forthcoming in Meanings and other Things: essays on Stephen Schiffer Gary Ostertag (ed.) MIT Press 2007. Schiffer substantially changed his view about propositions and that-clauses somewhere between his two most recent books: Remnants of Meaning and The Things We Mean. I look at what problems his earlier view had, and what reason Schiffer gives for giving it up in favor of his more recent view. I argue that Schiffer’s reasons are not very good reasons, and that instead the problems for (...) Remnants can be solved, contrary to the ones Things faces. I outline how a view in the spirit of the one Schiffer held in Remnants can be formulated and defended against the problems that his version faces. In the end we should go back to a view like the one he held in Remnants. (shrink)
In The Things We Mean, Stephen Schiffer defends a novel account of the entities to which belief reports relate us and to which their that-clauses refer. For Schiffer, the referred-to entities—propositions—exist in virtue of contingencies of our linguistic practices, deriving from “pleonastic restatements” of ontologically neutral discourse. Schiffer’s account of the individuation of propositions derives from his treatment of that -clause reference. While that -clauses are referential singular terms, their reference is not determined by the speaker’s referential intentions. Rather, their (...) reference is determined in a top-down manner—in Schiffer’s words, “by what the speaker and audience mutually take to be essential to the truth-value of the belief report.” While this accounts for a deep disanalogy between belief reports and other relational propositions—a disanalogy emphasized by Schiffer—I argue that the proposal runs into trouble when we consider the case of de re belief. I close by showing how a modification of Schiffer’s approach—one differing in essential ways from the theory developed in Things—is capable of handling these difficulties. (shrink)
Propositions are a useful tool in philosophical theorizing, even though they are not beyond reasonable nominalistic doubts. Stephen Schiffer’s pleonasticism about propositions is a paradigm example of a realistic account that tries to alleviate such doubts by grounding truths about propositions in ontologically innocent facts. Schiffer maintains two characteristic theses about propositions: first, that they are so-called pleonastic entities whose existence is subject to what he calls something-from-nothing transformations ; and, second, that they are the referents of ‘that’-clauses that function (...) as singular terms in propositional attitude ascriptions. The paper turns the first thesis against the second: if propositions are pleonastic entities, it is argued, we should not take them to be referred to in propositional attitude ascriptions. Rather, propositional attitude ascriptions should be available as bases for propositional something-from-nothing transformations. (shrink)
This book articulates and defends Fregean realism, a theory of properties based on Frege's insight that properties are not objects, but rather the satisfaction conditions of predicates. Robert Trueman argues that this approach is the key not only to dissolving a host of longstanding metaphysical puzzles, such as Bradley's Regress and the Problem of Universals, but also to understanding the relationship between states of affairs, propositions, and the truth conditions of sentences. Fregean realism, Trueman suggests, ultimately leads to a version (...) of the identity theory of truth, the theory that true propositions are identical to obtaining states of affairs. In other words, the identity theory collapses the gap between mind and world. This book will be of interest to anyone working in logic, metaphysics, the philosophy of language or the philosophy of mind. (shrink)
The Frege point to the effect that e.g. the clauses of conditionals are not asserted and therefore cannot be assertions is often taken to establish a dichotomy between the content of a speech act, which is propositional and belongs to logic and semantics, and its force, which belongs to pragmatics. Recently this dichotomy has been questioned by philosophers such as Peter Hanks and Francois Recanati, who propose act-theoretic accounts of propositions, argue that we can’t account for propositional unity independently of (...) the forceful acts of speakers, and respond to the Frege point by appealing to a notion of force cancellation. I argue that the notion of force cancellation is faced with a dilemma and offer an alternative response to the Frege point, which extends the act-theoretic account to logical acts such as conditionalizing or disjoining. Such higher-level acts allow us to present forceful acts while suspending commitment to them. In connecting them, a subject rather commits to an affirmation function of such acts. In contrast, the Frege point confuses a lack of commitment to what is put forward with a lack of commitment or force in what is put forward. (shrink)
The pressure to individuate propositions more finely than intensionally—that is, hyper-intensionally—has two distinct sources. One source is the philosophy of mind: one can believe a proposition without believing an intensionally equivalent proposition. The second source is metaphysics: there are intensionally equivalent propositions, such that one proposition is true in virtue of the other but not vice versa. I focus on what our theory of propositions should look like when it's guided by metaphysical concerns about what is true in virtue of (...) what. In this paper I articulate and defend a metaphysical theory of the individuation of propositions, according to which two propositions are identical just in case they occupy the same nodes in a network of invirtuation relations. Invirtuation is here taken to be a primitive relation of metaphysical explanation exemplified by propositions that, in conjunction with truth, defines the notion of true in virtue of. After formulating the theory, I compare it with a view.. (shrink)
Some entities, such as fictional characters, propositions, properties, events and numbers are prima facie promising candidates for owing their existence to our linguistic and conceptual practices. However, it is notoriously hard to pin down just what sets such allegedly “language-created” entities apart from ordinary entities. The present paper considers some of the features that are supposed to distinguish between entities of the two kinds and argues that, on an independently plausible account of what it takes to individuate objects, the criteria (...) let in more than friends of the strategy might be happy with. (shrink)
Stephen Schiffer holds that propositions are pleonastic entities. I will argue that there is a substantial difference between propositions and fictional characters, which Schiffer presents as typical pleonastic entities. My conclusion will be that if fictional characters are typical pleonastic entities, then Schiffer fails to show that propositions are pleonastic entities.
This article is a critical review of Stephen Schiffers monograph The Things We Mean . The text discusses some novel contributions made by Schiffer to the philosophy of meaning, in particular, Schiffers proposal for the reification of certain abstract entities and the application of his argument to the philosophical problem of vagueness in natural language. Special attention is paid both to Schiffers ingenious use of the notion of conservative extension , here employed as a criterion for distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate (...) reifications and to Schiffers notion of vague partial belief and its relation to standard partial belief. Schiffers particular understanding of vagueness and its relation to the sorites paradox is also considered, with some remarks made concerning the relationship between these related philosophical problems and human perception. Key Words: meaning vagueness sorites perception conservative extension fictional entities. (shrink)
Every fifteen years or so Stephen Schiffer writes a state of the art book on the philosophy of language, with special emphasis on belief ascriptions, meaning, and propositions. The latest is his terrific new book The Things we Mean. It is again full of ideas, insights, arguments, expositions, and theories. For us, however, who believe that that-clauses are first and foremost clauses, not referring expressions, and that they thus do not refer to propositions or anything else, The Things we Mean (...) brings home the news that our champion, the author of Remnants of Meaning, has, alas, crossed over to the dark side. Although Schiffer’s earlier book defended one of the best versions of the no-reference theory, and brought up many of the issues that need to be addressed to defend such a theory, he now has recanted and switched sides. His new theory holds that propositions do exist after all, and that-clauses do refer to them. However, some of the motivation for the no-reference theory is incorporated into his new theory. In Remnants of Meaning one of the main reasons for rejecting the reference of that-clauses was the apparent impossibility to compositionally assign that-clauses their referents, and thus to give a compositional semantics for natural language. In The Things we Mean Schiffer still finds fault with any way to compositionally determine what things propositions are. But now the conclusion is not that they are not things, but that they are things that are not reducible to certain other things: they are sui generis entities. But they are not just any kind of sui generis entities, they are pleonastic entities. The use of the term ”pleonastic” might be slightly confusing, though, since propositions according to the new theory are neither pleonastic in the sense of redundant, nor pleonastic in the sense of the pleonastic it, which suggests a no-reference theory. Rather they are pleonastic in a certain technical sense. Simply put, pleonastic entities are the ones that i) can be introduced by 1 something-from-nothing transformations, and ii) the statement that there are such entities doesn’t imply anything about other entities that wasn’t implied before.. (shrink)
On Schiffer’s new view, propositions are easy to come by. Any that-clause can be counted on to express one. Thus, trivially, there are vague propositions, conditional propositions, moral and aesthetic propositions. And where propositions go, truth and falsity follow: barring paradoxical cases, Schiffer accepts instances of the schemata “the proposition that p is true iff p” and “the proposition that p is false iff not-p.” What isn’t easy to find, Schiffer thinks, is determinate truth. By the end of the book, (...) we have heard that a huge number of the things we say or think are indeterminate in truth value: not just whether Schiffer’s book is long, but whether the property of being in pain is identical with any physical property, whether torturing children for fun is morally permissible, whether modus ponens is a valid inference rule, and whether someone else would have shot Kennedy if Oswald hadn’t. Indeed, on Schiffer’s view, there are no determinately true moral propositions and virtually no determinately true conditionals that are “likely to interest us”. (shrink)
To a first approximation, _propositional content_ is whatever _that-clauses_ contribute to what is ascribed in utterances of sentences such as Ralph believes _that Tony Curtis is alive_. Ralph said _that Tony Curtis is alive_. Ralph hopes _that Tony Curtis is alive_. Ralph desires _that Tony Curtis is alive_.
In The Things We Mean I argue that there exist such things as the things we mean and believe, and that they are what I call pleonastic propositions. The first two chapters offer an initial motivation and articulation of the theory of pleonastic propositions, and of pleonastic entities generally. The remaining six chapters bring that theory to bear on issues in the theory of content: the existence and nature of meanings; knowledge of meaning; the meaning relation and compositional semantics; the (...) relation between content-involving facts and underlying physical facts; vagueness and indeterminacy; conditionals; normative discourse; and the role of propositional content in explanation, prediction, and knowledge acquisition. (shrink)
I defend the Fregean model of propositions: propositions are the referents of that-clauses and structured entities made of concepts. Schiffer has presented a group of arguments against the Fregean model and advanced an alternative view: propositions are unstructured pleonastic entities. My purpose is twofold: to counter each of his arguments sketching the guidelines for a theory of concepts as basic constituents of propositions; to maintain that the notion of pleonastic entity is not robust enough for claiming the existence of propositions.
After Meaning, 1972, and The Remnants of Meaning , 1987, The Things We Mean is Stephen Schiffer's third major work on the foundations of the theory of linguistic meaning. In simplest possible outline, the development started with a positive attempt to base a meaning theory on a modified Gricean account of utterance meaning, but took a negative turn, with the problems of belief sentences as a major reason for thinking that a systematic (compositional) semantic theory for natural language was not (...) possible at all. In the recent book, things have again taken a more positive turn, but now constructive and destructive elements are mixed in complex ways in a complex account, rich in ideas and in detail, and a great challenge to the reader. It is not always obviously free of inner conflict. Nor can one always easily see how things hang together. I shall here try to accurately present the main ideas. Where my comments are not relegated to separate paragraphs, I mark the transition with a dash ( -). (shrink)
Stephen Schiffer presents a groundbreaking account of meaning and belief, and shows how it can illuminate a range of crucial problems regarding language, mind, knowledge, and ontology. He introduces the new doctrine of 'pleonastic propositions' to explain what the things we mean and believe are. He discusses the relation between semantic and psychological facts, on the one hand, and physical facts, on the other; vagueness and indeterminacy; moral truth; conditionals; and the role of propositional content in information acquisition and explanation. (...) This radical new treatment of meaning will command the attention of everyone who works on fundamental questions about language, and will attract much interest from other areas of philosophy. (shrink)
where, according to Schiffer, the concept of an F is pleonastic just in case the concept itself licenses entailments of the form: S ⇒ ∃xFx. These are what he calls "somethingfrom-nothing" entailments and the various practices in which such entailments are made are what he calls "hypostatisizing practices" (p.57). The concept of a proposition is pleonastic, according to this definition, because it licenses the move from a claim like 'Fido is a dog,' a claim containing only the singular term 'Fido' (...) referring to Fido, to the claim 'It is true that Fido is a dog,' which is a claim that contains the singular term 'that Fido is a dog' referring to the proposition that Fido is a dog. (iv) Propositions are pleonastic entities, as anything that falls under a pleonastic concept is, by definition, a pleonastic entity. And (v) The nature of propositions, as pleonastic entities, is fully determined by the hypostatizing practices that are constitutive of the concept of a proposition together with those necessary a priori truths that are applicable to things of any kind. Schiffer's idea is thus that propositions are entities, but that they are entities of a particularly insubstantial kind, as they have no hidden nature waiting to be discovered by.. (shrink)