What Is Meaning?

What Is Meaning?

Scott Soames
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 144
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  • Book Info
    What Is Meaning?
    Book Description:

    The tradition descending from Frege and Russell has typically treated theories of meaning either as theories of meanings (propositions expressed), 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3394-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter 1 Meanings
    (pp. 1-10)

    In what follows, I will take it for granted that words, phrases, and sentences have meaning, that for each meaningful expression there are correct answers to the question “What does it mean?”, and that two expressions mean the same thing when the answer to this question is the same for both. Theories of meaning envisioned by philosophers attempt to answer questions of this sort in a systematic way. The targets of such theories include formal languages of logic and mathematics, extensions of these languages incorporating philosophically important intensional and hyperintensional notions, fragments of natural language, and full-fledged natural languages. Although...

  5. Chapter 2 Frege and Russell: The Real Problem of “the Unity of the Proposition”
    (pp. 11-32)

    The classical treatments of propositions in philosophical semantics and psychology are those of Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell. According to both, propositions are meanings of sentences, bearers of truth, and objects of the attitudes. Despite this, they believed there to be a mystery at the heart of the proposition. For Frege and Russell, propositions are complex entities the constituents of which are meanings of the constituents of sentences that express them. Just as sentences aren’t arbitrary collections of unrelated expressions, but rather have a structural unity that distinguishes them from other aggregates of expressions, so propositions aren’t arbitrary collections of...

  6. Chapter 3 Why Truth Conditions Are Not Enough
    (pp. 33-48)

    In the previous chapter, I argued that Frege-Russell propositions don’t exist, and so can’t play the roles for which they were designed, as bearers of truth, meanings of sentences, and objects of propositional attitudes. With this in mind, we turn next to theories of meaning that dispense with propositions. The central notion in these theories is truth, of which sentences, or utterances of sentences, are the bearers. The guiding idea is that the meaning of a sentence is given by its truth conditions. Although there are different conceptions of what truth conditions are, and how a semantic theory is expected...

  7. Chapter 4 Propositions and Attitudes: Davidson’s Challenge and Russell’s Neglected Insight
    (pp. 49-68)

    The problem we face can be made clearer by examining propositional attitude ascriptions. On the face of it, attitudes like belief and assertion are relations between agents and the things—called ‘propositions’—that they believe or assert. Thus, the natural clause in a truth-conditional semantics for attitude ascriptions is something along the lines of AA.

    AA. An attitude ascriptionx v’s that Sis true relative to an assignment A of i to ‘x’ and a circumstance of evaluation E iff in E, i bears the relation R (expressed by v) to the proposition expressed by S relative to A....

  8. Chapter 5 Toward a Theory of Propositions: A Deflationary Account
    (pp. 69-98)

    In chapter 3, I argued that theories of meaning need propositions, which can’t be sets of truth-supporting circumstances, but rather must be complexes that encode the meanings of the constituents of the sentences that express them. In this chapter and the next, I will sketch two ways of developing a theory of this sort. In this chapter, I will develop adeflationaryconception of propositions, paying attention to the positive aspects of the view which must be incorporated in any adequate theory of propositions. The chapter closes with a serious problem for the deflationary conception, which will pave the way...

  9. Chapter 6 The Cognitive-Realist Theory of Propositions
    (pp. 99-108)

    I begin with an insightful suggestion I owe to James Pryor. Since propositions are theoretical devices for tracking acts of predication by agents, why not take them to beact types, rather than the abstract structures with which the deflationist identifies them? On this proposal, the proposition that snow is white is identified, not with the tree structure but with the act typepredicating whiteness of snow. This idea has three main virtues. First, propositions, so conceived, are intrinsically connected to the cognitive acts they are needed to track. Second, in identifying the propositionthat o is Fwith the...

  10. Chapter 7 Expanding the Cognitive-Realist Model
    (pp. 109-130)

    The foundational theory of propositions presented in the last two chapters is, I hope, attractive. However, it is very far from being established. Its most serious shortcoming is its present limited scope. In presenting the theory, I have restricted myself to propositions expressed by the simple formal language PL—a standard first-order language of the predicate calculus, augmented with modal operators and psychological attitude verbs. Although the propositions expressible in PL make up a rich and interesting class, many propositions expressible in English and other natural languages are not members of it. Since any acceptable account of what propositions are...

  11. Index
    (pp. 131-132)