Stephen Schiffer presents a groundbreaking account of meaning and belief, and shows how it can illuminate a range of crucial problems regarding language, mind, knowledge, and ontology. He introduces the new doctrine of 'pleonastic propositions' to explain what the things we mean and believe are. He discusses the relation between semantic and psychological facts, on the one hand, and physical facts, on the other; vagueness and indeterminacy; moral truth; conditionals; and the role of propositional content in information acquisition and explanation. (...) This radical new treatment of meaning will command the attention of everyone who works on fundamental questions about language, and will attract much interest from other areas of philosophy. (shrink)
What is it for marks or sounds to have meaning, and what is it for someone to mean something in producing them? Answering these and related questions, Schiffer explores communication, speech acts, convention, and the meaning of linguistic items in this reissue of a seminal work on the foundations of meaning. A new introduction takes account of recent developments and places his theory in a broader context.
In The Things We Mean I argue that there exist such things as the things we mean and believe, and that they are what I call pleonastic propositions. The first two chapters offer an initial motivation and articulation of the theory of pleonastic propositions, and of pleonastic entities generally. The remaining six chapters bring that theory to bear on issues in the theory of content: the existence and nature of meanings; knowledge of meaning; the meaning relation and compositional semantics; the (...) relation between content-involving facts and underlying physical facts; vagueness and indeterminacy; conditionals; normative discourse; and the role of propositional content in explanation, prediction, and knowledge acquisition. (shrink)
A generative grammar for a language L generates one or more syntactic structures for each sentence of L and interprets those structures both phonologically and semantically. A widely accepted assumption in generative linguistics dating from the mid-60s, the Generative Grammar Hypothesis , is that the ability of a speaker to understand sentences of her language requires her to have tacit knowledge of a generative grammar of it, and the task of linguistic semantics in those early days was taken to be (...) that of specifying the form that the semantic component of a generative grammar must take. Then in the 70s linguistic semantics took a curious turn. Without rejecting GGH, linguists turned away from the task of characterizing the semantic component of a generative grammar to pursue instead the Montague-inspired project of providing for natural languages the same kind of model-theoretic semantics that logicians devise for the artificial languages of formal systems of logic, and “formal semantics” continues to dominate semantics in linguistics. This essay argues that the sort of compositional meaning theory that would verify GGH would not only be quite different from the theories formal semanticists construct, but would be a more fundamental theory that supersedes those theories in that it would explain why they are true when they are true, but their truth wouldn’t explain its truth. Formal semantics has undoubtedly made important contributions to our understanding of such phenomena as anaphora and quantification, but semantics in linguistics is supposed to be the study of meaning. This means that the formal semanticist can’t be unconcerned that the kind of semantic theory for a natural language that interests her has no place in a theory of linguistic competence; for if GGH is correct, then the more fundamental semantic theory is the compositional meaning theory that is the semantic component of the internally represented generative grammar, and if that is so, then linguistic semantics has so far ignored what really ought to be its primary concern. (shrink)
In his important book Knowledge and Practical Interests, Jason Stanley advances a proposal about knowledge and the semantics of knowledge ascriptions which he calls interest-relative invariantism. A theory of knowledge ascriptions of the form ‘A knows that S’ is invariantist.
Brian Loar attempted to provide the Gricean program of intention-based semantics with an account of expression-meaning. But the theory he presented, like virtually every other foundational semantic or meta-semantical theory, was an idealization that ignored vagueness. What would happen if we tried to devise theories that accommodated the vagueness of vague expressions? I offer arguments based on well-known features of vagueness that, if sound, show that neither Brian’s nor any other extant theory could successfully make that adjustment, and this because, (...) if sound, the arguments show not only that nothing can be the content of a vague expression, but also that no spoken language has a compositional semantics. This raises the question of what, really, are the facts about a language whose explanation might seem to require the language to have a compositional semantics, and whether there might not be a way to explain those facts on the assumption that the language doesn’t have a compositional semantics. In response to this question I offer a rough sketch of a view designed to suggest how what needs to be explained might be explained without appeal to compositional semantics. (shrink)
Two issues of vagueness, which may together exhaust its philosophical interest, are, first, to solve the sorites paradox and, second, to explain the notion of a borderline case. I’ll try to make a little headway on both issues.
The proper statement and assessment of Russell's theory depends on one's semantic presuppositions. A semantic framework is provided, and Russell's theory formulated in terms of it. Referential uses of descriptions raise familiar problems for the theory, to which there are, at the most general level of abstraction, two possible Russellian responses. Both are considered, and both found wanting. The paper ends with a brief consideration of what the correct positive theory of definite descriptions might be, if it is not the (...) Russellian theory. (shrink)
(1) The propositions we believe and say are _Russellian_ _propositions_: structured propositions whose basic components are the objects and properties our thoughts and speech acts are about. (2) Many singular terms.
I. Vague Properties and the Problem of Vagueness The philosophical problem of vagueness is to say what vagueness is in a way that helps to resolve the sorites paradox. Saying what vagueness is requires saying what kinds of things can be vague and in what the vagueness of each kind consists. Philosophers dispute whether things of this, that, or the other kind can be vague, but no one disputes that there are vague linguistic expressions. Among vague expressions, predicates hold a (...) special place in the problem of vagueness, for it’s their vagueness that is soritesgenerating. That puts the vagueness of predicates at the hub of the problem of vagueness, and there can be little doubt that we’ll be a short step from home if we can account for it. Any account of vagueness will of course require commitment to theses that are themselves foci of philosophical debate, but one can’t expect to get anywhere without taking on some as working hypotheses and then striving to say something that will be plausible if those hypotheses are plausible. One of the working hypotheses of this paper is that propositional attitudes and propositional speech acts are relations to propositions of some stripe or other, in the generic sense in which a proposition is an abstract, mind- and language-independent entity that has a truth condition, and has that truth condition both essentially and absolutely (i.e. without relativization to anything).1 The existence of propositions requires the existence of properties, in the generic sense in which a property is an abstract, mind- and language-independent entity that has an instantiation condition, and has that instantiation condition both essentially and absolutely. For present purposes it will be harmless to pretend that the propositions we believe and assert are Russellian propositions---structured entities whose basic constituents are the objects and properties our beliefs and speech acts are about. When a propositionalist speaks in loosey-goosey mode, she is apt to say that a sentence token is true just in case the proposition expressed in its utterance is true. (shrink)
To a first approximation, _propositional content_ is whatever _that-clauses_ contribute to what is ascribed in utterances of sentences such as Ralph believes _that Tony Curtis is alive_. Ralph said _that Tony Curtis is alive_. Ralph hopes _that Tony Curtis is alive_. Ralph desires _that Tony Curtis is alive_.
A single argument template---the EPH template---can be used to generate versions of the best known and most challenging skeptical problems. In his brilliantly groundbreaking book Knowledge and Its Limits, Timothy Williamson presents a theory of knowledge and evidence which he clearly intends to provide a response to skepticism in its most important forms. After laying out EPH skepticism and reviewing possible ways of responding to it, I show how elements of Williamson’s theory motivate a hitherto unexplored way of responding to (...) EPH-generated skeptical arguments. Then I offer reasons to doubt the correctness of Williamson’s response. (shrink)
Although there is a vast literature on whether propositional attitudes are relations to propositions, a crucial question that ought to lie at the heart of this debate is not often enough seriously addressed. This is the question of the contribution propositions make to the ways in which we benefit from having our propositional-attitude concepts, if those concepts are concepts of relations to propositions. Unless propositions can be shown to confer a benefit that no non-propositions could provide, we should probably doubt (...) whether propositional attitudes really are relations to propositions. I believe that propositional attitudes are relations to propositions and that the role played by them in our conceptual economy cannot be played by things of any other kind, and in this paper I try to say why. This paper, in other words, offers my answer to the question posed by my title. (shrink)
Suppose we think in a language of thought. Then Paul Boghossian' is prepared to argue, first, that there may be ambiguous Mentalese expression types that have unambiguous tokens, and, second, that the way in which this is possible allows for otherwise valid theoretical or practical reasoning to be rendered invalid owing to equivocation of a sort that may be undetectable to the reasoner. Paul sees this as a possible basis from which to launch an argument for what some might call (...) "narrow content", and this is a question I'll take up later. (shrink)
Presentations of Gricean semantics, including Stephen Neale’s in “Silent Reference,” totally ignore vagueness, even though virtually every utterance is vague. I ask how Gricean semantics might be adjusted to accommodate vague speaker-meaning. My answer is that it can’t accommodate it: the Gricean program collapses in the face of vague speaker-meaning. The Gricean might, however, find some solace in knowing that every other extant meta-semantic and semantic program is in the same boat.
S produces the sounds “It’s snowing” in the presence of A, and A instantaneously comes to know that it’s snowing. S has communicated to, or told, A that it’s snowing, and, as a result of S’s speech act, A came to know that it was snowing. Philosophical interest in communication turns on four inter-related questions. The first is about the logical structure of communication, or, more specifically, about whether communication is a relation that holds among three things just in case (...) the first communicated the second to the third. The second is about the explication, or analysis, of communication. The third is about the role of communication in the explication of linguistic meaning. And the fourth is about how knowledge is acquired by communication. The questions are interrelated in that answers to any one question may constrain answers to one or more of the others. (shrink)
If we think in a lingua mentis, questions about relations between linguistic meaning and propositional-attitude content become questions about relations between meaning in a public language (p-meaning) and meaning in a language of thought (t-meaning). Whether or not the neo-Gricean is correct that p-meaning can be defined in terms of t-meaning and then t-meaning defined in terms of the causal-functional roles of mentalese expressions, it's apt to seem obvious that separate accounts are needed of p-meaning and t-meaning, since p-meaning, unlike (...) t-meaning, must be understood at least partly in terms of communication. Paul Horwich, however, claims that his ‘use theory of meaning’ provides a uniform account of all meaning in terms of ‘acceptance properties’ that, surprisingly, implicate nothing about use in communication. But it turns out that the details of his theory belie his claim about it. (shrink)