Philosophical Essays, Volume 2

Philosophical Essays, Volume 2: The Philosophical Significance of Language

Scott Soames
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 477
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sgbb
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  • Book Info
    Philosophical Essays, Volume 2
    Book Description:

    The two volumes ofPhilosophical Essaysbring together the most important essays written by one of the world's foremost philosophers of language. Scott Soames has selected thirty-one essays spanning nearly three decades of thinking about linguistic meaning and the philosophical significance of language. A judicious collection of old and new, these volumes include sixteen essays published in the 1980s and 1990s, nine published since 2000, and six new essays.

    The essays in Volume 1 investigate what linguistic meaning is; how the meaning of a sentence is related to the use we make of it; what we should expect from empirical theories of the meaning of the languages we speak; and how a sound theoretical grasp of the intricate relationship between meaning and use can improve the interpretation of legal texts.

    The essays in Volume 2 illustrate the significance of linguistic concerns for a broad range of philosophical topics--including the relationship between language and thought; the objects of belief, assertion, and other propositional attitudes; the distinction between metaphysical and epistemic possibility; the nature of necessity, actuality, and possible worlds; the necessary a posteriori and the contingent a priori; truth, vagueness, and partial definition; and skepticism about meaning and mind.

    The two volumes ofPhilosophical Essaysare essential for anyone working on the philosophy of language.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3318-4
    Subjects: Philosophy, Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. The Origins of These Essays
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    The essays in this volume are concerned with four main topics—propositions and attitudes, modality, truth and vagueness, and skepticism about intentionality. The significance of these issues extends well beyond the philosophy of language. In addition to being semantically encoded by sentences, propositions are asserted, believed, and known. Questions about what they are, and how we come to believe or know them—as well as questions about which propositions are expressed by which sentences, and which are asserted by which utterances—are crucial to epistemology and the philosophy of mind, as well as being the touchstone of the systematic study...

  5. Part One Reference, Propositions, and Propositional Attitudes

    • ESSAY ONE Direct Reference, Propositional Attitudes, and Semantic Content
      (pp. 33-71)

      What do we want from a semantic theory? A plausible answer is that we want it to tell us what sentences say. More precisely, we want it to tell us what sentences say relative to various contexts of utterance. This leads to the view that the meaning of a sentence is a function from contexts of utterance to what is said by the sentence in those contexts. Call this the propositional attitude conception of semantics.

      Another semantic picture that has enjoyed considerable popularity is the truth-conditional conception. According to it, the job of a semantic theory is to tell us...

    • ESSAY TWO Why Propositions Can’t Be Sets of Truth-Supporting Circumstances
      (pp. 72-80)

      In my article “Direct Reference, Propositional Attitudes, and Semantic Content,”¹ I argued that any semantic theory satisfying certain natural and well-motivated assumptions cannot 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. The argument takes the form of a reductio of the following set of assumptions:

      A1. The semantic content of a sentence or formula (relative to a context and assignment of values to variables) is the collection of circumstances supporting its truth (relative to the context and assignment)....

    • ESSAY THREE Belief and Mental Representation
      (pp. 81-110)

      In “Propositional Attitudes” Jerry Fodor argues that beliefs and other propositional attitudes are “relations between organisms and internal representations.”¹ However, this view is far from transparent, and Fodor fails to point out that it has several different interpretations. Most relevant are a strong interpretation, expressible as (1a) or (1b), and a weak interpretation, given as (2a) or (2b).²

      (1) a. For all declarative sentences S of English, there is a mental representation M such that for all individuals i (and times t), i satisfies (at t)x believes that S, as used in a context of utterance C, iff i...

    • ESSAY FOUR Attitudes and Anaphora
      (pp. 111-136)

      In this essay I will investigate how pronouns anaphoric on singular term antecedents are understood, and what a semantic theory should say about them. I propose to examine these questions by appealing to propositional attitude ascriptions containing such pronoun/antecedent pairs. In so doing I hope not only to advance our understanding of a particular linguistic construction, but also to illustrate a productive yet underappreciated methodology. If one is interested in characterizing what a certain sentence means, one can scarcely do better than attend to the assertions that utterances of the sentence are standardly used to make, and the beliefs they...

  6. Part Two Modality

    • ESSAY FIVE The Modal Argument: Wide Scope and Rigidified Descriptions
      (pp. 139-164)

      InNaming and Necessity,¹ Saul Kripke gives three types of argument against semantic theories that analyze the meaning, or reference, of proper names in terms of the meaning, or denotation, of descriptions associated with those names by speakers. One type consists ofsemantic argumentsdesigned to show that, typically, the referent of a proper name n, as used by a speaker s, is not linguistically determined to be the denotation of any description, or set of descriptions, associated with n by s. One such argument is that a speaker’s use of n may uniquely refer to an object o, even...

    • ESSAY SIX The Philosophical Significance of the Kripkean Necessary A Posteriori
      (pp. 165-188)

      In a recent paper, I discussed Saul Kripke’s two routes to the necessary a posteriori—one correct and far-reaching, the other incorrect and misleading.¹ In this essay, I will show how each connects with broader issues and agendas in philosophy. I will argue that Kripke’s first route has led to a distinction between metaphysical and epistemic possibility that is an important advance in analytic philosophy, while his second route has led to an attempted revival of pre-Kripkean orthodoxy which both threatens that advance, and leads to philosophically suspect results. I begin with a broad-brush sketch of the impact ofNaming...

    • ESSAY SEVEN Knowledge of Manifest Natural Kinds
      (pp. 189-210)

      Manifest kinds are natural kinds designated by terms likewater,tiger,gold,green, andelectricity.Individual instances of these kinds are objects of our potential acquaintance about which we may havede reknowledge. Natural kinds of a more highly theoretical sort—like photons and neutrons—are not included in this category. Manifest natural kinds, ormanifest kindsfor short, figure in interesting statements of theoretical identification, many of which are both necessary and knowable only a posteriori. The aim of this essay is to explain why this is so.

      The statements I will be concerned with are expressed by...

    • ESSAY EIGHT Understanding Assertion
      (pp. 211-242)

      In his groundbreaking 1978 article, “Assertion,” Robert Stalnaker presents an elegant model of discourse designed to solve philosophical problems arising, in part, from his identification of propositions with functions from possible world-states to truth-values, and his restriction of the epistemically possible to the metaphysically possible. Among these problems are those posed by Kripkean examples of the necessary a posteriori. Being necessary, all such examples are seen by Stalnaker as semantically expressing the same trivial, universally known, a priori truth. Nevertheless, assertive utterances of them often result in the assertion of propositions that are both highly informative and knowable only a...

    • ESSAY NINE Ambitious Two-Dimensionalism
      (pp. 243-276)

      Three decades ago, a group of philosophers led by Saul Kripke, Hilary Putnam, and David Kaplan ushered in a new era by attacking presuppositions about meaning that occupied center stage in the philosophy of the time. Among these presuppositions were the following:

      (i) The meaning of a term is never identical with its referent. Instead, its meaning is a descriptive sense that encodes conditions necessary and sufficient for determining its reference.

      (ii) Understanding a term amounts to associating it with the correct descriptive sense. Different speakers who understand a predicate of the common language, or a widely used proper name...

    • ESSAY TEN Actually
      (pp. 277-300)

      My topic is the metaphysics and epistemology of actuality and possibility, plus the semantics and pragmatics of the language we use to talk about it. By ‘actuality’ I mean the actual world-state. By ‘possibility’ I mean all possible world-states, both the metaphysically and the epistemically possible. The actual world-state is the way the world is. Metaphysically possible states are ways the world could have been. Epistemically possible states are ways the world can coherently be conceived to be. In what follows I will sketch a conception of what these world-states are, and explore how we know about them.

      To that...

  7. Part Three Truth and Vagueness

    • ESSAY ELEVEN What Is a Theory of Truth?
      (pp. 303-322)

      Alfred tarski’s theory of truth and its successors enjoy a perplexing double status. On the one hand, they are mathematical theories characterized by a rich class of mathematical results. On the other hand, they are commonly believed by philosophers to provide analyses of the nature of truth and, hence, to be philosophically significant. With this broader significance comes a kind of controversy not normally associated with mathematical theorems. No one disputes the correctness of Tarski’s formal results. In that sense, there is no doubt that his theory is true. However, there is considerable doubt about whether, or in what sense,...

    • ESSAY TWELVE Understanding Deflationism
      (pp. 323-339)

      My aim here will be to say what is right about deflationism about truth—including how deflationism is best understood, and why, in the end, truth is deflationary. I will do this without presenting any one deflationary theory that tells us what truth is, what the predicate ‘true’ means, or what it is to understand this predicate. I have three reasons for avoiding this level of specificity.

      First, any precise and specific theory would require a full-fledged analysis of the liar and related paradoxes. Although much progress has been made toward this end, and although this is where the real...

    • ESSAY THIRTEEN Higher-Order Vagueness for Partially Defined Predicates
      (pp. 340-361)

      In this essay, I will talk about a perplexing problem that arises for the theory of vague and partially defined predicates that I sketched in my bookUnderstanding Truth, and which can, I think, be expected to arise for other theories that employ partially defined predicates.¹ The problem is that of making sense of so-calledhigher-order vagueness. This problem is often regarded as the chief difficulty facing analyses which treat vague predicates as partially defined. Although I can’t claim to have solved the problem, I will argue that it is more tractable than it is often taken to be. I...

    • ESSAY FOURTEEN The Possibility of Partial Definition
      (pp. 362-382)

      The view of vagueness I favor is one according to which vague predicates are partially defined, in the sense of being governed by rules that provide sufficient conditions for them to apply, and sufficient conditions for them not to apply, but no conditions that are both individually sufficient and disjunctively necessary for them to apply, or not to apply, to an object. Objects for which such a predicate P is undefined are those for which neither the claim that P applies to them, nor the claim that it doesn’t, is sanctioned. For any name n, which we know to refer...

  8. Part Four Kripke, Wittgenstein, and Following a Rule

    • ESSAY FIFTEEN Skepticism about Meaning: Indeterminacy, Normativity, and the Rule-Following Paradox
      (pp. 385-415)

      Quine and Kripke’s Wittgenstein both present “skeptical” arguments for the conclusion that there are no facts about meaning.¹ In each case the argument for the conclusion is that (i) if there are facts about meaning (and propositional attitudes), then they must be determined by some more fundamental facts, but (ii) facts about meaning (and propositional attitudes) are not determined by any such facts. Consequently there are no facts about meanings (or propositional attitudes). Within this overall framework, Quine and Kripke’s Wittgenstein differ substantially—both in their reasons for thinking that facts about meaning (and propositional attitudes) are not determined by...

    • ESSAY SIXTEEN Facts, Truth Conditions, and the Skeptical Solution to the Rule-Following Paradox
      (pp. 416-456)

      In chapter 2 ofWittgenstein: On Rules and Private Language,¹ Saul Kripke presents a skeptical argument, inspired by Wittgenstein’s rule-following paradox, for the paradoxical conclusion that there are no facts about what we mean by our words. In chapter 3 Kripke outlines what he calls a “skeptical solution” to the paradox. What makes the position skeptical is that it purports to accept the startling conclusion that there are no facts about meaning; what makes it a solution is that it nevertheless defends the correctness of ordinary meaning ascriptions, such as the claim that I mean, and have meant, addition by...

  9. Index
    (pp. 457-461)