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Philosophical Essays, Volume 1

Philosophical Essays, Volume 1: Natural Language: What It Means and How We Use It

Scott Soames
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    Philosophical Essays, Volume 1
    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: 978-1-4008-3784-7
    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. 1-20)

    The fifteen essays in this volume span twenty-eight years of thinking about linguistic meaning—what it is, how we use it, and what questions should be answered by empirical theories dealing with it. A central task undertaken in the essays is to distinguish different, but intricately related, kinds of linguistically expressed information—including (i) what a sentence means (ii) what is presupposed in uttering it, (iii) what is asserted, and (iv) what is merely implicated, or suggested. An overarching theme, starting in part 1, is that the relationships among these are intricate, complex, and nontransparent—with far-reaching implications for theories...

  5. Part One Presupposition

    • ESSAY ONE A Projection Problem for Speaker Presuppositions
      (pp. 23-72)

      Ten years ago, in “The Projection Problem for Presuppositions,”¹ Terence Langendoen and Harris Savin posed a problem that has been of central concern to theorists working on presupposition ever since. That problem was to determine “how the presuppositions and assertions of a complex sentence are related to the presuppositions and assertions of the clauses it contains.”² In formulating this problem, Langendoen and Savin assumed that

      (1) Complex sentences bear presuppositions;

      (2) The presuppositions of a complex sentence are a function of the presuppositions and assertions of the clauses that make it up; and

      (3) A speaker who assertively utters a...

    • ESSAY TWO Presupposition
      (pp. 73-130)

      To presuppose something is to take it for granted in a way that contrasts with asserting it. For example, if one assertively utters

      (1a) It was Sam who broke the typewriter.

      one presupposes that the typewriter was broken and asserts that Sam was the one who did it. Similarly, if one assertively utters

      (2a) John is going to drop out of school again.

      one presupposes that he has dropped out of school before and asserts that he will drop out in the future. In each case, the speaker commits himself both to that which he presupposes and to that which...

  6. Part Two Language and Linguistic Competence

    • ESSAY THREE Linguistics and Psychology
      (pp. 133-158)

      Since the early sixties, the received view among generative grammarians has been that linguistics is a branch of cognitive psychology. On this view, grammars constructed by linguists are hypotheses about psychologically real rules which are responsible for speakers’ linguistic abilities and which are causally involved in the production of (some significant portion of) their linguistic behavior. Universal grammar (linguistic theory) is taken to be a theory of the role of innate linguistic knowledge in first language acquisition.

      I will argue for a different conception in which theories in linguistics are not psychological in this way. It is important to emphasize,...

    • ESSAY FOUR Semantics and Psychology
      (pp. 159-181)

      Recent years have seen a significant convergence of interest among philosophers and linguists in constructing semantic theories of natural languages. This convergence has led to a growing acceptance of two major views:

      (1) An adequate semantics for a natural language must contain a theory of truth conditions that characterizes logical properties and relations such as logical truth, contradiction, entailment, and consistency.

      (2) An adequate grammar for a natural language must integrate a semantics with both a syntax and phonology for the language.

      (1) represents a traditional philosophical view that a theory of meaning ought to include, though not necessarily be...

    • ESSAY FIVE Semantics and Semantic Competence
      (pp. 182-201)

      The central semantic fact about language is that it carries information about the world. The central psycho-semantic fact about speakers is that they understand the claims about the world made by sentences of their language. This parallel suggests an intimate connection between semantic theories and theories of semantic competence. A semantic theory should tell us what information is encoded by sentences relative to contexts. Since competent speakers seem to grasp this information, and since the ability to correctly pair sentences with their contents seems to be the essence of semantic competence, it might appear that a semantic theory is itself...

    • ESSAY SIX The Necessity Argument
      (pp. 202-207)

      Jerrold katz and paul postal present three positive arguments for their “realist,” nonpsychological conception of linguistics. One of these, the Necessity Argument, is based on considerations that are special to semantics. Unfortunately, the version of the argument given in the text is flawed, and can be quite misleading. Although there is a modified version of the argument for which a qualified measure of success can be claimed, its significance for advancing “realism” and undermining “conceptualism” seems to me to be highly restricted. Moreover, getting clear about what is, and what is not, established by this argument is useful in illustrating...

    • ESSAY SEVEN Truth, Meaning, and Understanding
      (pp. 208-224)

      When theories of truth are taken to be theories of meaning a problem arises at the very outset that threatens to undermine the whole enterprise.¹ Whereas we expect a theory of meaning to tell us what sentences mean, a theory of truth gives us only their truth conditions. But statements of truth conditions are weaker than statements of meaning. For example, instances of schema M

      M. ‘S’ means inLthatp

      together with analytic, a priori instances of schema TM

      TM. If ‘S’ means inLthatp, then ‘S’ is true inLiffp

      entail the corresponding...

    • ESSAY EIGHT Truth and Meaning—in Perspective
      (pp. 225-248)

      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 work,¹ 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...

  7. Part Three Semantics and Pragmatics

    • ESSAY NINE Naming and Asserting
      (pp. 251-277)

      Many essays in semantics and the philosophy of language seem to proceed on the assumption that—special circumstances involving ironic, metaphorical, or other nonliteral uses of language aside—the proposition asserted by an utterance of a sentence in a context is the proposition semantically expressed by the sentence in that context. At some level, of course, we all know that this is a fiction, since sometimes a single utterance may involve the assertion of more than one proposition. For example, the assertion of a conjunction involves the assertion of the conjuncts, too. Nevertheless, the fiction is often thought to be...

    • ESSAY TEN The Gap between Meaning and Assertion: Why What We Literally Say Often Differs from What Our Words Literally Mean
      (pp. 278-297)

      What do we want from a semantic theory? A plausible, and widely accepted answer is that we want it to tell us what sentences say. More precisely, we want it to tell us what sentences say in different contexts of utterance. This leads to the view that the meaning of S is a function from contexts of utterance to what is said by S in those contexts. One might, of course, object that this way of putting things, though convenient, can’t be quite right. After all, sentences don’t literallysayanything; speakers who utter them do. However, this observation, though...

    • ESSAY ELEVEN Drawing the Line between Meaning and Implicature—and Relating Both to Assertion
      (pp. 298-326)

      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...

  8. Part Four Descriptions

    • ESSAY TWELVE Incomplete Definite Descriptions
      (pp. 329-359)

      The treatment of definite descriptions in Barwise and Perry (1983) is built around two fundamental themes of situation semantics—the context sensitivity of utterances and the partial nature of the information they encode. In emphasizing these themes, Barwise and Perry aim to replace a semantic paradigm in which a description ⎡the F⎤ is used to talk about a unique F-erin reality as a wholewith one in which it is used to talk about a unique F-erin some contextually determined situation, or part of reality. This shift has important consequences for the analysis of so-called “incomplete definite descriptions,”...

    • ESSAY THIRTEEN Donnellan’s Referential/Attributive Distinction
      (pp. 360-376)

      What is keith donnellan’s distinction between referential and attributive uses of definite descriptions, and what significance does it have for the philosophy of language? In my opinion the answers to these questions lie in Donnellan’s discussion of how a speaker may use a sentence containing a description to assert a singular proposition about an individual corresponding to the description. This is the so-called “referential use” of a description. A referential use of a description ⎡the F⎤ in a sentence ⎡The F is G⎤ is one in which a speaker has an individual o in mind about whom he wishes to...

    • ESSAY FOURTEEN Why Incomplete Definite Descriptions Do Not Defeat Russell’s Theory of Descriptions
      (pp. 377-400)

      A central lesson of “On Denoting” is that singular definite descriptions do not belong to the same category of expressions as names and demonstratives; they are not singular terms (Russell 1905). Instead, sentences containing them are quantificational. As a result, the meanings, or semantic contents, of these sentences are not singular propositions about objects denoted by the descriptions they contain. Instead, they are general propositions in which higher-order properties corresponding to quantifiers are ascribed to lower-order properties, or propositional functions, expressed by the formulas on which the quantifiers operate. Thus, the official Russellian analysis of (1a) is (1b), the content...

  9. Part Five Meaning and Use:: Lessons for Legal Interpretation

    • ESSAY FIFTEEN Interpreting Legal Texts: What Is, and What Is Not, Special about the Law
      (pp. 403-424)

      How is the content of positive law related to its authoritative sources—including written constitutions, statutes, and administrative rules, understood in light of the beliefs, intentions, and presuppositions of those who produced them, and those to whom they are addressed? Progress can, I think, be made in answering this question by seeing it as an instance of the more general question of what determines the contents of ordinary linguistic texts. I will, therefore, look at recent advances in semantics and pragmatics, and extract lessons for legal interpretation by tracking implications for different kinds of “hard cases” in the law.


  10. Index
    (pp. 425-428)