• jamalrob
    2k
    This month we'll be reading the paper "Reality Without Reference" by Donald Davidson, 1977.

    The paper...

    shows how taking the relation of reference as being central when explaining the relation of language to world collapses into a discredited ‘building‐block theory’ of language and neglects the semantic primacy of the sentence. This primacy, argues Davidson, can only be acknowledged by making truth and sentential structure one's central semantic concepts; further, truth theories are testable only at the sentential level, not at that of subsentential reference. — Oxford Scholarship Online

    I think this reading would benefit from an introductory post to guide the discussion, so if anyone who knows Davidson's work is willing to do that it would be much appreciated.

    Before contributing to this discussion make sure you've read the paper, unless it's just a short preliminary comment or question.

    Feel free to begin posting any time.
  • StreetlightX
    4.1k
    Right, gonna reel some thoughts off in order to work them out in the process of writing. It seems to me that the thrust of Davidson's paper is something like this: "Look, a theory of truth can do without a concept of truth, so why not a theory of meaning without a concept of reference?". He begins by acknowledging that a theory of meaning without a concept of reference does in fact sound a bit odd - after all, "explaining the truth conditions of a sentence like 'Socrates flies' must amount to saying it is true if and only if the object referred to by 'Socrates' is one of the objects referred to by the predicate 'flies'." To work himself up to the challenge of meaning-without-reference, he begins instead by looking at truth - specifically Tarski's Convention T.

    Without going into the specifics of the theory (Davidson summerises it quickly in the third paragraph of the paper, and discusses it more fully in his paper, "In Defense of Convention T"), the upshot of the theory is that while it doesn't tell us what truth is, it allows us to specify what does and does not count as a truthful sentence in a particular language. He notes that objections have been made to the effect that if this is so, this theory of truth is in fact only something like a partial theory, one that does not 'give a complete account of the truth of sentences'. It is at this point that Davidson essentially grasps the nettle and says something like 'so what? - the theory does it's job, and we use notions like "reference" and "satisfaction" merely as 'posits' or 'theoretical constructs' that allow us to employ the theory of truth'. In Davidson's own words, "their role is theoretical, and so we know all there is to know about them when we know how they operate to characterize truth. We don't need a general concept of reference in the construction of an adequate theory."

    The reason that Davidson can get away with this is that he sets up his theory of truth to abide by a particular set of criteria: whether or not someone who speaks a language L would have enough information to interpret what a speaker of that language says, based purely on the theory so provided. On this count, says Davidson, the Convention T would allow a speaker to have exactly this information. It is important, says Davidson, that by appealing to this criteria, we allow ourselves to interpret references in terms of "non-linguistic concepts". In other words, the criteria that Davidson sets up here are 'empirical': if, on the basis of the theory of truth, one can understand how it is a sentence can be true, then we don't need to explain what truth is. Similarly, if, on the basis of a theory of meaning, we can understand how words refer, then we don't need to explain what reference is.

    The key for Davidson of course is that his whole project is concerned with explaining meaning by recourse to a theory of truth. In so doing, Davidson hopes to get rid of any appeal to 'intentional' elements in a theory of language (where meanings are dictated by intentions, desires, beliefs and so on), situating meaning wholly on an 'extensional' level. In effect, Davidson wants to give a theory of meaning that does not at all appeal to any concept of 'meaning'. In the paper under discussion here, Davidson's attempt to do without reference is of a piece with precisely this project to shed language of any intentional elements.

    Anyway, at this point I'm just trying to make sense of the paper, so I don't have any concrete critical comments either way. Given the number of threads that run through the paper - which is anything but self-contained - it's actually pretty hard to assess without at the same time addressing Davidson's entire philosophical project. I will say that's it's an awfully clever paper, even if, at a purely intuitive level, the whole thing strikes me as a bit cold and austere. I'm not caught up with the analytic literature on Davidson, but I think the open question is whether or not Davidson's theory meets the criteria he sets out for it. Davidson says that a theory of truth will allow a speaker to understand how truth functions - and similarly with reference - but is it in fact the case? Can counter-examples be provided? Have they?

    PS. What happened to the link in the OP?
    PPS. This is such a bitch to read. Would rather read a division of Being and Time any day!
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    I guess I pretty much agree with everything he says, but on the other hand I think this discussion, and Tarski-style theories of truth, were obviated several years earlier than this paper was published by the advent of Montague Grammar. Montague showed formally precisely how the divide between the 'building block' and 'complete sentence' starting points could be navigated, by demonstrating that meaning could be built in tandem with syntactic structure according to a few simple syntactic and semantic operations.

    The result is that on the one hand the 'meaning' of each word can only be given in the context of the whole sentence (so for instance, if a predicate is a functional mapping form individuals to truth values, it in some sense only 'has meaning' or is of interest insofar as it takes an individual as an argument to get a truth value), but on the other hand, each sentence only has its 'meaning' as a result of syntactically and so semantically composing the parts together (you can't get to the truth value without putting the individuals and predicates and so on together). And it's not some wishy-washy thing either, how that works is spelled out in almost annoying formal detail.

    That of course allows notions like 'reference' to be given precisely the treatment that Davidson wants them to be given, and in a way, shows for a small fragment of English how this is actually done. By looking at Montague's work we can see how a proper name contributes to the truth of a sentence without a prior notion of reference, and then we look back on it and say 'what that does, that's basically what it turns out we meant by 'reference'.'

    PPS. This is such a bitch to read. Would rather read a division of Being and Time any day!StreetlightX

    I agree, I really don't like the writing style of analytic philosophers during this period. It's bizarrely elliptical, and makes casual reference to a whole web of formal and technical literature while at the same time never bothering to give examples or spell anything out formally in the paper itself. It's sometimes difficult even to locate the main points they say they're going to make in the abstract, in the paper itself.
  • Mayor of Simpleton
    425


    Does anyone have a link to a copy of this?

    Just asking...

    ... considering my dyslexia I need to start as soon as possible.

    Thanks!

    Meow!

    GREG
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    It's on JSTOR, but I don't know where a legal copy is. I actually can't tell from JSTOR's TOS whether it's legal to post it here.
  • Mayor of Simpleton
    425


    Thanks, but since I don't want to pay $39 for this I'll have to pass.

    Maybe next month?

    Meow!

    GREG

    btw... I just love abbreviations, as in my world TOS means Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. ;)
  • Aaron R
    195
    If you type "Reality Without Reference PDF" into google you'll find a link to a PDF copy the book "Inquiries Into Truth and Interpretation" which contains "Reality Without Reference" as a chapter (see attached image). I encountered success, but as always, please proceed at your own risk.

    If this is not an appropriate thing to post here, please accept my apologies and feel free to delete.
    Attachment
    Davidson (55K)
  • Ciceronianus the White
    824
    For those it might benefit this essay, or rather the book in which it appears, Inquiries into Truth and Representation, is in Scribd. Perhaps if the entire book is read it would be easier to understand, but I've read only this essay, and am uncertain if my problem with it arises from a lack of understanding or a lack of interest. Probably both to varying degrees. I have trouble understanding, at the least, the significance of the issue, and will take my leave by noting for what it's worth that I think treating language as something distinct from the world (or us), and thereby requiring a relation to the world, may be unwise, and that language includes more than words (gestures, sounds).
  • Mayor of Simpleton
    425


    Thanks!

    I was able to download the whole book... something that will probably take me a year to get through, but hey... it gives me something to (maybe) do.

    Cheers!

    Meow!

    GREG
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    I really don't like the writing style of analytic philosophers during this period. It's bizarrely elliptical, and makes casual reference to a whole web of formal and technical literature while at the same time never bothering to give examples or spell anything out formally in the paper itself. It's sometimes difficult even to locate the main points they say they're going to make in the abstract, in the paper itself.The Great Whatever
    Thanks for saying this, TGW. I've never studied Davidson nor been taught about him. So I find essays like this a near-hopeless struggle. And yet other essays I've found by him like 'A nice derangement of epitaphs' flow and are highly readable.

    Could you or someone who feels they understand what he's saying summarise his argument here? I confess I'm baffled. Elsewhere, as in 'Derangement' for instance, he seems to argue for a near-Wittgensteinian position, that generalised rule-making about the way people use language is a hopeless and foolhardy task, that largely what people have to do is theorise on the fly, based on mutual understanding. What work, then, is all this intricate business about truth doing in this essay?

    Whatever else it embraces, a theory of meaning must include an account of truth—a statement of the conditions under which an arbitrary sentence of the language is true — Davidson

    I've been a creative writer most of my life, thinking a lot about the meaning of language, and I don't understand this truth-oriented notion of a 'theory of meaning' (which in itself, as he acknowledges, is a very vague notion). If someone says 'Hello you!' or 'I wish I hadn't gone out in the rain' or 'How many times do I have to ask you not to smoke in here?' or 'Socrates flies' (a bizarre example of a sentence, but one favoured by Davidson) - I can't see what 'truth' has to do with it. Communication is about many things, of which truth-telling, or at least plausibility-while-communicating, is one element. How is truth all-embracing? In what way?

    I'd be glad of advice and exchange of views :)
  • shmik
    207
    Don't have much to add, just read the paper and checking in. I found it quite difficult.

    In brief I gathered his argument was that if we have a theory of truth then we don't need any of the other back-end stuff that we normally assume is necessary. Take for example "Socrates flies". Traditionally we would break that up into "Socrates" refers to Socrates and the predicate "x flies" is true if x flies. Davidson is arguing that this whole story is irrelevant. Whether we adopt the causal theory of reference or the descriptive theory of reference or don't use a theory at all, it doesn't matter as long as all the same sentences come out true.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    Could you or someone who feels they understand what he's saying summarise his argument here? I confess I'm baffled. Elsewhere, as in 'Derangement' for instance, he seems to argue for a near-Wittgensteinian position, that generalised rule-making about the way people use language is a hopeless and foolhardy task, that largely what people have to do is theorise on the fly, based on mutual understanding. What work, then, is all this intricate business about truth doing in this essay?mcdoodle

    Sure. I might go through it more thoroughly piece by piece later, but the basic idea is:

    -A theory of meaning is essential to the philosophy of language
    -A theory of truth is essential to the theory of meaning
    -A notion of reference is essential to a theory of truth, to explain at least the function of referential expressions like proper names, demonstratives, pronouns, and 'complex singular terms' (by which I take it he means things like 'the cat we bought last week'), and the denotation of predicates (things like nouns, adjectives, prepositional phrases, and verbs), in terms of which individuals fall under their extensions (which individuals they're applicable to)

    -Traditionally philosophers have tried to give an account of reference independently of linguistic function, or give an account of how reference arises in non-linguistic terms, in order to explain how this notion plays a role in language
    -Others have tried to downplay the role that reference plays by just starting off by giving the truth conditions of simple sentences and building up the truth of more complex ones from those
    -But neither of these options is tenable. The first doesn't work because reference only plays a role in the context of sentences as a whole, and so has no non-linguisitc characterization that can be abstracted from our whole theory of language. The second doesn't work because the smaller elements that make up simple sentences clearly have meanings of their own, and we can't just stipulate simple sentences as atomistic wholes. This is seen from the fact that we can use those elements recurseively to create simple sentences ('the cat we bought last week ate the tuna' expresses a relation between two individuals, but 'the cat we bought last week' clearly is compositionally derived from simpler expressions like 'cat' and 'week,' and if we want to understand these phrases systematically we should be able to explain how they arise from the smaller bits)
    -So, we need to have a notion of reference, some way to explain the meaning of these individual bits, but at the same time there seems to be no way to do so outside of the linguistic theory as a whole

    -The solution: give up on a non-linguistic characterization of reference. Insofar as there is reference, we explain it with reference to an entire linguistic theory about the role it plays in determining truth conditions. Since there are multiple ways of doing this, there are multiple ways of defining reference, according to which theory you use, and so the function of reference on your particular theory can't be described independently, but can only be seen in retrospect given how it function in that theory.

    I've been a creative writer most of my life, thinking a lot about the meaning of language, and I don't understand this truth-oriented notion of a 'theory of meaning' (which in itself, as he acknowledges, is a very vague notion). If someone says 'Hello you!' or 'I wish I hadn't gone out in the rain' or 'How many times do I have to ask you not to smoke in here?' or 'Socrates flies' (a bizarre example of a sentence, but one favoured by Davidson) - I can't see what 'truth' has to do with it. Communication is about many things, of which truth-telling, or at least plausibility-while-communicating, is one element. How is truth all-embracing? In what way?mcdoodle

    That's why he says 'whatever else it embraces.' There is more to a theory of meaning than a theory of truth, but clearly the latter is an essential part of it. In the 70's philosophers were generally sensitive to the fact that more than this was needed. But the traditional focus has always been on truth conditions.
  • invizzy
    70
    I recommend reading the SEP entry on Davidson in conjunction with this paper, otherwise it can be a bit tricky to understand what's going on.

    Well. I struggled with this, just disagreeing with everything from go to whoa. I've got my own ideas on a theory of meaning (don't stress I'll try not to push that barrow too much here) and this was hard for me.

    I disagreed/disliked:

    - His characterisation of reference (for me reference is mental)
    - What seemed a circular theory (Tarski says truth is what is meant by this, Davidson says meaning is what is true by that)
    - His writing style, assuming specialised knowledge
    - That for Davidson meaning appears not to be an entity (echoing Wittgenstein, Chomsky et al.) seemingly flying in the face of the way we speak
    - Apparent lack of explanation for meaning of expressions such as 'hello!' or for fiction and lies.
    - Apparent lack of explanation for a link between meaning and natural meaning i.e. a low pressure system in the east means three days rain at least.

    Simply put this just didn't seem to have much explanatory power. Dislike. 1 star.
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    That's why he says 'whatever else it embraces.' There is more to a theory of meaning than a theory of truth, but clearly the latter is an essential part of it. In the 70's philosophers were generally sensitive to the fact that more than this was needed. But the traditional focus has always been on truth conditions.The Great Whatever

    To me 'Truth and meaning' is a better-written essay. Certainly I got to grips with it more easily. There are pdfs scattered all over the Web, I found mine here: http://www.oswego.edu/~delancey/313_DIR/TM.pdf . That essay ends:

    Since I think there is no alternative, I have taken an optimistic and programmatic view of the possibilities for a formal characterization of a truth predicate for a natural language. But it must be allowed that a staggering list of difficulties and conundrums remains.To name a few: we do not know the logical form of counterfactual or subjunctive sentences, nor of sentences about probabilities and about causal relations; we have no good idea what the logical role of adverbs is, nor the role of attributive adjectives; we have no theory for mass terms like "fire," "water," and"snow," nor for sentences about belief, perception, and intention, nor for verbs of action that imply purpose. And finally, there are all the sentences that seem not to have truth values at all: the imperatives, optatives, interrogatives, and a host more. A comprehensive theory of meaning for a natural language must cope successfully with each of these problems. — Davidson
    This is indeed a staggering list. For me it means the exceptions are greater in number than the matters covered by the theory. I hope this isn't too much of a diversion from the problem of reference to say, doesn't this list of exceptions imply there's something wanting in the overall theory?
  • invizzy
    70
    Yeah you're right @mcdoodle the theory is VERY wanting. Minimal explanatory power. Does it have many adherents? Seems hugely problematic.
  • Michael
    8k
    I think it highlights the fundamental problem in trying to find a formal theory to comprehensively explain a natural language.
  • Janus
    8.3k
    I have been slowly working my way through this rather dense paper. This is not the style of philosophy I am used to reading, and I agree with Streetlight's comment about Being and Time being easier (and more fun) to read, but I think it is a somewhat interesting exercise, anyway. These are the main points I have found so far:
    • a theory of meaning cannot succeed without elucidating reference and making it central
    • there are good reasons to believe that reference cannot be explained or analysed in more primitive terms
    • A Tarskian style theory of truth can help to resolve this apparent dilemma
    • Central among the problems involved in a theory of meaning is the task of explaining language and communication by appeal to simpler, or at least different concepts
    • It is natural to believe this is possible because linguistic phenomena are obviously supervenient on non-linguistic phenomena
    • It is accepted that a theory of truth need not fully analyse the “pre-analytic” understanding of truth
    • But it seems to be a catastrophic failure that it cannot explain or analyse the concept of reference

    The questions that arise for me so far are:


    • What could be the non-linguistic "simpler, or at least different" concepts?

    • Referring to the second last point above: How could the pre-analytic be analysed, anyway?


    • If it is OK for truth not to be fully analyzed then why not the same for reference?

    Davidson will apparently go on to say why, contrary to the idea that we cannot live without reference, we should live without it. When I find the time I will continue with this to find out.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    In short, no. Most of the things he mentions are areas for future research using the same sort of theory, which have been studied extensively by truth-conditional semanticists. It's work to be done in the program, not things that fall outside the scope of the program (and that work has been more or less underway for decades with significant progress).

    As for the things that aren't truth-conditional, he's not offering a full account of meaning, but of the truth predicate. There's nothing stopping this account from being embedded in a larger one.
  • invizzy
    70

    But that's the goal, isn't? A full account of meaning. I can't conceive of how how a theory of meaning for truth-conditionals can fit into such an account either. Indeed I'm certain it can't.
    A theory of meaning that seems applicable for all meaningful expressions is much more desirable, and I think accounts of small portions of meaningful expressions do a disservice, and further most likely wrong. We're looking for necessary connections between all meaning and expressions not just some.
  • discoii
    196
    Guys, if someone decides to upload it somewhere I swear I won't tell. I've been out of school for a while and don't have access to the dungeon of papers under the ivory tower of knowledge anymore.

    Honestly, as far as philosophy goes, I think the hope of being able to sell your papers for cash should have been quashed since philosophy began as an art practiced by humans. No one has made money selling philosophy papers like people sell music on iTunes. And also, I am personally against intellectual property as a concept beyond acknowledgement of the author. So, can we please have a policy on this, and hopefully it is this: all philosophy should be widely shared and accessible, except for Ayn Rand's books, which should be priced at $85,000 a page with 5% of the US military budget used to crackdown on anyone pirating Ayn Rand books.

    Proposition: Davidson is not the same person as Ayn Rand.
    Conclusion: Davidson should be widely shared and accessible.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    But that's the goal, isn't? A full account of meaning.invizzy

    Yes, but that's not the point of the paper. It's to work on one specific aspect of a theory of meaning.

    I think accounts of small portions of meaningful expressions do a disservice, and further most likely wrong. We're looking for necessary connections between all meaning and expressions not just some.invizzy

    Some pieces of language are truth-conditional, and some aren't. Clearly they aren't going to be subject to the same sort of analysis. Though at a higher level, in speech act theory, they can come together in seeing truth-conditionality being associated with certain sorts of speech acts, like assertion.
  • StreetlightX
    4.1k
    A word on what I like about the whole Davidsonian approach to language, although it's not specific to this paper as such (hopefully it might throw some light on it for others!): I think Davidson is on to something important in terms of his attempt to impart a certain immanence to language. I don't imagine that 'immanence' is a term Davidson himself would use, but I think it gets at what's (partially) at stake in his work: the idea of shedding the representational function of language so that language no longer simply 'represents' things 'out there' in the world, but rather - as far as meaning and reference goes - works according to its own terms. Language, as seen through the Davidsonian lens, 'works' (that is, is able to be understood by language users) without the need for "direct contact" with the world, as Davidson puts it. I think this is generally the right way to go about thinking things.

    Elsewhere and in a different context, he actually makes this goal quite explicit: "Beliefs are true or false but they represent nothing. It is good to be rid of representations, and with them the correspondence theory of truth, for it is thinking that there are representations that engenders intimations of relativism" ('On The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme').

    I still feel uneasy about the manner by which he goes about achieving this aim - via a truth-centric semantics - but I'm not well versed enough at this point to give that unease articulation.
  • invizzy
    70
    Clearly they aren't going to be subject to the same sort of analysis.The Great Whatever

    Why not though? That's my point. A theory of gravity attempts to explain gravity for all things, for example. Partial theories are dubious theories if not outright bad ones.
  • StreetlightX
    4.1k
    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with 'partial theories', and the onus is on you to show that language functions univocally if you want to make the rather far-fetched claim that 'partial theories are dubious if not outright bad ones'.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    All complete theories have partial theories embedded in them. It has to be that way if you think the phenomena are at all diverse.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    Semanticists don't spend quite so much time on these issues as philosophers of language do, but to the extent that they do, they're generally interested in 'bridging theories' about how theories of meaning ultimately 'cash out' in the vocabulary of other disciplines. Unsurprisingly, there is a broad 'externalist' and 'internalist' camp, one of which thinks that propositions expressed in language literally have external objects as their constituents (so if you make a semantic model, your 'domain of individuals' will literally be real things), and the latter of which thinks that meanings have to be cashed out in representational or psychological terms. I think that formal semantics of this sort offers the hope of a radically deflationary view on the matter, by which language is concerned with its own internal logic without needing to 'hook up' with anything else, whether they be representations or real-world objects. Maybe that's a kind of 'immanence.' But I think there's also hope that a better understanding of semantics can show 'metaphysical' theories of meaning to be internally incoherent (and so much of metaphysics incoherent with it -- not by stipulation as with the old positivists, but as a matter of empirical discovery).
  • Janus
    8.3k
    I don't imagine that 'immanence' is a term Davidson himself would use, but I think it gets at what's (partially) at stake in his work: the idea of shedding the representational function of language so that language no longer simply 'represents' things 'out there' in the world, but rather - as far as meaning and reference goes - works according to its own terms. Language, as seen through the Davidsonian lens, 'works' (that is, is able to be understood by language users) without the need for "direct contact" with the world, as Davidson puts it. I think this is generally the right way to go about thinking things.

    Elsewhere and in a different context, he actually makes this goal quite explicit: "Beliefs are true or false but they represent nothing. It is good to be rid of representations, and with them the correspondence theory of truth, for it is thinking that there are representations that engenders intimations of relativism" ('On The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme').
    StreetlightX


    For me, language, taken as a whole does not represent anything; rather it presents a domain of things out there in the world. Sayings represent things not all of which are themselves merely other sayings. Within the world presented to us by language, only a very small part of what is presented consists of linguistic objects.

    I think the whole notion of "direct contact" between the world and language is metaphysical and fallacious, based on a kind of mystical reification of linguistic function. Words refer to things and reference is a logical function, like truth, that is just obvious to us, but which cannot be analyzed in terms of any more primitive function.

    I agree that "it is good to be rid of representations" if 'representation' is taken in the sense of a representative theory of perception; that we see representations and not things themselves and that our sayings represent those representations ( perceptions) of the things and are thus representations of representations.

    The problem with this kind of theory is that in its terms what is represented and so what is referred to are forever out of our reach, making the very idea of representation and reference incoherent or mystical/magical. So, for me the T-schema is a formulation of merely logical reference, correspondence and thus truth, and the logic of reference, correspondence and truth is entirely immanent to language and ineluctably primordial and thus unanalyzable.

    I still feel uneasy about the manner by which he goes about achieving this aim - via a truth-centric semantics - but I'm not well versed enough at this point to give that unease articulation.StreetlightX

    I think truth is one part of a primordial quadruple: actuality, reference, correspondence, truth. We perceive actuality, our sayings refer to our interpretations of it, logically they may either correspond or not correspond to it, and thus be either true or false. I don't believe any part of the primordial puzzle can be discarded, without bringing about a devolution into incoherence.

    So, I agree with Heidegger that we can give a correspondence account of everyday truth ( as distinct from aletheia) , and that that is the only account that makes any sense, but that account must simply be pragmatically accepted, since no correspondence theory is possible.
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    In short, no. Most of the things he mentions are areas for future research using the same sort of theory, which have been studied extensively by truth-conditional semanticists. It's work to be done in the program, not things that fall outside the scope of the program (and that work has been more or less underway for decades with significant progress).

    As for the things that aren't truth-conditional, he's not offering a full account of meaning, but of the truth predicate. There's nothing stopping this account from being embedded in a larger one.
    The Great Whatever

    I don't understand. The Davidsonian theory is about assertions/propositions, right?

    Are truth-conditional propositions a significant part of the everyday use of language? I don't think they are but I'm game to be dissuaded.

    I don't understand how 'the same sort of theory' extends beyond assertions to language that is not assertion-like. If a speaker is not making truth-conditional remarks, in what way have truth-conditions anything to do with it?

    If we were to listen in to tapes of people talking to each other on buses, in bars and on park benches, would we mostly be able to analyse their talk in a Davidsonian way?

    Pardon me if my questions are naive: I find this whole area of thought a stumbling block. I'm busy learning logic as we speak, but the relation between logic and natural language is a different question altogether.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    Are truth-conditional propositions a significant part of the everyday use of language? I don't think they are but I'm game to be dissuaded.mcdoodle

    ???

    Yes, of course they are, they're a huge part. I'm not sure why you would think otherwise?

    I don't understand how 'the same sort of theory' extends beyond assertions to language that is not assertion-like. If a speaker is not making truth-conditional remarks, in what way have truth-conditions anything to do with it?mcdoodle

    Because even things without truth conditions share a compositional semantics with things that do, like commands and questions. And even things that don't even share that much are embraced by a common speech act theory, of which assertion is only one part.
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    Are truth-conditional propositions a significant part of the everyday use of language? I don't think they are but I'm game to be dissuaded. — Me
    ???

    Yes, of course they are, they're a huge part. I'm not sure why you would think otherwise?
    The Great Whatever
    Well, as I said, I've been a fiction writer most of my life, listening to then constructing dialogue. I feel speakers and hearers agree on the need for plausibility, much of the time, but truth-conditions rarely obtain. Truth-to-the-world-around-us is often in the background of talk, in my understanding, but is rarely a foreground matter. The sorts of condescending sentences that philosophers often quote are usually what one would say to a child, or to a foreigner learning the language. In life the redness of the door or the greenness of the grass are just assumed, while my wife tells me about her journey, with the little exaggerations that I know to disregard, because the essence of our talk is emotional and active. How shall I react? How shall I speak in reply? What does she want of me? How shall we move on? Whose wants will be satisfied, who will compromise?

    Drama is what language is a part of. In my experience truth-telling or speaking with truth conditions has little role in drama. We make moves, tell each other stories, play games with each other, follow rituals then subvert them. I don't mean that we don't tell the truth sometimes, but that truth-telling isn't important. Is there empirical evidence that it is? Or is it just what people of a philosophical bent assume?

    In institutional settings like work or study or the dole office or friendship settings like the bar or the bus, in all of them I don't see that people are bothered about truth-conditions except very occasionally. We're all dealing with accepted/received wisdom, the conventions of friends/work, the boundaries of the acceptable, what we want and what they want.

    Well, that's how I see it. perhaps I seem very jaundiced or something! Anyway, I must to bed. I found this interesting Scott Soames anti-Davidson paper if anyone's interested, legit as it's on Soames's own institutional website: http://dornsife.usc.edu/assets/sites/678/docs/Selected_Publication/Truth_and_Meaning.pdf
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