One way to challenge the substantiveness of a particular philosophical issue is to argue that those who debate the issue are engaged in a merely verbal dispute. For example, it has been maintained that the apparent disagreement over the mind/brain identity thesis is a merely verbal dispute, and thus that there is no substantive question of whether or not mental properties are identical to neurological properties. The goal of this paper is to help clarify the relationship between mere verbalness and (...) substantiveness. I first argue that we should see mere verbalness as a certain kind of discourse defect that arises when the parties differ as to what each takes to be the immediate question under discussion. I then argue that mere verbalness, so understood, does not imply that the question either party is attempting to address is a non-substantive one. Even if it turns out that the parties to the mind/brain dispute are addressing subtly different questions, these might both be substantive questions to which their respective metaphysical views provide substantive answers. One reason it is tempting to reach deflationary conclusions from the charge of mere verbalness is that we fail to distinguish it from the claim that a sentence under dispute is, in a certain sense, indisputable. Another reason is that we fail to distinguish mere verbalness from a certain sort of indeterminacy. While indisputability and indeterminacy plausibly capture forms of nonsubstantiveness, I argue that mere verbalness is insufficient to establish either indisputability or indeterminacy. (shrink)
Intuitively, (1)-(3) seem to express genuine claims (true or false) about what the world is like, attempts to correctly describe parts of extra-linguistic reality. By contrast, it is tempting to regard (4)-(6) as merely reflecting decisions (or conventions, or dispositions, or rules) concerning the terms in which that extra-linguistic reality is described, decisions about which things to label with 'vixen', 'bachelor' or 'cup'.
Pairs of sentences like the following pose a problem for ontology: (1) Jupiter has four moons. (2) The number of moons of Jupiter is four. (2) is intuitively a trivial paraphrase of (1). And yet while (1) seems ontologically innocent, (2) appears to imply the existence of numbers. Thomas Hofweber proposes that we can resolve the puzzle by recognizing that sentence (2) is syntactically derived from, and has the same meaning as, sentence (1). Despite appearances, the expressions ‘the number of (...) moons of Jupiter’ and ‘four’ do not function semantically as singular terms in (2). Hofweber’s primary evidence for this proposal concerns differences in the focus-related communicative functions of (1) and (2). In this paper I raise several serious problems for Hofweber’s proposal, and for his attempt to support it by appeal to focus-related phenomena. I conclude by offering independent evidence for an alternative, purely pragmatic resolution of the ontological puzzle. (shrink)
What accounts for the capacity of ordinary speakers to comprehend utterances of their language? The phenomenology of hearing speech in one’s own language makes it tempting to many epistemologists to look to perception for an answer to this question. That is, just as a visual experience as of a red square is often taken to give the perceiver immediate justification for believing that there is a red square in front of her, perhaps an auditory experience as of the speaker asserting (...) that p gives the competent hearer immediate justification for believing that the speaker has asserted that p. My aim here is to offer reasons for resisting this temptation. I argue that the perceptual model cannot adequately account for the hearer’s justification in many cases. The arguments here also allow us to draw certain further morals about the role of phenomenology in the epistemology of perception. (shrink)
This is a brief response to Thomas Hofweber's "Extraction, Displacement and Focus: A Reply to Balcerak Jackson" (Linguistics and Philosophy 37.3 (2014)), which was a reply to my "Defusing Easy Arguments for Numbers" (Linguistics and Philosophy 36.6 (2013)).
A central question for ontology is the question of whether numbers really exist. But it seems easy to answer this question in the affirmative. The truth of a sentence like ‘Seven students came to the party’ can be established simply by looking around at the party and counting students. A trivial paraphrase of is ‘The number of students who came to the party is seven’. But appears to entail the existence of a number, and so it seems that we must (...) conclude that numbers exist. This is sometimes called the puzzle of how we can get something from nothing. Most extant attempts to solve the puzzle take it for granted that is ontologically innocent, and focus their attention either on or on the transition from to. We argue that both attempts go wrong at the first step: the assumption that is ontologically innocent is undermined by a highly attractive and independently well-motivated degree-based account of number word constructions. Thus the degree-based account provides a straightforward linguistic resolution of the puzzle of how we can get something from nothing. But the paper also has a second aim. The semantics we present treats ‘seven’ as a referring expression that refers to a degree of a certain sort. But what are degrees? We consider various anti-platonist proposals that seek to account for degrees in terms of relations between concrete entities, and argue that they are incompatible with the Universal Density of Measurement hypothesis of Fox and Hackl. While the UDM cannot yet claim to be the consensus view among degree-based semanticists, our aim is to use it to illustrate how views about the nature of degrees can be evaluated by considering the properties degrees must have if they are to play the explanatory roles they are called upon to play in linguistics. In the present state of development of degree-based semantics there are difficult open questions about what these properties are. These questions need to be addressed if we are to develop a clear picture of what natural language semantics has to contribute to ontology and metaphysics. (shrink)
Speakers of a natural language regularly form justified beliefs about what others are saying when they utter sentences of the language. What accounts for these justified beliefs? At one level, we already have a plausible answer: there is a perfectly good ordinary sense in which users of a language know what its sentences mean, and it is very plausible that the hearer’s knowledge of the meaning of S helps explain her justification for her belief about what is said by an (...) utterance of S. But what exactly does our knowledge of sentence meanings consist in? In this essay I advance and defend the view that we know the meanings of sentences in virtue of having a certain distinctive kind of know-how that I call inferential practical knowledge. I argue that this view provides the best explanation for the justification of our beliefs about what is said. In particular, it provides a better explanation than the more conventional and widely accepted view that we know the meaning of S in virtue of possessing the theoretical knowledge that S has such-and-such meaning. (shrink)
In the early days of natural language semantics, Donald Davidson issued a challenge to those, like Richard Montague, who would do semantics in a model-theoretic framework that gives a central role to a model-relative notion of truth. Davidson argued that no theory of this kind can claim to be an account of real truth conditions unless it first makes clear how the relativized notion relates to our ordinary non-relativized notion of truth. In the 1990s, Davidson’s challenge was developed by Etchemendy (...) into an argument against the model-theoretic account of logical consequence, one that also threatens the attempt to capture natural language entailment relations in modeltheoretic terms—one of the central desiderata of semantics. Nevertheless, the modeltheoretic framework has flourished within natural language semantics. But it has flourished without any consensus among semanticists as to how to answer Davidson’s challenge. The aim of this essay is to develop an answer. I argue that model-theoretic semantics is best understood as model-based science: a semantics for a natural language is a scientific model of truth conditions. This makes good sense of the way model-theoretic tools are used in natural language semantics. And it allows us to answer Davidson’s challenge by showing how a theory that employs a relativized notion of truth manages to tell us about ordinary truth conditions. Moreover, I argue that it helps us see how semantics can provide genuine explanations for natural language entailment and other truth-conditional phenomena. (shrink)
In his essay ‘“Conceptual Truth”’, Timothy Williamson (2006) argues that there are no truths or entailments that are constitutive of understanding the sentences involved. In this reply I provide several examples of entailment patterns that are intuitively constitutive of understanding in just the way that Williamson rejects, and I argue that Williamson’s argument does nothing to show otherwise. Williamson bolsters his conclusion by appeal to a certain theory about the nature of understanding. I argue that his theory fails to consider (...) the role that the structure of a sentence plays in determining its meaning. The cases I present suggest that this role imposes greater cognitive requirements on understanding than Williamson can acknowledge. (shrink)
Is there a principled difference between entailments in natural language that are valid solely in virtue of their form or structure and those that are not? This paper advances an affirmative answer to this question, one that takes as its starting point Gareth Evans’s suggestion that semantic theory aims to carve reality at the joints by uncovering the semantic natural kinds of the language. I sketch an Evans-inspired account of semantic kinds and show how it supports a principled account of (...) structural entailment. I illustrate the account by application to a case study involving the entailment properties of adverbs; this involves developing a novel proposal about the semantics for adverbs like ‘quickly’ and ‘slowly’. In the course of the discussion I explore some implications of the account for the place of model-theoretic tools in natural language semantics. (shrink)