The multiple relation theory and Schiffer’s puzzle

Synthese 198 (10):1-21 (2020)
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Following Russell, philosophers like Moltmann, Jubien, Boër, and Newman analyse ‘John believes that Mary is French’ as ‘R ’, instead of analysing it as ‘R ’. Thus, for these philosophers, instead of relations holding between agents and truth-bearing entities, propositional attitude verbs, like ‘belief’, express relations holding between agents and the properties and objects our thoughts and speech acts are about. This is also known as the Multiple Relation Theory. In this paper, I will discuss the Multiple Relation Theory primarily in connection with a problem known as Schiffer’s puzzle. Schiffer first presented the puzzle to argue against the so called direct-reference theory of belief reports advocated, among others, by Salmon and Braun. I will argue that, unlike the direct-reference theory of belief reports, the Multiple Relation Theory does not provide a solution to Schiffer’s puzzle. In this connection, I will also discuss a slight modification of the Multiple Relation Theory according to which the ways the properties and objects our thoughts and speech acts are about are presented to us are part of the truth-conditions of sentences like ‘John believes that Mary is French’. We will see that prima facie such a contextualist version of the Multiple Relation Theory provides a solution to Schiffer’s puzzle. However, concluding, I will argue with new Schiffer cases that, ultimately, also a contextualist version of the Multiple Relation Theory cannot explain all instances of Schiffer’s puzzle. This will undermine the Multiple Relation Theory in general.



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Stefan Rinner
University of Hamburg

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