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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Here is a bit of background: I came across Millican's 1994 paper over the weekend while I was independently researching the philosophy of P.F. Strawson online.  (My resources are quite limited, incidentally.)  I only last week learned of Strawson via the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy while I was looking for interpretations of the Liar's Paradox, and I was struck by an apparent similarity between his and my own.  My interest in Strawson was furthered when I came across the first four pages of "On Referring," in which he claims that expressions do not refer, but that people can refer using expressions.  (This is the idea Millican indicates as Strawson's distinction between sentences and statements, where the latter is determined by a sentence's usage.)  This Wittgensteinian notion had occured to me only days earlier, and is what led me to formulate my own arguments about the Liar's Paradox.  In fact, I had written virtually the exact same sentence as Strawson to express t
 he same id ... (read more)
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