Teaching & Learning Guide for: Recent Work on Structured Meaning and Propositional Unity

Authors


Abstract

This guide accompanies the following article: Bjørn Jespersen, ‘Recent Work on Structured Meaning and Propositional Unity’. Philosophy Compass 7/9 (2012): pp. 620–630, doi:10.1111/j.1747-9991.2012.00509.x

1. Author’s Introduction

It is becoming increasingly common to appeal to structured meanings in logical semantics. Among the key motives driving the invocation of structure are the need for fine-grained meanings, a near-match between syntactic and semantic structure, and a robust notion of aboutness. For instance, a sentence is about an object o, provided a part of the meaning of the sentence is either o or else picks out o. Despite its progress, the new orthodoxy of structured meaning has at least two major outstanding issues. One is the granularity of the individuation of structures. If S, S’ are structures, the question is how similar S, S’ can be without being identified as one structure. In particular, if S, S’ share the same proper parts, are S, S’ identical? The other outstanding issue is the unity of structures. If P is a structured proposition, then what unifies the particular, and perhaps ontologically disparate, constituent components of P into one unit, which has properties none of its parts could have? In the simplest statement of the unity problem, if a is an individual and F a property, how do a, F combine into the proposition P that a is an F? Neither a nor F is capable of being true/false and being or having or representing a truth-condition: only P is. The present paper explains the nature of these two problems and offers a critical discussion of various theories of structured meaning and propositional unity that have recently been put forward. The paper also brings up Plato, Frege and Russell for historical background.

2. Author Recommends

Cresswell, M.J. (1975), ‘Hyperintensional logic’, Studia Logica, 34: 25–38.

This is the locus where Cresswell coins the phrase ‘hyperintensional’ for any individuation of logical entities such as propositions that is finer than logical equivalence (which is the principle of individuation found in possible-world semantics). Cresswell suggests sensitivity to structure as a means to obtain hyperintensional individuation.

Cresswell, M.J. (1985), Structured Meanings, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Cresswell puts forward a theory of structured meaning in this book. However, the notion of structure is elaborated in terms of set-theoretic sequences (ordered n-tuples), which are arguably neither structures nor propositions.

Duží, M., B. Jespersen, P. Materna (2010), Procedural Semantics for Hyperintensional Logic, LEUS, vol. 17, Berlin: Springer.

This book offers what is currently the most detailed and worked-out theory of structured meaning. The outline of propositional unity found in the present Compass paper is continuous with that theory of structured meaning.

Frege, G. (1923), ‘Gedankengefüge’, Beiträge zur Philosophie des deutschen Idealismus, 3: 36–51.

Frege, G. (1892), ‘Über Begriff und Gegenstand’, Vierteljahrschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie, 16: 192–205.

These are two of the classical loci where Frege discusses structured meaning and how what he calls saturated objects (and derivatively terms for them) saturate unsaturated objects to obtain other saturated objects.

Gaskin, R. (2008), The Unity of the Proposition, New York: Oxford University Press.

This book has generated new interest in the age-old problem of propositional unity. It provides a much-welcomed historical overview, while its systematic parts are perhaps less convincing.

Hanks, P.W. (2011), ‘Structured propositions as types’, Mind, 120: 11–52.

Hanks outlines an interesting view of propositions as act types of predication within a broadly Russellian framework. Much foundational work remains to be done, but Hanks’ theory marks a welcome alternative to the stale opposition between ‘Russellian’ and ‘Fregean’ approaches. I agree with Hanks that predication and procedure (act type) must be the cornerstones of a viable theory of structured propositions and propositional unity.

King, J.C. (2007), The Nature and Structure of Content, New York: Oxford University Press.

King sets out to continue Russell’s program from (1903), according to which both concrete particulars like people and planets and abstract universals like properties and relations can be constituents of propositions, with relations acting as propositional unifiers. King holds that propositional, or semantic, structure emanates out of syntactic structure, one result of which is that propositions owe their existence to the existence of syntax. The book probably makes the most of a broadly Russellian approach.

Russell, B. (1903), Principles of Mathematics, New York: Norton.

Current theories of Russellian propositions draw inspiration from this book, even though Russell does not present a full-fledged theory of propositions.

3. Online Materials

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/propositions-structured/

http://philpapers.org/browse/the-unity-of-the-proposition

4. Sample Syllabus

First half of course: Background and foundations.

The 1904 correspondence between Frege and Russell concerning Mt Blanc (etc.).

Selected parts from Russell, B. (1903), Principles of Mathematics, New York: Norton.

Frege, G. (1892), ‘Über Begriff und Gegenstand’, Vierteljahrschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie, 16: 192–205.

Frege, G. (1923), ‘Gedankengefüge’, Beiträge zur Philosophie des deutschen Idealismus, 3: 36–51.

The early parts of Carnap, R. (1947), Meaning and Necessity, Chicago: Chicago UP.

The first chapters from Gaskin, R. (2008), The Unity of the Proposition, New York: Oxford University Press.

Heck, R.G., Jr. and R. May (2011), ‘The composition of thoughts’, Nous, 45: 126–66.

Pelham, J. and A. Urquhart (1994), ‘Russellian propositions’, in: LMPS IX, D. Prawitz et al. (eds.): 307–26.

Selections from Simons, P. (1987), Parts, New York: Oxford UP for background on mereology (the theory of parts and wholes).

Selections from Harte, V. (2002), Plato on Parts and Wholes, Oxford: Oxford UP.

Jespersen, B. (2012), ‘Recent work on structured meaning and propositional unity’, Philosophy Compass.

Jespersen, B. (2010), ‘How hyper are hyperpropositions?’, Language and Linguistics Compass, 4: 96–106.

Second half of course: Contemporary theories. In-depth readings of large selections from:

Bealer, G. (1982), Quality and Concept, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Cresswell, M.J. (1985), Structured Meanings, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Duží, M., B. Jespersen, P. Materna (2010), Procedural Semantics for Hyperintensional Logic, LEUS, vol. 17, Berlin: Springer.

King, J.C. (2007), The Nature and Structure of Content, New York: Oxford University Press.

Zalta, E. (1983), Abstract Objects, Dordrecht: D. Reidel.

5. Focus Questions

  • 1 What are the characteristics of a broadly Fregean notion of meaning, especially of sentential meaning?
  • 2 What are the characteristics of a broadly Russellian notion of meaning, especially of sentential meaning?
  • 3 What are the major pros and cons of possible-world semantics?
  • 4 In what ways can the notion of structure help us to a notion of fine-grained meaning?
  • 5 What is the problem of the unity of the proposition in its mereological and semantic versions?

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