A common objection to Russell's theory of descriptions concerns incomplete definite descriptions: uses of (for example) ‘the book is overdue’ in contexts where there is clearly more than one book. Many contemporary Russellians hold that such utterances will invariably convey a contextually determined complete proposition, for example, that the book in your briefcase is overdue. But according to the objection this gets things wrong: typically, when a speaker utters such a sentence, no facts about the context or the speaker's communicative (...) intentions single out a particular description-theoretic proposition as the proposition expressed. However, this is an objection only if it is assumed that successful linguistic communication requires the hearer to identify a proposition uniquely intended by the speaker. We argue that this assumption is mistaken. On our view, no proposition, descriptive or referential, is uniquely intended in such a context; thus, no proposition can nor need be identified as the proposition expressed. One significant upshot is that, once the aforementioned assumption is rejected, incompleteness no longer poses a threat to Russell's theory of descriptions. (shrink)
Jeffrey King, Scott Soames, and others have recently challenged the familiar identification of a Russellian proposition, such as the proposition that Brutus stabbed Caesar, with an ordered sequence constructed out of objects, properties, and relations. There is, as they point out, a surplus of candidate sequences available that are each equally serviceable. If so, any choice among these candidates will be arbitrary. In this paper, I show that, unless a controversial assumption is made regarding the nature of nonsymmetrical relations, none (...) of the proffered candidate sequences are in fact adequate to the play the role. Moreover, as I argue, the most promising alternative theory of relations—one that avoids the problematic assumption and, in addition, fits most naturally into the sequentialist’s framework—fails to meet a basic requirement: it cannot distinguish between the proposition that Brutus stabbed Caesar and the proposition that Caesar stabbed Brutus. The upshot is that the conspicuously structured entities that are widely assumed to be up to the task of “playing the proposition role” shed no light on the very structure they are invoked to represent. (shrink)
Bertrand Russell's theory of definite descriptions sparked an ongoing debate concerning the proper logical and linguistic analysis of definite descriptions. While it is now widely acknowledged that, like the indexical expressions 'I', 'here', and 'now', definite descriptions in natural language are context-sensitive, there is significant disagreement as to the ultimate challenge this context-sensitivity poses to Russell's theory.This reader is intended both to introduce students to the philosophy of language via the theory of descriptions, and to provide scholars in analytic philosophy (...) with ready access to some of the central contributions in this area. It includes classic works by Russell, Carnap, Strawson, Lambert, Donnellan, Grice, Peacocke, Kripke, Wettstein, Soames, Neale, and Schiffer. (shrink)
In their widely discussed paper, “Semantics, Cross-Cultural Style”, Machery et al. argue that Kripke’s Gödel–Schmidt case, generally thought to undermine the description theory of names, rests on culturally variable intuitions: while Western subjects’ intuitions conflict with the description theory of names, those of East Asian subjects do not. Machery et al. attempt to explain this discrepancy by appealing to differences between Western and East Asian modes of categorization, as identified in an influential study by Nisbett et al. I claim that (...) these differences fail to explain the conflicting intuitions. Moreover, Machery et al.’s initial conjecture—that the relevant cultural differences would manifest themselves in differing semantic intuitions—is legitimate only if we assume that the Gödel–Schmidt case is used both to undermine descriptivism and establish the causal theory. But, as I argue, this is not Kripke’s intention. This misunderstanding persists in the recent clarification of their views in “If Folk Intuitions Vary, Then What?” (Machery et al., Philos Phenomenol Res, 2012). (shrink)
In Meanings and Other Things fourteen leading philosophers explore central themes in the writings of Stephen Schiffer, a leading figure in philosophy since the 1970s. Topics range from theories of meaning to moral cognitivism, the nature of paradox, and the problem of vagueness. Schiffer's responses set out his current thinking.
According to the naive theory of belief reports, our intuition that “Lois believes that Kent flies” is false results from our mistakenly identifying what this sentence implicates, which is false, with what it says, which is true. Whatever the merits of this proposal, it is here argued that the naive theory’s analysis of negative belief reports—sentences such as “Lois doesn't believe that Kent flies”—gives rise to equally problematic clashes with intuition, but that in this case no “pragmatic” explanation is available. (...) In particular, it is argued that there are situations at which, although “Lois believes that Superman flies” and “Lois doesn't believe that Kent flies” appear consistent, a speaker must contradict himself when he utters both. It is also argued that the hidden-indexical theory of belief reports—which otherwise respects our ordinary intuitions regarding belief reports—similarly fails to explain this intuition. (shrink)
In The Things We Mean, Stephen Schiffer defends a novel account of the entities to which belief reports relate us and to which their that-clauses refer. For Schiffer, the referred-to entities—propositions—exist in virtue of contingencies of our linguistic practices, deriving from “pleonastic restatements” of ontologically neutral discourse. Schiffer’s account of the individuation of propositions derives from his treatment of that -clause reference. While that -clauses are referential singular terms, their reference is not determined by the speaker’s referential intentions. Rather, their (...) reference is determined in a top-down manner—in Schiffer’s words, “by what the speaker and audience mutually take to be essential to the truth-value of the belief report.” While this accounts for a deep disanalogy between belief reports and other relational propositions—a disanalogy emphasized by Schiffer—I argue that the proposal runs into trouble when we consider the case of de re belief. I close by showing how a modification of Schiffer’s approach—one differing in essential ways from the theory developed in Things—is capable of handling these difficulties. (shrink)
I here revisit a debate between Antonin Scalia and Ronald Dworkin concerning the constitutionality of capital punishment. As is well known, Scalia maintained that the consistency of capital punishment with the Eighth Amendment can be established on purely textualist principles; Dworkin denied this. There are, Dworkin maintained, two readings of the Eighth Amendment available to the textualist. But only on one of these readings is the constitutionality of capital punishment secured; on the other, ‘principled’, reading it is not. Moreover, breaking (...) the stalemate in favour of the former reading cannot be decided on textualist principles alone. To resolve the issue, Scalia is forced to appeal to interpretive principles he has explicitly disavowed – principles that permit us to go beyond the text and invoke the framers’ intentions. In this paper, I argue that Dworkin has misdescribed the situation: there is in fact a plausible textualist argument that favours Scalia’s reading – one that, as per its textualist credentials, makes no reference to the framers’ intentions or expectations. (shrink)
Russellianism is characterized as the view that ‘that’-clauses refer to Russellian propositions, familiar set-theoretic pairings of objects and properties. Two belief-reporting sentences, S and S*, possessing the same Russellian content, but differing in their intuitive truthvalue, are provided. It is argued that no Russellian explanation of the difference in apparent truthvalue is available, with the upshot that the Russellian fails to explain how a speaker who asserts S but rejects S* can be innocent of inconsistency, either in what she says (...) or, at least, in what she implicates. Yet, while there is no semantic or pragmatic explanation of the substitution failure consistent with Russellianism, there remains the possibility of a purely psychological explanation that is, nonetheless, Russellian. This is an attractive option. It comes at a cost, however, since, in abandoning the project of providing a semantic or pragmatic explanation of anti-substitutivity intuitions, the Russellian is no longer in the business of explaining how a rational, well-informed speaker, with no incentive to mislead, can avoid inconsistency in reporting the facts as they appear. (shrink)
Peter Pagin: Indeterminacy of Translation: We discuss the content of the indeterminacy thesis, Quine's arguments for it and his associated behaviorism, consequences of the thesis, and some objections against it.