Statements and modality Strawson, Quine and Wolfram


Over a period of more than twenty years, Sybil Wolfram gave lectures at Oxford University on Philosophical Logic, a major component of most of the undergraduate degree programmes. She herself had been introduced to the subject by Peter Strawson, and saw herself as working very much within the Strawsonian tradition. Central to this tradition, which began with Strawson's seminal attack on Russell's theory of descriptions in ‘On Referring' (1950), is the distinction between a sentence and what is said by a sentence − Strawson initially called the latter a use of a sentence, and sometimes a proposition , but his most frequent term for what is said , which Wolfram consistently adopts, is the statement expressed.1 The force of the distinction is clearly illustrated in ‘On Referring', which uses it to undermine the common assumption that any sentence must be either true, or false, or meaningless. Russell had argued on this basis that a sentence such as ‘The King of France is bald' (which is clearly neither true nor meaningless) must be false, but Strawson points out that if we distinguish between the sentence itself and the statement that it expresses (on some occasion of use), we can quite easily combine the admission that the sentence is meaningful − for it can in appropriate circumstances be used to express true and false statements − with the claim that nevertheless if the circumstances are ‘inappropriate' (in particular, when there is no current King of France), the sentence can fail to express a statement that is either true or false. On this picture, therefore, it is sentences that are meaningful, but statements that are the primary bearers of truth.



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Peter Millican
Oxford University

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