In this fascinating work, Scott Soames offers a new conception of the relationship between linguistic meaning and assertions made by utterances. He gives meanings of proper names and natural kind predicates and explains their use in attitude ascriptions. He also demonstrates the irrelevance of rigid designation in understanding why theoretical identities containing such predicates are necessary, if true.
The tradition descending from Frege and Russell has typically treated theories of meaning either as theories of meanings, or as theories of truth conditions. However, propositions of the classical sort don't exist, and truth conditions can't provide all the information required by a theory of meaning. In this book, one of the world's leading philosophers of language offers a way out of this dilemma. Traditionally conceived, propositions are denizens of a "third realm" beyond mind and matter, "grasped" by mysterious Platonic (...) intuition. As conceived here, they are cognitive-event types in which agents predicate properties and relations of things--in using language, in perception, and in nonlinguistic thought. Because of this, one's acquaintance with, and knowledge of, propositions is acquaintance with, and knowledge of, events of one's cognitive life. This view also solves the problem of "the unity of the proposition" by explaining how propositions can be genuinely representational, and therefore bearers of truth. The problem, in the traditional conception, is that sentences, utterances, and mental states are representational because of the relations they bear to inherently representational Platonic complexes of universals and particulars. Since we have no way of understanding how such structures can be representational, independent of interpretations placed on them by agents, the problem is unsolvable when so conceived. However, when propositions are taken to be cognitive-event types, the order of explanation is reversed and a natural solution emerges. Propositions are representational because they are constitutively related to inherently representational cognitive acts. Strikingly original, What Is Meaning? is a major advance. (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.
In this book, Scott Soames illuminates the notion of truth and the role it plays in our ordinary thought as well as in our logical, philosophical, and scientific theories. Soames aims to integrate and deepen the most significant insights on truth from a variety of sources. He powerfully brings together the best technical work and the most important philosophical reflection on truth and shows how each can illuminate the other. Investigating such questions as whether we need a truth predicate at (...) all, what theoretical tasks it allows us to accomplish, and how we are to understand the content of any predicate capable of accomplishing these tasks, Soames organizes his discussion into three parts. Part I addresses crucial foundational issues as it identifies the bearers of truth, provides a basis for distinguishing truth from other notions, and formulates positive responses to well-known forms of truth-skepticism. Part II explicates the formal theories of Alfred Tarski and Saul Kripke and evaluates the philosophical significance of their work. It discusses their treatments of the Liar paradox, the relationship between truth and proof, the notion of a partially defined predicate, the concepts of logical truth and logical consequence, and the connection between truth and meaning. Part III extends important lessons drawn from Tarski and Kripke into new domains: vague predicates, the Sorites paradox, and the development of a larger, deflationary perspective on truth. Throughout the book, Soames examines a wide range of deflationary theories of truth, and attempts to separate what is correct and worth preserving in them from what is not. In doing so, he seeks to clear up many of the most significant philosophical doubts about truth. Written for a general audience while offering engaging material to the specialist, this rich study will be profitably read by both. (shrink)
A theory of higher-order vagueness for partially-defined, context-sensitive predicates like is blue is offered. According to the theory, the predicate is determinately blue means roughly is an object o such that the claim that o is blue is a necessary consequence of the rules of the language plus the underlying non-linguistic facts in the world. Because the question of which rules count as rules of the language is itself vague, the predicate is determinately blue is both vague and partial in (...) a sense analogous (though not completely identical) to the sense in which is blue is vague and partial. However, higher-order vagueness stops there. Although the anti-extension of is determinately blue differs from that of is blue, further iterations of determinately have no semantic effect. The paper closes with a discussion of the need to posit sharp and precise lines dividing the range of potential application of a vague predicate into semantically distinct categories. It is argued that this is less of a problem for the present theory than for many others, because the categories into which the range is divided by the present theory -- like the category of counting as blue because the rules of the language offer speakers no discretion, as opposed to the category of counting as blue because speakers have invoked an absolute minimum of discretion in adjusting the contextually sensitive boundaries of the predicate -- are not those that the linguistic competence of ordinary speakers equips them to make highly accurate and reliable judgments about. (shrink)
In this book one of the world's foremost philosophers of language presents his unifying vision of the field--its principal achievements, its most pressing current questions, and its most promising future directions. In addition to explaining the progress philosophers have made toward creating a theoretical framework for the study of language, Scott Soames investigates foundational concepts--such as truth, reference, and meaning--that are central to the philosophy of language and important to philosophy as a whole. The first part of the book describes (...) how philosophers from Frege, Russell, Tarski, and Carnap to Kripke, Kaplan, and Montague developed precise techniques for understanding the languages of logic and mathematics, and how these techniques have been refined and extended to the study of natural human languages. The book then builds on this account, exploring new thinking about propositions, possibility, and the relationship between meaning, assertion, and other aspects of language use. An invaluable overview of the philosophy of language by one of its most important practitioners, this book will be essential reading for all serious students of philosophy. (shrink)
This is a major, wide-ranging history of analytic philosophy since 1900, told by one of the tradition's leading contemporary figures. The first volume takes the story from 1900 to mid-century. The second brings the history up to date.
Part one attempts to diffuse five different forms of truth skepticism, broadly conceived: the view that truth is indefinable, that it is unknowable, that it is inextricably metaphysical, that there is no such thing as truth, and the view that truth is inherently paradoxical, and so must either be abandoned, or revised. An intriguing formulation of the last of these views is due to Alfred Tarski, who argued that the Liar paradox shows natural languages to be inconsistent because they contain (...) defective, and ultimately incoherent, truth predicates. I argue in response that on a plausible interpretation of his puzzling notion of an inconsistent language, Tarski’s argument turns out to be logically valid, but almost certainly unsound, since one of its premises can be seen to be indefensible. Similar results are achieved for other forms of truth skepticism. (shrink)
The concept of a proposition is important in several areas of philosophy and central to the philosophy of language. This collection of readings investigates many different philosophical issues concerning the nature of propositions and the ways they have been regarded through the years. Reflecting both the history of the topic and the range of contemporary views, the book includes articles from Bertrand Russell, Gottlob Frege, the Russell-Frege Correspondence, Alonzo Church, David Kaplan, John Perry, Saul Kripke, Hilary Putnam, Mark Richard, Scott (...) Soames, and Nathan Salmon. (shrink)
Cappelen and Hawthorne tell us that the most basic, explanatory notion of truth is a monadic property of propositions. Other notions of truth, including those applying to sentences, are to be explained in terms of it. Among them are those found in Kripkean, Montagovian, and Kaplanean semantic theories, and their descendants – to wit truth at a context, at a circumstance, and at a context-plus-circumstance. If these are to make sense, the authors correctly maintain, they must be explained in terms (...) of the monadic notion of truth. (1-2) I thought that this was the received view, but the authors indicate otherwise. They describe possible-worlds semantics as making it “very natural to think of the foundational mode of evaluation for propositions as truth relative to worlds.”(7) I disagree. The natural way to understand possible worlds-semantics is to take world-states to be certain kinds of properties, and to take the truth of p at w to be the fact that p would be true (i.e. would instantiate monadic truth) were the universe to instantiate w. The authors add that it is somewhat natural to take “the actual truth of a proposition as [being] a matter of the proposition getting the value ‘true’ relative to a distinguished world -- the actual world.” (7) If this means that being actually true is being true at the actual world-state @, this isn’t just natural, it is unassailable -- as long as one doesn’t erroneously identify being true with being actually true. Since Cappelen and Hawthorne don’t do this, I take us to be on more or less the same page. Others, apparently, aren’t. We are told that “a number of the participants in the relevant disputes [about relativism] seem to take it for granted that philosophical semantics has somehow shown that the semantic value of sentences cannot be evaluated for truth or falsity simpliciter, since truth and falsity hold of a proposition relative to a world.” (77-8) We are also told: 1 Contemporary Analytic relativists reason as follows: ‘Lewis and Kaplan have shown that we need to relativize truth to triples of .. (shrink)
Paul Grice’s theory of Conversational Implicature is, by all accounts, one of the great achievements of the past fifty years -- both of analytic philosophy and of the empirical study of language. Its guiding idea is that constraints on the use of sentences, and information conveyed by utterances of them, arise not only from their conventional meanings (the information they semantically encode) but also from the communicative uses to which they are put. In his view, the overriding goal of most (...) forms of communication is the cooperative exchange of information -- the pursuit of which generates norms for its rational and efficient achievement. Among them are Grice’s conversational maxims. (shrink)
In the middle of the twentieth century a dispute erupted between the chief architect of Logical Empiricism, Rudolf Carnap, and Logical Empiricism’s chief reformer, Willard van Orman Quine -- who was attempting to save what he took to be its main insights by recasting them in a more acceptable form. Though both eschewed metaphysics of the traditional apriori sort, and both were intent on making the investigation of science the center of philosophy, they disagreed about how to do so. Part (...) of the disagreement involved the nature of ontological disputes. The central documents in the debate are: (i) Quine’s 1948 article, “On What There Is,” which tells us how to discern ontological.. (shrink)
I discuss Soames's proposal that Moore could have avoided a central problem in his moral philosophy if he had utilized a method he himself pioneered in epistemology. The problem in Moore's moral philossophy concerns what it is for a moral claim to be self-evident. The method in Moore's epistemology concerns not denying the obvious. In view of the distance between something's being self-evident and its being obvious, it is suggested that Soames's proposal is mistaken.
Propositional attitudes, like believing and asserting, are relations between agents and propositions. Agents are individuals who do the believing and asserting; propositions are things that are believed and asserted. Propositional attitude ascriptions are sentences that ascribe propositional attitudes to agents. For example, a propositional attitude ascription α believes, or asserts, that S is true iff the referent of a bears the relation of believing, or asserting, to the proposition expressed by s. The questions I will address have to do with (...) the precise nature of propositions, and the attitudes, like belief, that we bear to them.I will assume both that propositions are the semantic contents of sentences, and that the proposition expressed by a sentence is a structured complex made up of the semantic contents of the parts of the sentences that express it. (shrink)
Saul Kripke’s discussion of the necessary aposteriori in Naming and Necessity and “Identity and Necessity” -- in which he lays the foundation for distinguishing epistemic from metaphysical possibility, and explaining the relationship between the two – is, in my opinion, one of the outstanding achievements of twentieth century philosophy.1 My aim in this essay is to extract the enduring lessons of his discussion, and disentangle them from certain difficulties which, alas, can also be found there. I will argue that there (...) are, in fact, two Kripkean routes to the necessary aposteriori – one correct and philosophically far-reaching, the other incorrect and philosophically misleading. (shrink)
The paper reviews the central components of the cognitive theory of propositions and explains both its empirical advantages for theories of language and mind and its foundational metaphysical and epistemological advantages over other theories. It then answers a leading objection to the theory, before closing by raising the issue of how questions, which are the contents of interrogative sentences, and directives, which are the contents of imperative sentences, are related to propositions.
412 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY There are theories that try, in my opinion unsuccessfully, to do just this. Tarski's theory, which restricts itself to cases in which truth is predicated of sentences of certain formal languages, is not one of them. Thus, Tarski cannot be seen.
No semantic theory satisfying certain natural constraints can identify the semantic contents of sentences (the propositions they express), with sets of circumstances in which the sentences are true–no matter how fine-grained the circumstances are taken to be. An objection to the proof is shown to fail by virtue of conflating model-theoretic consequence between sentences with truth-conditional consequence between the semantic contents of sentences. The error underlines the impotence of distinguishing semantics, in the sense of a truth-based theory of logical consequence, (...) and semantics, in the sense of a theory of meaning. (shrink)
My topic is the attempt by Donald Davidson, and those inspired by him, to explain knowledge of meaning in terms of knowledge of truth conditions. For Davidsonians, these attempts take the form of rationales for treating theories of truth, constructed along Tarskian lines, as empirical theories of meaning. In earlier work1, I argued that Davidson’s two main rationales – one presented in “Truth and Meaning”2 and “Radical Interpretation,”3 and the other in his “Reply to Foster ”4 – were unsuccessful. Here, (...) I extend my critique to cover an ingenious recent attempt by James Higginbotham to establish Davidson’s desired result. I will argue that it, too, fails, and that the trajectory of Davidsonian failures indicates that linguistic understanding, and knowledge of meaning, require more than knowledge of that which a Davidsonian truth theory provides. I begin with a look at the historical record. (shrink)