In his “Meaning and Formal Semantics in Generative Grammar” (Erkenntnis 2015, 61–87), Stephen Schiffer argues that truth-conditionalsemantics is a poor fit with generative linguistics. In particular, he thinks that it fails to explain speakers’ abilities to understand the sentences of their language. In its place, he recommends his “Best Bet Theory”—a theory which aims to directly explain speakers’ abilities to mean things by their utterances and know what others mean by their utterances. I argue that Schiffer (...) does not provide good reason to prefer the Best Bet Theory over truth-conditionalsemantics in the context of generative linguistics. First, his negative arguments against the truth-conditional approach are unpersuasive, and second, the Best Bet Theory involves an explanatory circularity which makes it unfit for linguistic theorizing. I conclude that the Best Bet Theory is thus not even a viable competitor to truth-conditionalsemantics in generative linguistics. (shrink)
Our aim in the present paper is to investigate, from the standpoint of truth-theoretic semantics, English tense, temporal designators and quantifiers, and other expressions we use to relate ourselves and other things to the temporal order. Truth-theoretic semantics provides a particularly illuminating standpoint from which to discuss issues about the semantics of tense, and their relation to thoughts at, and about, times. Tense, and temporal modifiers, contribute systematically to conditions under which sentences we utter are true or (...) false. A Tarski-style truth-theoretic semantics, by requiring explicitly represented truth conditions, helps to sharpen questions about the function of tense, and to deepen our insight into the contribution the tenses and temporal modifiers make to what we say by using them. (shrink)
The paper offers a critical review of the role played by lexical meaning in the earlier stages of philosophical semantics and truth-conditionalsemantics. I shall address, both historically and theoretically, the relative neglect of lexical semantics within these fields, and argue that the approach to word meaning fostered in extensional frameworks is overall inconsistent with the customary assumption that truth-theoretic semantics can be considered a semantic theory proprio sensu.
I define 'skim semantics' to be a Davidson-style truth-conditionalsemantics combined with a variety of deflationism about truth. The expressive role of truth in truth-conditionalsemantics precludes at least some kinds of skim semantics; thus I reject the idea that the challenge to skim semantics derives solely from Davidson's explanatory ambitions, and in particular from the 'truth doctrine', the view that the concept of truth plays a central explanatory role in Davidsonian theories of (...) meaning for a language. The fate of skim semantics is not determined by the fate of the truth doctrine, so rejecting the truth doctrine does not in itself open the way to skim semantics. I establish my thesis by showing that some recently proposed versions of skim semantics fail because of truth's expressive role. I also discuss the conditions that might permit skim semantics. (shrink)
I define ‘skim semantics’ to be a Davidson‐style truth‐conditional semantics combined with a variety of deflationism about truth. The expressive role of truth in truth‐conditional semantics precludes at least some kinds of skim semantics; thus I reject the idea that the challenge to skim semantics derives solely from Davidson's explanatory ambitions, and in particular from the ‘truth doctrine’, the view that the concept of truth plays a central explanatory role in Davidsonian theories of meaning for (...) a language. The fate of skim semantics is not determined by the fate of the truth doctrine, so rejecting the truth doctrine does not in itself open the way to skim semantics. I establish my thesis by showing that some recently proposed versions of skim semantics fail because of truth's expressive role. I also discuss the conditions that might permit skim semantics. (shrink)
It has been often argued that parentheticals, discourse adverbials and certain parts of speech like interjections do not contribute to the truth conditional content of the assertions of which they are part. In this paper I argue that many of these constructions do contribute a truth conditional content, and I propose a semantics for parentheticals and discourse adverbials that treats these constructions similarly to SDRT's treatment of presuppositions. I also point out differences between standard presupposition triggers on the one (...) hand and parentheticals or discourse adverbials on the other. (shrink)
According to orthodox semantics, to know the meaning of a sentence is to know its truth-conditions. Against this view I observe that we typically do not know the truth-conditions of the sentences we understand. We do not know the truth-conditions, for instance, of empty definite descriptions, non-declaratives, subjunctive conditionals, causal ascriptions, belief ascriptions, probability statements, figurative language, category mistakes, normative judgments, or vague statements. Appealing to tacit knowledge does not help, for the problem goes beyond our inability to articulate (...) complete truth-conditions: even full knowledge of the world’s condition would leave us unable to say whether an arbitrary sentence was true or false. (shrink)
Davidson approaches the notions of meaning and interpretation with the aim of characterizing semantic competence in the syntactically characterized natural language. The objective is to provide a truth-theory for a language, generating T-sentences expressed in the semantic metalanguage, so that each sentence of the object language receives an appropriate interpretation. Proceeding within the constraints of referential semantics, I will argue for the viability of reconstructing the notion of linguistic meaning within the Tarskian theory of reference. However, the view proposed (...) here involves a revision of Davidson’s con-ception of the object of semantic investigation. Taking (idealized) language-theories as the proper object of semantic characterization, provides solutions to outstanding problems in Davidson’s views, better approximates the practice in standard model-theoretic semantics, and incorporates the elements of semantic competence sought for in tradi¬tional theories of lexical analysis. Sources of evidence beyond those emphasized by Davidson will be invoked in order to allow for the selection of interpre¬tive T-sentences. In the final section, possible Quinean objections will be considered. (shrink)
An argument is developed at some length to show that any semantical theory which treats superficially nonperformative sentences as being governed by performative prefaces at some level of underlying structure must either leave those sentences semantically uninterpreted or assign them the wrong truth-conditions. Several possible escapes from this dilemma are examined; it is tentatively concluded that such hypotheses as the Ross-Lakoff-Sadock Performative Analysis should be rejected despite their attractions.
An argument is developed at some length to show that any semantical theory which treats superficially nonperformative sentences as being governed by performative prefaces at some level of underlying structure must either leave those sentences semantically uninterpreted or assign them the wrong truth-conditions. Several possible escapes from this dilemma are examined; it is tentatively concluded that such hypotheses as the Ross-Lakoff-Sadock "Performative Analysis" should be rejected despite their attractions.
Kripke’s theory of truth, 690–716; 1975) has been very successful but shows well-known expressive difficulties; recently, Field has proposed to overcome them by adding a new conditional connective to it. In Field’s theories, desirable conditional and truth-theoretic principles are validated that Kripke’s theory does not yield. Some authors, however, are dissatisfied with certain aspects of Field’s theories, in particular the high complexity. I analyze Field’s models and pin down some reasons for discontent with them, focusing on the meaning of the (...) new conditional and on the status of the principles so successfully recovered. Subsequently, I develop a semantics that improves on Kripke’s theory following Field’s program of adding a conditional to it, using some inductive constructions that include Kripke’s one and feature a strong evaluation for conditionals. The new theory overcomes several problems of Kripke’s one and, although weaker than Field’s proposals, it avoids the difficulties that affect them; at the same time, the new theory turns out to be quite simple. Moreover, the new construction can be used to model various conceptions of what a conditional connective is, in ways that are precluded to both Kripke’s and Field’s theories. (shrink)
Slurs denigrate individuals qua members of certain groups, such as race or sexual orientation. Most theorists hold that each slur has a neutral counterpart, i.e., a term that references the slur's target group without denigrating them. According to a widely accepted view, which I call ‘Neutral Counterpart Theory’, the truth-conditional content of a slur is identical to the truth-conditional content of its neutral counterpart. My aim is to challenge this view. I argue that the view fails with respect (...) to slurs that encode truth-conditional content which does more than merely classify someone as a member of the target group, as well as slurs that denigrate by virtue of their iconicity. (shrink)
Dynamic and proof-conditional approaches to discourse (exemplified by Discourse Representation Theory and Type-Theoretical Grammar, respectively) are related through translations and transitions labeled by first-order formulas with anaphoric twists. Type-theoretic contexts are defined relative to a signature and instantiated modeltheoretically, subject to change.
Recent philosophy of language has been profoundly impacted by the idea that mainstream, model-theoretic semantics is somehow incompatible with deflationary accounts of truth and reference. The present article systematizes the case for incompatibilism, debunks circularity and “modal confusion” arguments familiar in the literature, and reconstructs the popular thought that truth-conditionalsemantics somehow “presupposes” a correspondence theory of truth as an inference to the best explanation. The case for compatibilism is closed by showing that this IBE argument fails (...) to rule out two kinds of deflationism: the position Field famously accused Tarski of having; and a less familiar version of the view that defines reference in terms of a deflated notion of truth. Finally, the distinction between unifying and constitutive explanation is used to forestall the response that correspondence theory is literally part of mainstream semantics. (shrink)
Polysemy seems to be a relatively neglected phenomenon within philosophy of language as well as in many quarters in linguistic semantics. Not all variations in a word’s contribution to truth-conditional contents are to be thought as expressions of the phenomenon of polysemy, but it can be argued that many are. Polysemous terms are said to contribute senses or aspects to truth-conditional contents. In this paper, I will make use of the notion of aspect to argue that some (...) apparently wild variations in an utterance’s truth conditions are instead quite systematic. In particular, I will focus on Travis’ much debated green leaves case and explain it in terms of the polysemy of the noun; and in particular, in terms of the as-it-is and the as-it-looks aspects associated with kind words. (shrink)
This paper develops a compositional, type-driven constraint semantic theory for a fragment of the language of subjective uncertainty. In the particular application explored here, the interpretation function of constraint semantics yields not propositions but constraints on credal states as the semantic values of declarative sentences. Constraints are richer than propositions in that constraints can straightforwardly represent assessments of the probability that the world is one way rather than another. The richness of constraints helps us model communicative acts in essentially (...) the same way that we model agents’ credences. Moreover, supplementing familiar truth-conditional theories of epistemic modals with constraint semantics helps capture contrasts between strong necessity and possibility modals, on the one hand, and weak necessity modals, on the other. (shrink)
The starting point for this paper is a critical discussion of claims of psychological reality articulated within Borg’s (forth.) minimal semantics and Carpintero’s (2007) character*-semantics. It has been proposed, for independent reasons, that their respective accounts can accommodate, or at least avoid the challenge from psychological evidence. I outline their respective motivations, suggesting various shortcomings in their efforts of preserving the virtues of an uncontaminated semantics in the face of psychological objection (I-II), and try to make the (...) case that, at least for a theory of utterance comprehension, a truth-conditional pragmatic stance is far preferable. An alternative from a relevance-theoretic perspective is offered in terms of mutual adjustment between truth-conditional content and implicature(s), arguing that many “free” pragmatic processes are needed to uncover the truth-conditional content, which can then warrant the expected implicature(s) (III). I finally illustrate the difficulties their accounts have in predicting the correct order of interpretation in cases of ironic metaphor, i.e. metaphor is computed first, as part of truth-conditional content, while irony is inferentially grounded in metaphorical content (IV). (shrink)
Whether or not deflationism is compatible with truth-conditional theories of meaning has often been discussed in very broad terms. This paper only focuses on Davidsonian semantics and Brandom's anaphoric deflationism and defends the claim that these are perfectly compatible. Critics of this view have voiced several objections, the most prominent of which claims that it involves an unacceptable form of circularity. The paper discusses how this general objection applies to the case of anaphoric deflationism and Davidsonian semantics (...) and evaluates different ways of responding to it (Williams 1999, Horisk 2008 and Lance 1997). Then, three further objections to the compatibility of these theories are assessed and eventually dismissed (Horisk 2007, Patterson 2005 and Collins 2002). It is shown how these considerations shed light on core issues of the debate. (shrink)
Karttunen's seminal 1973 article Presuppositions of compound sentences, lays the groundwork for the elegant and fruitful theory of this subject which he subsequently presented in (1974). In (1973, pp. 185–8), however, he fallaciously argued that the regularities he discovered concerning the behavior of and, or, and if ... then in English cannot be embodied in any three-valued logic giving a truth-functional interpretation to these connectives. The present paper refutes Karttunen's argument by exhibiting an interpretation with the desired properties, and shows (...) further how the full articulation of his 1974 system can be developed naturally within a truth-conditionalsemantics for English if bivalence is abandoned — contrary to what Karttunen expected. (shrink)
Proponents of the projection strategy take an epistemic rule for the evaluation of English conditionals, the Ramsey test, as clue to the truth-conditionalsemantics of conditionals. They also construe English conditionals as stronger than the material conditional. Given plausible assumptions, however, the Ramsey test induces the semantics of the material conditional. The alleged link between Ramsey test and truth conditions stronger than those of the material conditional can be saved by construing conditionals as ternary, rather than binary, (...) propositional functions with a hidden contextual parameter. But such a ternary construal raises problems of its own. (shrink)
The progressive in English appears to be inherently modal, due to what Dowty (Word meaning and Montague grammar: The semantics of verbs and times in generative semantics and in Montague’s PTQ, 1979) terms the imperfective paradox. In truth-conditional accounts, the literal truth of a clause with the modal progressive hinges on the possibility of the described outcome. The clause’s truth under such accounts has also been tacitly assumed to describe its felicitous use. Two challenges for this strategy (...) are discussed. First, a progressive clause exhibiting the imperfective paradox can occur felicitously even when the described outcome is not possible. Second, a progressive clause exhibiting the paradox can occur felicitously with an accompanying unless-clause, yet the analysis of unless-clauses directly contradicts the modal analysis of the truth-conditional behavior of the progressive clause in such cases. If the analysis of unless is not flawed, then the modal progressive will require reanalysis. (shrink)
While there is now considerable experimental evidence that, on the one hand, participants assign to the indicative conditional as probability the conditional probability of consequent given antecedent and, on the other, they assign to the indicative conditional the ?defective truth-table? in which a conditional with false antecedent is deemed neither true nor false, these findings do not in themselves establish which multi-premise inferences involving conditionals participants endorse. A natural extension of the truth-table semantics pronounces as valid numerous inference patterns (...) that do seem to be part of ordinary usage. However, coupled with something the probability account gives us?namely that when conditional-free ? entails conditional-free ?, ?if ? then ?? is a trivial, uninformative truth?we have enough logic to derive the paradoxes of material implication. It thus becomes a matter of some urgency to determine which inference patterns involving indicative conditionals participants do endorse. Only thus will we be able to arrive at a realistic, systematic semantics for the indicative conditional. (shrink)
Several authors propose that performative speech acts are self-guaranteeing due to their self-referential nature (Searle 1989; Jary 2007). The present paper offers an analysis of self-referentiality in terms of truth conditional semantics, making use of Davidsonian events. I propose that hereby can denote the ongoing act of information transfer (more mundanely, the utterance) which thereby enters the meaning of the sentence. The analysis will be extended to cover self-referential sentences without the adverb hereby. While self-referentiality can be integrated in (...) ordinary truth conditional semantic analysis without being a mystery, the resulting account shows that self-referentiality in this sense is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for performative utterances. I propose that the second ingredient of performative utterances consists in an act of the speaker defining her utterance to be an act of the respective kind. The final theory can successfully predict the performativity, or lack thereof, of a wide range of performative sentences, and leads to an explicated interface between compositional sentence meaning and speech act. (shrink)
I propose a new semantics for intuitionistic logic, which is a cross between the construction-oriented semantics of Brouwer-Heyting-Kolmogorov and the condition-oriented semantics of Kripke. The new semantics shows how there might be a common semantical underpinning for intuitionistic and classical logic and how intuitionistic logic might thereby be tied to a realist conception of the relationship between language and the world.
This book argues against the traditional understanding of the semantics/pragmatics divide and puts forward a radical alternative. Through half a dozen case studies, it shows that what an utterance says cannot be neatly separated from what the speaker means. In particular, the speaker's meaning endows words with senses that are tailored to the situation of utterance and depart from the conventional meanings carried by the words in isolation. This phenomenon of ‘pragmatic modulation’ must be taken into account in theorizing (...) about semantic content, for it interacts with the grammar-driven process of semantic composition. Because of that interaction, the book argues, the content of a sentence always depends upon the context in which it is used. This claim defines Contextualism, a view which has attracted considerable attention in recent years, and of which the author of this book is one of the main proponents. (shrink)
D O N A L D D AV I D S O N’S “ Meaning and Truth,” re vo l u t i o n i zed our conception of how truth and meaning are related (Davidson ). In that famous art i c l e , Davidson put forw a rd the bold conjecture that meanings are satisfaction conditions, and that a Tarskian theory of truth for a language is a theory of meaning for that language. (...) In “Meaning and Truth,” Davidson proposed only that a Tarskian truth theory is a theory of meaning. But in “Theories of Me a n i n g and Learnable Languages,” he argued that the ﬁnite base of a Tarskian theory, together with the now familiar combinatorics, would explain how a language with unbounded expre s s i ve capacity could be learned with finite means ( Davidson ). This certainly seems to imply that learning a language is, in p a rt at least, learning a Tarskian truth theory for it, or, at least, learning what is speciﬁed by such a theory. Davisdon was cagey about committing to the view that meanings actually a re satisfaction conditions, but subsequent followers had no such scru p l e s . We can sum this up in a trio of claims: Davidson’s Conjecture () A theory of meaning for L is a truth-conditionalsemantics for L. () To know the meaning of an expression in L is to know a satisfaction condition for that expression. () Meanings are satisfaction conditions. For the most part, it will not matter in what follows which of these claims is at stake. I will simply take the three to be different ways of formulating what I will call Davidson’s Conjecture (or sometimes just The Conjecture). Davidson’s Conjecture was a very bold conjecture. I think we are now in a.. (shrink)
Featured course on "Dynamic Semantics" at NASSLLI 2016. Day 1: Introduction. Abstract: Dynamic semantics is a family of semantic theories that seek to explicate the intuition that saying something changes the context for what follows. We survey the development of formal semantics from static to dynamic formalisms since 1970s. Throughout, we highlight natural language phenomena that motivate dynamic semantics, and the key pre-theoretical concepts -- information state, update, and discourse referent -- which can be implemented in (...) different ways and thus lead to various dynamic logics. (shrink)
What is the cognitive value of the concept of truth? What epistemic difference does the concept of truth make to those who grasp it? This paper employs a new perspective for thinking about the concept of truth and recent debates concerning it, organized around the question of the cognitive value of the concept of truth. The paper aims to defend a substantively correct and dialectically optimal account of the cognitive value of the concept of truth. This perspective is employed in (...) understanding the critical discussion around what Hartry Field has called “the incorporation model” for extending a deflationary view of truth to foreign sentences. Field's original intentions in discussing the incorporation model were to defend the deflationary view from some counterintuitive consequences concerning the understanding of truth attributions to foreign sentences. However, more recently, philosophers unencumbered by deflationary commitments have taken over the incorporation model for their own inflationary purposes. In particular, and in my terms, these philosophers can be understood as making what I argue is the ultimately too radical suggestion that the cognitive value of the concept of truth is to allow the incorporation not only of the linguistically foreign, but also of the conceptually alien. I clarify this dialectic en route to explaining and arguing for the cognitive inflationary view, according to which the cognitive value of the concept of truth is is to make possible the proprietary kind and quality of knowledge allowed by reflective clarity over the concepts and thoughts that one already has. (shrink)
The work of Donald Davidson (1917-2003) transformed the study of meaning. Ernie Lepore and Kirk Ludwig, two of the world's leading authorities on Davidson's work, present the definitive study of his widely admired and influential program of truth-theoretic semantics for natural languages, giving an exposition and critical examination of its foundations and applications.
In this paper I will develop a view about the semantics of imperatives, which I term Modal Noncognitivism, on which imperatives might be said to have truth conditions (dispositionally, anyway), but on which it does not make sense to see them as expressing propositions (hence does not make sense to ascribe to them truth or falsity). This view stands against “Cognitivist” accounts of the semantics of imperatives, on which imperatives are claimed to express propositions, which are then enlisted (...) in explanations of the relevant logico-semantic phenomena. It also stands against the major competitors to Cognitivist accounts—all of which are non-truth-conditional and, as a result, fail to provide satisfying explanations of the fundamental semantic characteristics of imperatives (or so I argue). The view of imperatives I defend here improves on various treatments of imperatives on the market in giving an empirically and theoretically adequate account of their semantics and logic. It yields explanations of a wide range of semantic and logical phenomena about imperatives—explanations that are, I argue, at least as satisfying as the sorts of explanations of semantic and logical phenomena familiar from truth-conditionalsemantics. But it accomplishes this while defending the notion—which is, I argue, substantially correct—that imperatives could not have propositions, or truth conditions, as their meanings. (shrink)
We develop a bottom-up approach to truth-value semantics for classical logic of partial terms based on equality and apply it to prove the conservativity of the addition of partial description and selection functions, independently of any strictness assumption.
Ernest Lepore and Kirk Ludwig present the definitive critical exposition of the philosophical system of Donald Davidson (1917-2003). Davidson's ideas had a deep and broad influence in the central areas of philosophy; he presented them in brilliant essays over four decades, but never set out explicitly the overarching scheme in which they all have their place. Lepore's and Ludwig's book will therefore be the key work, besides Davidson's own, for understanding one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century.