Belief in propositions has had a long and distinguished history in analytic philosophy. Three of the founding fathers of analytic philosophy, Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, and G. E. Moore, believed in propositions. Many philosophers since then have shared this belief; and the belief is widely, though certainly not universally, accepted among philosophers today. Among contemporary philosophers who believe in propositions, many, and perhaps even most, take them to be structured entities with individuals, properties, and relations as constituents. For example, the (...) proposition that Glenn loves Tracy has Glenn, the loving relation, and Tracy as constituents. What is it, then, that binds these constituents together and imposes structure on them? And if the proposition that Glenn loves Tracy is distinct from the proposition that Tracy loves Glenn yet both have the same constituents, what is about the way these constituents are structured or bound together that makes them two different propositions? In The Nature and Structure of Content, Jeffrey C. King formulates a detailed account of the metaphysical nature of propositions, and provides fresh answers to the above questions. In addition to explaining what it is that binds together the constituents of structured propositions and imposes structure on them, King deals with some of the standard objections to accounts of propositions: he shows that there is no mystery about what propositions are; that given certain minimal assumptions, it follows that they exist; and that on his approach, we can see how and why propositions manage to have truth conditions and represent the world as being a certain way. The Nature and Structure of Content also contains a detailed account of the nature of tense and modality, and provides a solution to the paradox of analysis. Scholars and students working in the philosophy of mind and language will find this book rewarding reading. (shrink)
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.
Some contextually sensitive expressions are such that their context independent conventional meanings need to be in some way supplemented in context for the expressions to secure semantic values in those contexts. As we’ll see, it is not clear that there is a paradigm here, but ‘he’ used demonstratively is a clear example of such an expression. Call expressions of this sort supplementives in order to highlight the fact that their context independent meanings need to be supplemented in context for them (...) to have semantic values relative to the context. Many philosophers and linguists think that there is a lot of contextual sensitivity in natural language that goes well beyond the pure indexicals and supplementives like ‘he’. Constructions/expressions that are good candidates for being contextually sensitive include: quantifiers, gradable adjectives including “predicates of personal taste”, modals, conditionals, possessives and relational expressions taking implicit arguments. It would appear that in none of these cases does the expression/construction in question have a context independent meaning that when placed in context suffices to secure a semantic value for the expression/construction in the context. In each case, some sort of supplementation is required to do this. Hence, all these expressions are supplementives in my sense. For a given supplementive, the question arises as to what the mechanism is for supplementing its conventional meanings in context so as to secure a semantic value for it in context. That is, what form does the supplementation take? The question also arises as to whether different supplementives require different kinds of supplementation. Let us call an account of what, in addition to its conventional meaning, secures a semantic value for a supplementive in context a metasemantics for that supplementive. So we can put our two questions thus: what is the proper metasemantics for a given supplementive; and do all supplementives have the same metasemantics? In the present work, I sketch the metasemantics I formulated for demonstratives in earlier work. Next, I briefly consider a number of other supplementives that I think the metasemantics I propose plausibly applies to and explain why I think that. Finally, I consider the prospects for extending the account to all supplementives. In so doing, I take up arguments due to Michael Glanzberg to the effect that supplementives are governed by two different metasemantics and attempt to respond to them. (shrink)
Followers of Wittgenstein allegedly once held that a meaningful claim to know that p could only be made if there was some doubt about the truth of p. The correct response to this thesis involved appealing to the distinction between the semantic content of a sentence and features attaching to its use. It is inappropriate to assert a knowledge-claim unless someone in the audience has doubt about what the speaker claims to know. But this fact has nothing to do with (...) the semantic content of knowledgeascriptions; it is entirely explicable by appeal to pragmatic facts about felicitous assertion. (shrink)
In The Principles of Mathematics, Bertrand Russell famously puzzled over something he called the unity of the proposition. Echoing Russell, many philosophers have talked over the years about the question or problem of the unity of the proposition. In fact, I believe that there are a number of quite distinct though related questions all of which can plausibly be taken to be questions regarding the unity of propositions. I state three such questions and show how the theory of propositions defended (...) in my recent book The Nature and Structure of Content answers them. (shrink)
At least since Russell’s influential discussion in The Principles of Mathematics, many philosophers have held there is a problem that they call the problem of the unity of the proposition. In a recent paper, I argued that there is no single problem that alone deserves the epithet the problem of the unity of the proposition. I there distinguished three problems or questions, each of which had some right to be called a problem regarding the unity of the proposition; and I (...) showed how the account of propositions formulated in my book The Nature and Structure of Content [2007 Oxford University Press] solves each of these problems. In the present paper, I take up two of these problems/questions yet again. For I want to consider other accounts of propositions and compare their solutions to these problems, or lack thereof, to mine. I argue that my account provides the best solutions to the unity problems. (shrink)
Like many, though of course not all, philosophers, I believe in propositions. I take propositions to be structured, sentence-like entities whose structures are identical to the syntactic structures of the sentences that express them; and I have defended a particular version of such a view of propositions elsewhere. In the present work, I shall assume that the structures of propositions are at least very similar to the structures of the sentences that express them. Further, I shall assume that ordinary names (...) are devices of direct reference and contribute only their bearers to propositions, that n-place predicates contribute n-place properties or relations to propositions, and that verbs of propositional attitude contribute to propositions two-place relations between individuals and propositions. The broad outline of a framework that includes these assumptions is one that I think many, though again not all, philosophers of language find congenial. I am concerned here to investigate and explain, from the standpoint of this framework, a puzzling phenomenon. The explanation I give of the phenomenon could be adapted to fit with frameworks somewhat different from the one adopted here. I adopt the present framework in part simply for definiteness. (shrink)
A central job for propositions is to be the objects of the attitudes. Propositions are the things we doubt, believe and suppose. Some philosophers have thought that propositions are sets of possible worlds. But many have become convinced that such an account individuates propositions too coarsely. This raises the question of how finely propositions should be individuated. An account of how finely propositions should be individuated on which they are individuated very finely is sketched. Objections to the effect that the (...) account individuates propositions too finely are raised and responses to the objections are provided. It is also shown that theories that try to individuate propositions less finely have serious problems. (shrink)
It is argued that taken together, two widely held claims ((i) sentences express structured propositions whose structures are functions of the structures of sentences expressing them; and (ii) sentences have underlying structures that are the input to semantic interpretation) suggest a simple, plausible theory of propositional structure. According to this theory, the structures of propositions are the same as the structures of the syntactic inputs to semantics they are expressed by. The theory is defended against a variety of objections.
It is common for philosophers to offer philosophical accounts or analyses, as they are sometimes called, of knowledge, autonomy, representation, (moral) goodness, reference, and even modesty. These philosophical analyses raise deep questions.What is it that is being analyzed (i.e. what sorts of things are the objects of analysis)? What sort of thing is the analysis itself (a proposition? sentence?)? Under what conditions is an analysis correct? How can a correct analysis be informative? How, if at all, does the production of (...) philosophical analyses differ from what scientists do? The purpose of the present paper is to provide answers to these questions. (shrink)
In this paper, we defend a traditional approach to semantics, that holds that the outputs of compositional semantics are propositional, i.e. truth conditions. Though traditional, this view has been challenged on a number of fronts over the years. Since classic work of Lewis, arguments have been offered which purport to show that semantic composition requires values that are relativized, e.g. to times, or other parameters that render them no longer propositional. Focusing in recent variants of these arguments involving quantification and (...) binding, we argue that a correct understanding of how composition works gives no reason to relativize semantic values, and that propositional semantic values are in fact the preferred option. We take our argument to be mainly empirical, but along the way, we defend some more general theses. Simple propositional semantic values are viable in composition, we maintain, because composition is itself a complex phenomenon, involving multiple modes of composition. Furthermore, some composition principles make adjustments to the meanings of constituents in the course of composition. These adjustments are by triggered syntactic environments. We argue such small contributions of meaning from syntactic structure are acceptable. (shrink)
Assume that the only thing before you is a statue made of some alloy. Call those who think that there is one thing before you in such a case monists. Call those who think there are at least two things before you in such a case pluralists. The most common arguments for pluralism run as follows. The statue is claimed to have some property P that the piece of alloy lacks (or vice versa), and hence it is concluded that they (...) are distinct. Most often, the predicates employed in such arguments to express the crucial property are predicates expressing ‘temporal properties’, such as existing at a certain time; or ‘modal properties’, such as possibly being spherical; or ‘constitution properties’, such as being made of a certain sort of material. In a recent paper, Kit Fine has noted that such predicates suffer from various defects that make it possible for the monist to plausibly resist the relevant versions of the pluralist's arguments. For this reason, Fine considers a number of predicates that do not suffer from these defects, and constructs new versions of the above argument using them. Fine argues that any attempt on the monist's part to resist his versions of the argument force the monist to adopt implausible positions in the philosophy of language. As against this, I argue that the monist has perfectly plausible responses to Fine's arguments that require the monist to adopt only quite reasonable positions in the philosophy of language. (shrink)
result from combining the determiners `this' or `that' with syntactically simple or complex common noun phrases such as `woman' or `woman who is taking her skis off'. Thus, `this woman', and `that woman who is taking her skis off' are complex demonstratives. There are also plural complex demonstratives such as `these skis' and `those snowboarders smoking by the gondola'. My book Complex Demonstratives: A Quantificational Account argues against what I call the direct reference account of complex demonstratives (henceforth DRCD) and (...) defends a quantificational account of complex demonstratives. In two recent papers, Nathan Salmon has criticized one of the book's arguments against DRCD. In this essay I show that Salmon's criticism fails. I also show that the version of DRCD that Salmon ends up endorsing is false. (shrink)
In a recent paper, Armstrong and Stanley argue that despite being initially compelling, a Russellian account of singular thought has deep difficulties. I defend a certain sort of Russellian account of singular thought against their arguments. In the process, I spell out a notion of propositional constituency that is independently motivated and has many attractive features.
Robert Stalnaker is an actualist who holds that merely possible worlds are uninstantiated properties that might have been instantiated. Stalnaker also holds that there are no metaphysically impossible worlds: uninstantiated properties that couldn't have been instantiated. These views motivate Stalnaker's "two dimensional" account of the necessary a posteriori on which there is no single proposition that is both necessary and a posteriori. For a (metaphysically) necessary proposition is true in all (metaphysically) possible worlds. If there were necessary a posteriori propositions, (...) that would mean that there were propositions true in all possible worlds but which could only be known to be true by acquiring empirical evidence. Consider such a purported proposition P. The role of empirical evidence for establishing P's truth would have to be to rule out worlds in which P is false. If there were no such worlds to be ruled out, we would not require evidence for P. But by hypothesis, P is necessary and so true in all metaphysically possible worlds. And on Stalnaker's view, the metaphysically possible worlds are all the worlds there are. So there can be no proposition that is true in all possible worlds, but that we require evidence to know. In this way, the motivation for Stalnaker's two dimensional account of the necessary a posteriori rests on his denying that there are metaphysically impossible Worlds. I argue that given his view of what possible worlds are, Stalnaker has no principled reason for denying that there are metaphysically impossible worlds. If I am right, this undercuts Stalnaker's motivation for his two dimensional account of the necessary a posteriori. (shrink)
In “Complex Demonstratives: A Quantificational Account” (MIT Press 2001) (henceforth CD), I argued that complex demonstratives are quantifiers. Many philosophers had held that demonstratives, both simple and complex, are referring terms. Since the publication of CD various objections to the account of complex demonstratives I defended in it have been raised. In the present work, I lay out these objections and respond to them.
Though these expressions are often called “names of months”, there is good reason to hold that they are not names at all. Syntactically, these words behave as count nouns. They combine with determiners such as ‘every’, ‘many’, ‘exactly three’ etc. to form restricted quantifiers:3 (1) Every January I go skiing. (2) I spent many Januarys at Squaw Valley. (3) I wasted exactly three Januarys in Bakersfield. Like other count nouns, they can take relative clauses in constructions such as (1)-(3): (1a) (...) Every January that you visited we went skiing. (2a) I spent many Januarys that I will never forget at Squaw Valley. (3a) I wasted three Januarys that seemed interminable in Bakersfield. They also combine with the copula, indefinite article and adjectival modifiers to form predicates in the way that other count nouns do: (4) The first full month I lived in Northern California was a pleasant July. Further, it is generally held that only constituents of the same syntactic category can be conjoined. And as the following example shows, ‘January’ can be conjoined with other count nouns:4 (5) All Januarys and funerals last too long. Thus distributional evidence strongly suggests that ‘January’, ‘February’, etc. are count nouns. Since in general we take count nouns to express properties, we ought to take ‘January’, ‘February’ etc. to express properties as well.5 We shall return to the question of what properties such words express below. For now, we shall stick with syntax. (shrink)
It is generally believed that natural languages have lots of contextually sensitive expressions. In addition to familiar examples like ‘I’, ‘here’, ‘today’, ‘he’, ‘that’ and so on that everyone takes to be contextually sensitive, examples of expressions that many would take to be contextually sensitive include tense, modals, gradable adjectives, relational terms , possessives and quantifi ers . With the exception of contextually sensitive expressions discussed by Kaplan , there has not been a lot of discussion as to the mechanism (...) whereby contextually sensitive expressions get their values in context, aside from vague references to speakers’ intentions. In a recent paper, I proposed a candidate for being this mechanism and defended the claim that it is such. Because, as I suggested, these issues have been most extensively discussed in the case of demonstratives, I focused on these expressions by way of contrasting the mechanism I proposed with others in the literature. In the present work, I simply state what I claim is the mechanism by means of which demonstratives secure semantic values in contexts without defending the claim that it is so. I then consider some claims made by Kent Bach, and arguments for those claims, which would undermine the account I propose of how demonstratives secure semantic values in context. (shrink)
Lots of contextually sensitive expressions appear to have context invariant meanings that do not by themselves suffice to secure semantic values for those expressions in context. For example, suppose I say 1. She is smart. where I do not demonstrate any female, I don’t intend that some female is the semantic value of my use of ‘she’, no female is uniquely salient in the context of utterance, and no female has been under discussion. It would appear in such a case (...) that the context invariant meaning of ‘she’ does not secure a semantic value in context for my use of ‘she’, resulting in infelicity. After all, what would that semantic value in context be? This appears to show that the context invariant meaning of ‘she’ does not by itself secure semantic values in context for it. The class of expressions that are like ‘she’ in this respect is quite large. It arguably includes simple and complex demonstratives, tense, expressions taking implicit arguments, gradable adjectives, quantifiers, ‘only’, possessives, conditionals, modals and more. I call these expressions supplementives to highlight the fact that their context invariant meanings need to be supplemented in context for them to secure semantic values in context. I claim that supplementives differ from each other in the following two ways: 1. The degree to which normal speakers are explicitly aware that the expression is contextually sensitive. 2. The degree to which ordinary speakers are explicitly aware of what sort of semantic value in context the expression takes. I hold the view that semantic values in context for supplementives are fixed by recognizable speaker intentions. However, I argue that given the differences between supplementives with respect to 1 and 2, the intentions fixing the semantic values in context of supplementives that differ with respect to 1 and 2 will themselves be different, while still all being speaker intentions that some entity o be the semantic value of the use of the supplementive in context. (shrink)
Semantics is the discipline that studies linguistic meaning generally, and the qualification ‘formal’ indicates something about the sorts of techniques used in investigating linguistic meaning. More specifically, formal semantics is the discipline that employs techniques from symbolic logic, mathematics, and mathematical logic to produce precisely characterized theories of meaning for natural languages or artificial languages. Formal semantics as we know it first arose in the twentieth century. It was made possible by certain developments in logic during that period. This article (...) chronicles those developments and how they led to the development of formal semantics. (shrink)
The dissertation is an attempt to provide a formal semantics for occurrences of anaphoric pronouns and definite descriptions whose quantifier antecedents occur in sentences other than those in which the anaphoric pronouns and descriptions themselves occur, . The predominant view of anaphoric pronouns whose quantifier antecedents occur in the same sentence as they do is that they function as bound variables . Chapter 1 of this dissertation is constituted by a series of arguments against a bound variable treatment of q (...) - terms and the observation that the semantic behavior of q - terms is similar to that of certain singular terms in English arguments. Given the similarity of semantic behavior between the latter and q - terms, it seems plausible to suppose that a theory of the semantic behavior of these singular terms in English arguments would provide a model for the eventual production of a semantic theory of q - terms. In Chapter 2, a formal semantics for these singular terms in arguments is produced. In Chapter 3, a formal semantics for q - terms is produced, on the model of the semantics in Chapter 2. Finally, in Chapter 4 it is shown that the formal semantics of Chapter 3 can be extended to handle pronouns in discourses containing verbs of propositional attitudes such as 'wants', 'dreams' etc. It is also shown that some occurrences of sentences containing q - terms have truth conditions not expressible by any quantified first order sentence. One must use finite partially ordered quantifiers to express the truth conditions of such occurrences of sentences. ;The dissertation contains two appendices: the first is a technical discussion of the formal semantics of Hans Kamp which shows that his theory cannot accomodate the linguistic data mine is designed to handle. The second examines the views of Gareth Evans, Charles Chastain and Keith Donnellan on certain anaphoric pronouns. (shrink)
This book argues that contextually sensitive expressions have felicitous uses in which they lack unique semantic values in context. It formulates a rule for updating the Stalnakerian common ground in cases in which an accepted sentence contains an expression lacking a unique semantic value in context.