anti-uniqueness condition on their domain of quantification. The sentence in (1), for instance, cannot be felicitously uttered when it is taken for granted that John has only one friend (Hawkins 1978, 1991, Heim 1991).
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  16. Modality, Presupposition and Discourse.Patrícia Amaral & Fabio Del Prete - forthcoming - In Ruth Lopes, Juanito Ornelas de Avelar & Sonia Cyrino (eds.), Romance Languages and Linguistic Theory. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
    This paper provides a semantic analysis of the particles afinal (European Portuguese) and alla fine (Italian) in terms of the notion of truth unpersistence, which can be situated at the intersection of epistemic modality and discourse structure. In the analysis proposed, the particles are propositional operators and require that the truth of a proposition p* fail to persist through a temporal succession of epistemic states, this proposition being incompatible with the prejacent, and that the interlocutors share knowledge of a previous (...)
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  17. On Truth Unpersistence: At the Crossroads of Epistemic Modality and Discourse.Patrícia Amaral & Fabio Del Prete - 2016 - Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 34.
    We propose a semantic analysis of the particles afinal (European Portuguese) and alla fine (Italian) in terms of the notion of truth unpersistence, which combines both epistemic modality and constraints on discourse structure. We argue that the felicitous use of these modal particles requires that the truth of a proposition p* fail to persist through a temporal succession of epistemic states, where p* is incompatible with the proposition modified by afinal/alla fine, and that the interlocutors share knowledge of a previous (...)
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  18. Comments on Harrah's Theses.Alan Ross Anderson, Monroe Beardsley, Richard Rorty, Abner Shimony, Frederick Sontag & Francis V. Raab - 1955 - Review of Metaphysics 9 (1):118 - 124.
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  19. Clausal Pied-Piping.Karlos Arregi - 2003 - Natural Language Semantics 11 (2):115-143.
    In Basque, wh-movement can pied-pipe an entire clause. The surface syntax of clausal pied-piping structures suggests that their syntax and semantics should be similar to scope marking constructions as analyzed in the Indirect Dependency approach. However, data having to do with presupposition projection and the interpretation of how many-questions show that clausal pied-piping structures are actually more similar to their long-distance wh-movement counterparts than to scope marking constructions. I develop an analysis which takes into account these facts. Specifically, I show (...)
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  20. Negation, Ambiguity, and Presupposition.Jay David Atlas - 1977 - Linguistics and Philosophy 1 (3):321 - 336.
    In this paper I argue for the Atlas-Kempson Thesis that sentences of the form The A is not B are not ambiguous but rather semantically general (Quine), non-specific (Zwicky and Sadock), or vague (G. Lakoff). This observation refutes the 1970 Davidson-Harman hypothesis that underlying structures, as full semantic representations, are logical forms. It undermines the conception of semantical presupposition, removes a support for the existence of truth-value gaps for presuppositional sentences (the remaining arguments for which are viciously circular), and lifts (...)
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  21. Presupposition and Types of Clause.A. J. Baker - 1956 - Mind 65 (259):368-378.
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  22. The Concept of Presupposition: A Study.P. Balasubramanian - 1984 - Radhakrishnan Institute for Advanced Study in Philosophy, University of Madras.
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  23. Presuppositions for Proportional Quantifiers.Chris Barker - 1996 - Natural Language Semantics 4 (3):237-259.
    Most studies of the so-called proportion problem seek to understand how lexical and structural properties of sentences containing adverbial quantifiers give rise to various proportional readings. This paper explores a related but distinct problem: given a use of a particular sentence in context, why do only some of the expected proportional readings seem to be available? That is, why do some sentences allow an asymmetric reading when other, structurally similar sentences seem to require a symmetric reading? Potential factors suggested in (...)
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  24. Discourse and its Presuppositions.Patrick K. Bastable - 1972 - Philosophical Studies 21:278-279.
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  25. Presupposition and Assertion in Dynamic Semantics.David I. Beaver - 2001 - CSLI Publications.
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  26. Presupposition.David I. Beaver - 1997 - In Johan van Bentham & Alice ter Meulen (eds.), Handbook of Logic and Language. MIT Press.
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  27. A Partial Account of Presupposition Projection.David Beaver & Emiel Krahmer - 2001 - Journal of Logic, Language and Information 10 (2):147-182.
    In this paper it is shown how a partial semantics for presuppositions can be given which is empirically more satisfactory than its predecessors, and how this semantics can be integrated with a technically sound, compositional grammar in the Montagovian fashion. Additionally, it is argued that the classical objection to partial accounts of presupposition projection, namely that they lack “flexibility,” is based on a misconception. Partial logics can give rise to flexible predictions without postulating any ad hoc ambiguities. Finally, it is (...)
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  28. Presupposition and Partiality: Back to the Future.David Beaver & Emiel Krahmer - 1998 - Journal of Logic, Language and Information 10 (2):147-182.
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  29. Focus on Again.Sigrid Beck - 2005 - Linguistics and Philosophy 29 (3):277 - 314.
    This paper examines the effect that focus has on repetitive versus restitutive again. It is argued that a pragmatic explanation of the effect is the right strategy. The explanation builds largely on a standard focus semantics. To this we add an anaphoric analysis of again’s presupposition and a detailed analysis of the alternatives triggered when focus falls on again.
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  30. Questions, Answers, and Presuppositions.Nuel D. Belnap Jr - 1966 - Journal of Philosophy 63 (20):609-611.
  31. Presupposition and Two-Dimensional Logic.Merrie Bergmann - 1981 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 10 (1):27 - 53.
  32. Presupposition Failure and the Assertive Enterprise.Anne Bezuidenhout - 2016 - Topoi 35 (1):23-35.
    I outline a discourse-based account of presuppositions that relies on insights from the writings of Peter Strawson, as well as on insights from more recent work by Robert Stalnaker and Barbara Abbott. One of the key elements of my account is the idea that presuppositions are “assertorically inert”, in the sense that they are background propositions, rather than being part of the “at issue” or asserted content. Strawson is often assumed to have defended the view that the falsity of a (...)
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  33. Definition, Presupposition, and Assertion.Max Black - 1952 - Philosophical Review 61 (4):532-550.
  34. Contextualism and the Problem of Known Presuppositions.Michael Blome-Tillmann - 2012 - In Jessica Brown & Mikkel Gerken (eds.), Knowledge Ascriptions. Oxford University Press. pp. 104.
  35. Knowledge and Presuppositions.Michael Blome-Tillmann - 2009 - Mind 118 (470):241 - 294.
    The paper explicates a new way to model the context-sensitivity of 'knows', namely a way that suggests a close connection between the content of 'knows' in a context C and what is pragmatically presupposed in C. After explicating my new approach in the first half of the paper and arguing that it is explanatorily superior to standard accounts of epistemic contextualism, the paper points, in its second half, to some interesting new features of the emerging account, such as its compatibility (...)
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  36. How to Give Someone Horns. Paradoxes of Presupposition in Antiquity.Susanne Bobzien - 2012 - Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy 15:159-84.
    ABSTRACT: This paper discusses ancient versions of paradoxes today classified as paradoxes of presupposition and how their ancient solutions compare with contemporary ones. Sections 1-4 air ancient evidence for the Fallacy of Complex Question and suggested solutions, introduce the Horn Paradox, consider its authorship and contemporary solutions. Section 5 reconstructs the Stoic solution, suggesting the Stoics produced a Russellian-type solution based on a hidden scope ambiguity of negation. The difference to Russell's explanation of definite descriptions is that in the Horn (...)
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  37. Existence, Presupposition and Anaphoric Space.Andrea Bonomi - 1977 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 6 (1):239 - 267.
    The following paper deals with the notion of existence, especially as concerns natural languages. In Section 1, starting from some quite obvious examples drawn from logic, I sketch the problem of the existential presupposition usually ascribed to noun phrases. My opinion is that the point of view frequently adopted in this case is unduly restrictive, for the existence which is believed to be presupposed here is actual existence. Accordingly, I emphasize the need for having a weaker notion of existential presupposition, (...)
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  38. Saying Nothing : In Defence of Syntactic and Semantic Underdetermination.Mark Bowker - 2016 - Dissertation, University of St Andrews
    According to the Encoding Model, speakers communicate by encoding the propositions they want to communicate into sentences, in accordance with the conventions of a language L. By uttering a sentence that encodes p, the speaker says that p. Communication is successful only if the audience identifies the proposition that the speaker intends to communicate, which is achieved by decoding the uttered sentence in accordance with the conventions of L. A consequence of the Encoding Model has been the proliferation of underdetermination (...)
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  39. The Perspicuity of the Scriptures: Presupposition, Principle or Phantasm.Kristian Brackett - 2010 - Kairos: Evangelical Journal of Theology 4 (1):29-46.
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  40. Presuppositional TOO, Postsuppositional TOO.Adrian Brasoveanu & Anna Szabolcsi - 2013 - The Dynamic, Inquisitive, and Visionary Life of Φ, ?Φ, and ◊Φ Subtitle: A Festschrift for Jeroen Groenendijk, Martin Stokhof, and Frank Veltman.
    One of the insights of dynamic semantics in its various guises (Kamp 1981, Heim 1982, Groenendijk & Stokhof 1991, Kamp & Reyle 1993 among many others) is that interpretation is sensitive to left-to-right order. Is order sensitivity, particularly the default left-to-right order of evaluation, a property of particular meanings of certain lexical items (e.g., dynamically interpreted conjunction) or is it a more general feature of meaning composition? If it is a more general feature of meaning composition, is it a processing (...)
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  41. Presuppositions, Logic, and Dynamics of Belief.Slavko Brkic - 2004 - Prolegomena 3 (2):151-177.
    In researching presuppositions dealing with logic and dynamic of belief we distinguish two related parts. The first part refers to presuppositions and logic, which is not necessarily involved with intentional operators. We are primarily concerned with classical, free and presuppositonal logic. Here, we practice a well known Strawson’s approach to the problem of presupposition in relation to classical logic. Further on in this work, free logic is used, especially Van Fraassen’s research of the role of presupposition in supervaluations logical systems. (...)
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  42. HEIM, G. -Ursache Und Bedingung, Etc. [REVIEW]C. D. Broad - 1914 - Mind 23:623.
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  43. Comments on Philippe Schlenker's Be Articulate! A Pragmatic Theory of Presupposition Projection.Berit Brogaard - manuscript
    “When a speaker says something of the form A and B, he may take it for granted that A (or at least that his audience recognizes that he accepts that A) after he has said it. The proposition that A will be added to the background of common assumptions before the speaker asserts that B. Now suppose that B expresses a proposition that would, for some reason, be inappropriate to assert except in a context where A, or something entailed by (...)
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  44. The Limits to Debate: A Revised Theory of Semantic Presupposition.Noel Burton-Roberts - 1989 - Cambridge University Press.
    Exponents and critics of semantic presupposition have almost invariably based their discussion on the ('Standard') definition of presupposition implied by Frege and Strawson. In this study Noel Burton-Roberts argues convincingly against this definition, that leads it to a three-valued semantics. He presents a very simple semantic definition which is weaker, more general and leads to a semantics more easily interpreted as two-valued with gaps. The author shows that a wide range of intuitive facts that eluded the Standard definition follow directly (...)
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  45. Science and Philosophy: Implications or Presuppositions?E. F. Caldin - 1950 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 1 (3):196-210.
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  46. Negation, `Presupposition' and the Semantics/ Pragmatics Distinction.Robyn Carston - 1998 - Journal of Linguistics 34:309-350.
    A cognitive pragmatic approach is taken to some long-standing problem cases of negation, the so-called presupposition denial cases. It is argued that a full account of the processes and levels of representation involved in their interpretation typically requires the sequential pragmatic derivation of two different propositions expressed. The first is one in which the presupposition is preserved and, following the rejection of this, the second involves the echoic (metalinguistic) use of material falling in the scope of the negation. The semantic (...)
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  47. Some Basic Presuppositions of Classical Philosophy.Claro Rafols Ceniza - 1974 - Dissertation, Syracuse University
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  48. In Defense of a Presuppositional Account of Slurs.Bianca Cepollaro - 2015 - Language Sciences 52:36-45.
    Abstract In the last fifteen years philosophers and linguists have turned their attention to slurs: derogatory expressions that target certain groups on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality and so on. This interest is due to the fact that, on the one hand, slurs possess puzzling linguistic properties; on the other hand, the questions they pose are related to other crucial issues, such as the descriptivism/expressivism divide, the semantics/pragmatics divide and, generally speaking, the theory of meaning. Despite these (...)
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  49. Presupposition and the a Priori.Nate Charlow - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 165 (2):509-526.
    This paper argues for and explores the implications of the following epistemological principle for knowability a priori (with 'Ka' abbreviating 'it is knowable a priori that'). -/- (AK) For all ϕ, ψ such that ϕ semantically presupposes ψ: if Ka(ϕ), Ka(ψ). -/- Well-known arguments for the contingent a priori and a priori knowledge of logical truth founder when the semantic presuppositions of the putative items of knowledge are made explicit. Likewise, certain kinds of analytic truth turn out to carry semantic (...)
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  50. Presuppositions of Quantified Sentences: Experimental Data. [REVIEW]Emmanuel Chemla - 2009 - Natural Language Semantics 17 (4):299-340.
    Some theories assume that sentences like (i) with a presupposition trigger in the scope of a quantifier carry an existential presupposition, as in (ii); others assume that they carry a universal presupposition, as in (iii). No student knows that he is lucky. Existential presupposition: At least one student is lucky.Universal presupposition: Every student is lucky. This work is an experimental investigation of this issue in French. Native speakers were recruited to evaluate the robustness of the inference from (i) to (iii). (...)
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