The existence and nature of the a priori are defining issues for philosophy. A philosopher's attitude to the a priori is a touchstone for his whole approach to the subject. Sometimes, as in Kant's critical philosophy, or in Quine's epistemology, a major new position emerges from reflection on questions that explicitly involve the notions of the a priori or the empirical. But even when no explicit use is made of the notion of the a priori in the questions addressed, a philosopher's methodology, the range of considerations to which the philosopher is open, his conception of the goals of the subject, his idea of what is involved in justification — all of these cannot fail to involve commitments about the nature and the existence of the a priori. So understanding the a priori is of interest in itself.
This chapter discusses Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s philosophical reflections on ars characteristica (“characteristic art,” the art of forming and arranging characters so that they agree with thoughts), logical calculus, and natural languages. It begins by providing an overview of Leibniz’s project for a universal language, his division of general science into analysis and synthesis, and his investigations on grammar. It then considers Leibniz’s notion of natural language in relation to words and particles, the logic of propositions, real addition and mereology, and the nature and origin of historical language based on the concepts of affect, onomatopoeia, and cases and circumstances. Finally, the article examines Leibniz’s views on artificial language and the nature of monads.
This article describes the concept of ascriber contextualism in relation to skepticism. It explains that ascriber contextualism in epistemology is the view that the truth conditions for sentences containing “know” and its cognates are context sensitive. It discusses the motivations for contextualism, skeptical paradoxes, the mechanism of context shifting, and sensitive moderate invariantism (SMI). It also comments on objections to ascriber contextualism and SMI.
Mitchell S. Green
Assertion is here approached as a social practice developed through cultural evolution. This perspective will facilitate inquiry into questions concerning what role assertion plays in communicative life, what norms it is subject to, and whether every viable linguistic community must have a practice of assertion. The author’s evolutionary perspective will further enable us to ask how assertion relates to other communicative practices such as conversational implicature, indirect speech acts, presupposition, and, more broadly, the kinematics of conversation. It will also motivate a resolution of debates between conventionalist and intentionalist approaches to this speech act by explaining how those who make assertions can embody their intentions to perform an act of a certain kind. The chapter closes with a discussion of how assertoric practice can be compromised by patterns of malfeasance on the part of a speaker and by injustice within her milieu.
Ludwig Wittgenstein responds in his Notes on Logic to a discussion of Bertrand Russell's 1903 Principles of Mathematics concerning assertion. In Principles of Mathematics, Russell makes a distinction between asserted and unasserted propositions. Whilst this distinction is not given a fully worked-out account, Russell sees it as a point of considerable theoretical importance. It is introduced in the context of a separation by Russell of modus ponens from the proposition that ‘if p and q be propositions then p together with p implies q’. In reply to Russell, Wittgenstein argues that ‘Assertion is merely psychological. In not-p, p is exactly the same as if it stands alone; this point is absolutely fundamental’. Wittgenstein's response is intriguing, not least because of the centrality to his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus of the idea that a proposition says something.
How does causation enter the picture? Belief is a state shaped by the world, a state that seeks to fit the world; desire is a state that shapes the world, that seeks to make the world fit it. Both metaphors are compelling and are loaded with causality. We often use ‘reference’ for the relation between thought and world. We often use ‘content’ for how things have to be for, for example, a belief with that content to be true and a desire with that content satisfied. In these terms, the tradition of seeking to understand aboutness in causal terms is the tradition of seeking causal accounts of reference and content.
The question of whether natural languages have compositional semantics continues to attract considerable interest, as do questions about the reasons for wanting compositionality, the consequences of compositionality, and the very formulation of the principle of compositionality. This article begins by developing a precise definition of compositionality. In this article some technical consequences of that definition are explored. The article then examines two compositionally problematic semantic phenomena, and proposes compositional treatments thereof. The last section closes by asking why one might want a compositional meaning theory, and attempting to explain the philosophical significance of compositionality.
The first virtue of the rough characterization of concepts in terms of ways of thinking of objects and properties, and their role in that-clauses, is that it highlights the relation between concepts and reference. The second virtue of the initial characterization is that it establishes the prima facie relevance of what has come to be called Frege's Principle in the individuation of concepts. A third virtue of the initial characterization is that it brings out a phenomenon whose significance is insufficiently appreciated. There is a phenomenon of productivity for thought about mental states that is just as striking as the original phenomenon of the productivity of conceptual thought about the non-mental world.
Mark Greenberg and Gilbert Harman
Conceptual role semantics (CRS) is the view that the meanings of expressions of a language (or other symbol system) or the contents of mental states are determined or explained by the role of the expressions or mental states in thinking. The theory can be taken to be applicable to language in the ordinary sense, to mental representations, conceived of either as symbols in a ‘language of thought’ or as mental states such as beliefs, or to certain other sorts of symbol systems. CRS rejects the competing idea that thoughts have intrinsic content that is prior to the use of concepts in thought. According to CRS, meaning and content derive from use, not the other way round.
This article, which is concerned with counterfactuals insofar as they relate to causal inference about singular events, concentrates on counterfactuals that are closely connected to claims about actual causation. The claims about actual causation are important in the social sciences and the counterfactual approach to actual causation is a significant one, even if it is not universally valid. In David Lewis's account, the notion of natural law plays a crucial role. Social science counterfactuals sometimes involve backtracking. The article then introduces a (philosophical) theory of counterfactuals that makes use of causal modeling tools. Furthermore, the problems of circularity, backtracking, actual causation, and indeterminacy are the four problems that trouble the theory of counterfactuals. It is noted that the counterfactuals are useful for purposes other than causal inference. Counterfactual speculation may sometimes be the only way to make causal inferences about singular events.