Semantics and Pragmatics of Referentially Transparent and Referentially Opaque Belief Ascription Sentences

Philosophia 45 (1):49-71 (2017)

This essay takes a critical look at Jonathan Berg’s theory of direct belief. Berg’s analysis of the concept of direct belief is considered insightful, but doubts are raised concerning his generalization of the purely extensional truth conditional semantics of direct belief ascription sentences to the truth conditional semantics of all belief ascription sentences. Difficulties are posed that Berg does not discuss, but that are implied by the proposal that the truth conditional semantics of belief ascription sentences generally are those of direct belief ascription sentences, and that once mentioned must enter into an evaluation of the proposition that by implication all beliefs are direct. Another line of objection concerns Berg’s second main thesis that the pragmatics as distinct from the semantics of belief ascription sentences can explain away apparent substitution failure validity breakdowns in belief ascription sentences as inappropriate utterances according to rules of roughly Gricean conversational implicature, rather than correspondence or non-correspondence with the facts about such things as what it is that people actually believe. These two parts of Berg’s argument, that the truth conditional semantics of all belief ascription sentences are those exclusively of direct belief ascription sentences, and that apparent substitution failure is effectively salva propria rather than salva veritate, are explored within the general framework of Berg’s thought experiment, eventually arriving at diametrically opposed conclusions, reflecting on what we believe comic book character Lois Lane believes and does not believe about Superman, and what she believes and does not believe about Clark Kent.
Keywords Belief  Belief ascription sentence  Berg, Jonathan  Conversational implicature   de dicto / de re  Doxastic theory  Grice, H.P.  Pragmatics  Semantics  Substitution failure salva veritate v. salva propria  Truth condition  Utterance appropriateness condition
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DOI 10.1007/s11406-015-9604-8
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