Philosophy, science, and common sense all refer to propositions--things we believe and say, and things which are true or false. But there is no consensus on what sorts of things these entities are. Jeffrey C. King, Scott Soames, and Jeff Speaks argue that commitment to propositions is indispensable, and each defend their own views on the debate.
In the past twenty years, issues about the relationship between perception and thought have largely been framed in terms of the question of whether the contents of perception are nonconceptual. I argue that this debate has rested on an ambiguity in `nonconceptual content' and some false presuppositions about what is required for concept possession. Once these are cleared away, I argue that none of the arguments which have been advanced about nonconceptual content do much to threaten the natural view that (...) perception and thought are relations to the same kind of content. (shrink)
I argue that the transparency of experience provides the basis of arguments both for intentionalism -- understood as the view that there is a necessary connection between perceptual content and perceptual phenomenology -- and for the view that the contents of perceptual experiences are Russellian propositions. While each of these views is popular, there are apparent tensions between them, and some have thought that their combination is unstable. In the second half of the paper, I respond to these worries by (...) arguing that Russellianism is consistent with intentionalism, that their conjunction is consistent with both internalism about phenomenology and externalism about perceptual content, and that the resulting view receives independent support from the relationship between hallucination and thought. (shrink)
There are two main ways in which things with minds, like us, differ from things without minds, like tables and chairs. First, we are conscious--there is something that it is like to be us. We instantiate phenomenal properties. Second, we represent, in various ways, our world as being certain ways. We instantiate representational properties. Jeff Speaks attempts to make progress on three questions: What are phenomenal properties? What are representational properties? How are the phenomenal and the representational related?
Demonstratives have different semantic values relative to different contexts of utterance. But it is surprisingly difficult to describe the function from contexts to contents which determines the semantic value of a given use of a demonstrative. It is very natural to think that the intentions of the speaker should play a significant role here. The aim of this paper is to discuss a pair of problems that arise for views which give intentions this central role in explaining the characters of (...) demonstratives. As will emerge, these problems lead quickly to a foundational question about the semantics of demonstratives and many other context-sensitive expressions: the question of whether, in explaining their characters, we need to understand them as sensitive, not just to facts about the psychology of the speaker of the context, but also to facts about the audience of the context. I critically examine Jeffrey King’s theory of demonstratives, which answers this question in the affirmative, and argue that it ultimately collapses into a purely speaker-based view of the character of demonstratives. I then show how to develop a much simpler speaker-based theory which both handles all of the cases handled by King’s theory and avoids some of the more serious problems which King’s theory faces. Towards the end I consider how we might solve the very difficult problems which result from cases in which speakers use demonstratives with conflicting referential intentions. (shrink)
My aim in this paper is to lay out a number of theses which are very widely held in contemporary philosophy of language and linguistics, and to argue that, given some extra theses for which I’ll argue, they are inconsistent. Some of this will involve going through some very well-trodden territory—my hope is that presenting this familiar ground in the way that I do will help to make plain the problem that I aim to identify.
Many alleged counter-examples to intentionalism, the thesis that the phenomenology of perceptual experiences of a given sense modality supervenes on the contents of experiences of that modality, can be avoided by adopting a liberal view of the sorts of properties that can be represented in perceptual experience. I argue that there is a class of counter-examples to intentionalism, based on shifts in attention, which avoids this response. A necessary connection between the contents and phenomenal characters of perceptual experiences can be (...) preserved by distinguishing perceptual phenomenology from the phenomenology of attention; but even if this distinction is viable, these cases put pressure on the thesis that phenomenal character can, in general, be explained in terms of mental representation. (shrink)
One of Kripke's fundamental objections to descriptivism was that the theory misclassifies certain _a posteriori_ propositions expressed by sentences involving names as _a priori_. Though nowadays very few philosophers would endorse a descriptivism of the sort that Kripke criticized, many find two-dimensional semantics attractive as a kind of successor theory. Because two-dimensionalism needn't be a form of descriptivism, it is not open to the epistemic argument as formulated by Kripke; but the most promising versions of two-dimensionalism are open to a (...) close relative of that argument. (shrink)
What’s really at issue in the debate between the transparency theorist and the qualia realist? To answer this question it will be useful to start off with Tye’s clear and, I think, representative ways of defining these views.What is qualia realism? Tye glosses the view as the claim that “Experiences have intrinsic features that are non-intentional and of which we can be directly aware via introspection.”Tye. Unless otherwise noted, all references to Tye’s work in what follows are to this paper. (...) That is:Qualia Realism: There are features which:are features of experiences;are intrinsic properties of experiences;are non-intentional;are such that we can be directly aware of them via introspection.He also suggests that at least many qualia realists will hold that “the phenomenal character of an experience is one and the same as the cluster of such intrinsic features.” It will be useful have a label for this stronger view; I suggestStrongQualia Realism: There are fea. (shrink)
In "Assertion," Geach identified failure to attend to the distinction between meaning and speech act as a source of philosophical errors. I argue that failure to attend to this distinction, along with the parallel distinction between attitude and content, has been behind the idea that meaning and content are, in some sense, normative. By an argument parallel to Geach's argument against performative analyses of "good" we can show that the phenomena identified by theorists of the normativity of content are properties (...) in the first instance of speech act and propositional attitude types, rather than content as such. (shrink)
Some linguistic phenomena can occur in uses of language in thought, whereas others only occur in uses of language in communication. I argue that this distinction can be used as a test for whether a linguistic phenomenon can be explained via Grice’s theory of conversational implicature. I argue further, on the basis of this test, that conversational implicature cannot be used to explain quantifier domain restriction or apparent substitution failures involving coreferential names, but that it must be used to explain (...) the phenomenon of referential uses of definite descriptions. I conclude with a brief discussion of the relevance of this point to the semantics/pragmatics distinction. (shrink)
Since the 1960's, work in the analytic tradition on the nature of mental and linguistic content has converged on the views that social facts about public language meaning are derived from facts about the thoughts of individuals, and that these thoughts are constituted by properties of the internal states of agents. I give a two-part argument against this picture of intentionality: first, that if mental content is prior to public language meaning, then a view of mental content much like the (...) causal-pragmatic theory presented by Robert Stalnaker in Inquiry must be correct; second, that the causal-pragmatic theory is false. I conclude with some positive suggestions regarding alternative solutions to the `problem of intentionality.'. (shrink)
Alvin Plantinga gave a reductio of the conjunction of the following three theses: Existentialism (the view that, e.g., the proposition that Socrates exists can't exist unless Socrates does), Serious Actualism (the view that nothing can have a property at a world without existing at that world) and Contingency (the view that some objects, like Socrates, exist only contingently). I sketch a view of truth at a world which enables the Existentialist to resist Plantinga's argument without giving up either Serious Actualism (...) or Contingency. (shrink)
Some opponents of epistemic two-dimensionalism say that the view should be rejected on the grounds that it misclassifies certain a posteriori claims as a priori. Elliott, McQueen, & Weber  have argued that any argument of this form must fail. I argue that this conclusion is mistaken, and defend my argument [Speaks (2010] against their criticisms.
Millians sometimes claim that we can explain the fact that sentences like "If Hesperus exists, then Hesperus is Phosphorus" seem a posteriori to speakers in terms of the fact that utterances of sentences of this sort would typically pragmatically convey propositions which really are a posteriori. I argue that this kind of pragmatic explanation of the seeming a posterioricity of sentences of this sort fails. The main reason is that for every sentence like the above which (by Millian lights) is (...) a priori, seems a posteriori to most speakers, and would typically be used to convey a posteriori propositions, there is another which (again, by Millian lights) is a priori, seems a posteriori to most speakers, but can only typically be used to convey a priori propositions. (shrink)
Perfect being theology is the attempt to decide questions about the nature of God by employing the Anselmian formula that God is the greatest possible being. One form of perfect being theology—recently defended by Brian Leftow in God and Necessity—holds that we can decide between incompatible claims that God is F and that God is not F by asking which claim would confer more greatness on God, and then using the formula that God is the greatest possible being to rule (...) out the one which confers less greatness on God. This paper argues that this form of argument, while intuitively quite plausible, does not work. (shrink)
Even if spectrum inversion of various sorts is possible, spectrum inversion without a difference in representation is not. So spectrum inversion does not pose a challenge for the intentionalist thesis that, necessarily, within a given sense modality, if two experiences are alike with respect to content, they are also alike with respect to their phenomenal character. On the contrary, reflection on variants of standard cases of spectrum inversion provides a strong argument for intentionalism. Depending on one’s views about the possibility (...) of spectrum inversion, the impossibility of spectrum inversion without a difference in representation can also be used as an argument against a variety of reductive theories of mental representation. (shrink)
In "Truth and Meaning", Davidson suggested that a truth theory can do the work of a theory of meaning: it can give the meanings of expressions of a language, and can explain the semantic competence of speakers of the language by stating information knowledge of which would suffice for competence. From the start, this program faced certain fundamental objections. One response to these objections has been to supplement the truth theory with additional rules of inference (e.g. from T-sentences to meaning (...) theorems). I argue that these modifications of Davidson's original idea fail to solve the problems with Davidsonian semantics, and that the prospects for a solution to these problems within the Davidsonian framework are dim. A general lesson to be drawn is that Davidsonian theories do not provide a viable alternative to Russellian and Fregean approaches to semantics which recognize the reality of language-independent contents. (shrink)
Theories of propositions as complex acts, of the sort recently defended by Peter Hanks and Scott Soames, make room for the existence of distinct propositions which nonetheless represent the same objects as having the same properties and standing in the same relations. This theoretical virtue is due to the claim that the complex acts with which propositions are identified can include particular ways of cognizing, or referring to, objects and properties. I raise two questions about this sort of view—one about (...) what it means to stand in a propositional attitude relation to a complex act of this sort, and one about which ways of cognizing can be parts of propositions. Both questions turn out to be difficult for the complex act theorist to answer in a satisfactory way. (shrink)
I reply to the argument of Caplan (Philos Stud 133:181–198, 2007 ) against the conjunction of Millianism with the view that utterances of sentences involving names often pragmatically convey descriptively enriched propositions.
One of Kripke's fundamental objections to descriptivism was that the theory misclassifies certain a posteriori propositions expressed by sentences involving names as a priori. Though nowadays very few philosophers would endorse a descriptivism of the sort that Kripke criticized, many find two-dimensional semantics attractive as a kind of successor theory. Because two-dimensionalism needn't be a form of descriptivism, it is not open to the epistemic argument as formulated by Kripke; but the most promising versions of two-dimensionalism are open to a (...) close relative of that argument. (shrink)
I argue that the best way to solve Russell's problem of the relationship between propositions and their constituents is to think of propositions as properties of worlds. I argue that this view preserves the strengths and avoids some of the weaknesses of the view of the metaphysics of propositions defended by Jeff King in his _The Nature and Structure of Content_, and that it provides an explanation of the representational properties of propositions and the nature of indexical belief. I conclude (...) by discussing some problems about how to think about the semantics of propositional attitude ascriptions, if a view of this sort is correct. (shrink)
Rather than proclaiming the "death of God," in the fashion of Nietzsche's madman, F. LeRon Shults proudly proclaims the "birth of God" in his incendiary, radically iconoclastic book Theology after the Birth of God. Shults argues, drawing on the multidisciplinary findings of the biocultural study of religion, that the commonplace belief in supernatural agents is the result of a variety of evolved cognitive and coalitional mechanisms that cause human beings to overdetect agency and that contribute to in-group cohesion—traits that would (...) have been selected because they aided the survival of early hominids living in hunter-gatherer societies, but that are maladaptive in our contemporary context. In his most recent book... (shrink)
Most arguments against God’s existence aim to show that it is incompatible with various apparent features of the world, such as the existence of evil or of human free will. In response, theists have sought to show that God’s existence is compatible with these features of the world. However, the fact that the proposition that God exists is necessary if possible introduces some underappreciated difficulties for these arguments.
A Millian-Russellian semantic theory is one according to which the meanings of proper names are the objects for which they stand, and the meanings of predicates are the properties (or relations) they express. Given a compositionality principle (which I will assume), the Millian-Russellian must hold that sentences which differ only in the substitution of proper names which have the same reference (relative to the relevant context) must express the same proposition.
The essay which follows is about the relationship between mind and language. Most recent thought about intentionality has it that mental states of individuals are largely, or in the most fundamental cases, independent of social facts about public languages, and these social facts are derived from, or constituted by, the mental states of individuals. The purpose of this essay is to challenge this individualist orthodoxy , and suggest in its place a communitarian picture of intentionality which gives public languages a (...) role to play in the constitution of thought. (shrink)
If [C1-3] are true, then we must identity some analyticity-relevant property other than character and content which differs between “Hesperus” and “Phosphorus.” On Gill’s view this is the property of having a certain reference determiner.
The most widely accepted and well worked out approaches to the foundations of meaning take facts about the meanings of linguistic expressions at a time to be derivative from the propositional attitudes of speakers of the language at that time. This mentalist strategy takes two principal forms, one which traces meaning to belief, and one which analyzes it in terms of communicative intentions. I argue that either form of mentalism fails, and conclude by suggesting that we can do better by (...) focusing on connections between linguistic meaning and the contents of perceptions (rather than beliefs or intentions), and by (following Kripke's approach to reference) replacing questions about the nature of meaning with questions about the nature of term introduction and meaning transmission. (shrink)
In response to arguments against the existence of God, and in response to perceived conflicts between divine attributes, theists often face pressure to give up some pretheoretically attractive thesis about the divine attributes. One wonders: when does this unacceptably water down our concept of God, and when is it, as van Inwagen says, ‘permissible tinkering’ with the concept of God? A natural and widely deployed answer is that it is permissible tinkering iff it is does not violate the claim that (...) God is the greatest possible being. Call this the ’perfect being defense.’ In this paper I lay out some influential uses of the perfect being defense, and then argue that this strategy for defending theism fails. (shrink)
Questions about the relative priorities of mind and language suffer from a double obscurity. First, it is often not clear which mental and linguistic facts are in question: we can ask about the relationship between any of the semantic or syntactic properties of public languages and the judgments, intentions, beliefs, or other propositional attitudes of speakers of those languages. Second, there is an obscurity about what 'priority' comes to here.We can approach the first problem by way of the second. Often, (...) talk about one class of facts being prior to another is glossed in terms of the claim that we can give an account of the latter in terms of the former. This gloss might seem to be a small advance, since it is .. (shrink)
Benj’s paper is a characteristically thoughtful, imaginative, and wide-ranging exploration of the relationship between certain direct realist theories of perception and the nature of perceptual justification — with some formal semantics thrown in for good measure. Here I’ll focus on just one of the many topics about which Benj has something to say: his remarks on the topic of the relationship that must obtain between a perceptual state and a belief in order for the former to immediately justify the latter.
Increasingly, beginning in the 1970’s and 1980’s, many philosophers of language found themselves in a difficult situation. On the one hand, many came to believe that, in order to do semantics properly, as well as to give an adequate treatment of the attitudes, one needed to posit certain entities — propositions — which could be the meanings of sentences (relative to contexts), the contents of mental states, and the primary bearers of truth and falsity. However, many — largely due to (...) the arguments of Scott Soames1 — also came to distrust the standard theoretical account of the nature of propositions, which treated them as sets of worlds, and came to think of them instead as structured entities of some sort. (shrink)
The nature of predication, and its relation to truth, is the central topic of Davidson’s posthumously published Truth and Predication . The main task which an account of predication should accomplish is a solution to the problem of predication; and that, Davidson tells us, is the problem of explaining what makes some collections of words, but not others, true or false (86). It is so-called because, Davidson thinks, the principal challenge faced by any answer to this problem is the problem (...) of explaining the distinctive contribution made by predicates to the truth or falsity of sentences. (shrink)