Comments on David Johnston’s “Identity, Necessity, and Propositionsâ€

Authors
Peter Alward
University of Saskatchewan
Abstract
           Johnston maintains that the notion of a proposition—a language independent (abstract) particular—can be dispensed with in philosophical semantics and replaced with that of a propositional act. A propositional act is a component of a speech act that is responsible for the propositional content of the speech act. Traditionally, it is thought that a propositional act yields the propositional content of a speech act by being an act of expressing a proposition. And it is the expressed proposition that serves as the propositional content of the speech act. Johnston points out, however, that a propositional act is a structured event consisting minimally of a referential act, a predicative act, and a time-designative act. And on Johnston’s view, the propositional content is the structured propositional act itself. (Strictly speaking, Johnston analyzes sameness of propositional content in terms of sameness of propositional act type, from which I, perhaps rashly, inferred that the propositional content of a speech act should be taken to be the propositional act itself).            Johnston argues that a semantic analysis in terms of propositional acts enables us to reconcile the necessity of both, (1) Hesperus is Phosphorus (2) Phosphorus is Phosphorus with their intuitive difference in meaning, while maintaining the direct reference theory of proper names. Moreover, he argues that invoking propositional acts rather than propositions has the advantage of being able to capture the various senses in which distinct statements might be said to “say the same thingâ€, as well as that of ontological parsimony. I will address each of these claims in turn, but first, I want to point out that the propositionalist can easily reconcile the necessity of (1) and (2) with their intuitive difference in meaning, without forsaking direct reference. All one needs to do is invoke the Fregean idea that there is a meaning shift in “thatâ€-clauses of (opaque) indirect discourse (and other) ascriptions..
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