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.
Mitchell S. Green
In light of a view of assertion as a product of cultural evolution, we disentangle a number of distinct questions that might be raised concerning the relation of assertion to convention and lay down eight benchmarks that any viable theory of assertion should respect. We next consider two well-known forms of conventionalism about speech acts, that of Millikan and that associated with Austin and Searle, showing why neither approach is viable. We go on to develop two positive accounts of assertion, one in terms of belief expression, the other in terms of commitment, neither of which requires what we shall term “extra-semantic conventions.” From there we consider two recent defenses of a form of conventionalism offered by Stainton (2016) and Jary (this volume), showing that neither succeeds in its aim. The lesson that we may draw from the failure of these arguments is that assertion is facilitated by, but does not crucially rely on, extra-semantic conventions.
This article discusses three issues about the relations between fiction and assertion that have figured prominently in recent debates. In the first section, it addresses questions about assertions in connection with fiction raised by the standard occurrence of prima facie empty referential expressions in fictions. In the second, it considers whether fictions can make assertions, or related assertoric acts. The third and final section explores the possible effects that this would pose for the distinction between fiction and non-fiction.
William S. Horton
Pragmatic accounts of assertion commonly assume that language users engage in some form of mindreading. For example, Stalnaker proposed that the critical context for any assertion is the set of pragmatic presuppositions that can be taken as shared between speaker and addressee—that is, their common ground. From a cognitive psychological perspective, though, the processing and representational requirements of considering common ground are substantial. This chapter considers several cognitively oriented descriptions of mindreading in communication, contrasting the metarepresentational requirements of speaker meaning with the more general psychological construct of false belief in theory of mind. Ultimately, the cognitive demands of real-time conversation may circumscribe the ability of language users to engage in sophisticated forms of mindreading during the communication of assertion.
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.
Austin argued that asserting is a family of four systematically related illocutionary acts: that, when we assert, we are always either Calling an item something, or Describing an item as something, or Exemplifying an item as something, or Classing an item as one thing rather than another. In this chapter, the author argues that each of these four assertive illocutionary acts implies a characteristic knowing of an item; that there are four ways to know an item, each way providing justification for one kind of asserting. If we assert something about an item and are challenged—if we are asked How do you know?—we justify our asserting in terms of the knowledge of the item that our asserting implied. By focusing on the question of how we know, this chapter attempts to clarify the relationship between our common assertive practices and the knowledge we bring to it.
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.