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.
Antinomies involving the assertibility modal arise when we consider what are called “syntactic interpretations” of the assertibility operator A, translation schemes in which the operator is interpreted in terms of a monadic predicate in the nonmodal fragment of the language. Such a translation scheme, of course, is nothing more than a systematic attempt to replace the assertibility modality by a concept, and trouble tends to arise precisely when the concept is too truthlike. In this chapter, a number of paradoxical syntactic interpretations of the assertibility modality are explored. In each case, the paradox consists in an inconsistency affecting the syntactic transcription of certain apparently unexceptionable combinations of modal principles concerning the assertibility operator. It is argued that the modal construal of the notion of assertibility is fundamental, and a standard model theoretic semantics is presented for it. I finally suggest that an assertibility predicate for a language L with the assertibility operator be recovered at the metalinguistic level: a sentence p will be said to be assertible in L if and only if the sentence Ap is true in L, with the result that the alternative forms for a theory of the assertibility property in L exactly mirror the alternative forms for a theory of truth for L. Some consequences of these observations for the philosophy of mathematics are explored.
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.
This chapter explores the prospects for justifying the somewhat widespread, somewhat firmly held sense that there is some moral advantage to untruthfully implicating over lying. The author calls this the “Difference Intuition.” The author defines lying in terms of asserting but remains open about what precise definition best captures our ordinary notion. The author defines implicating as one way of meaning something without asserting it. The author narrows down the kind of untruthful implicating that should be compared with lying for purposes of evaluating whether there is a moral difference between them. Just as lying requires a robust form of assertion, so the kind of untruthful implicating to be compared with lying requires a robust form of implicating. Next, the author sets out various ways of sharpening the Difference Intuition and surveys a range of approaches to justifying one class of sharpenings. The author finishes by sketching an approach to justifying an alternative sharpening of the Difference Intuition, which is inspired by John Stuart Mill’s discussion of lying.
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.
This chapter defends the view that research about language and communication should not appeal to anything that falls under the label “assertion.” According to the No-Assertion view (Cappelen 2011), what philosophers have tried to capture by the term “assertion” is largely a philosopher’s invention. It fails to pick out an act type that we engage in, and it is not a category we need in order to explain any important component of our linguistic practice. The phenomena that theories of assertion aim to explain are better accounted for by appeal to the notion of what is said. Sayings are governed by variable norms, come with variable commitments, and have variable causes and effects. This chapter outlines the No-Assertion view, presents some of the core arguments in favor of it, and responds to some criticisms.
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.
In his short article “On Bullshit” (1986, republished as a book in 2005), Harry Frankfurt diagnoses a distinctive problem of contemporary culture: that so much of it is bullshit. Today, bullshit abounds in advertising, politics, the media, and the academy; for this, Frankfurt blames the mass media, advertising, the party political system, and some currents in academic thought (notably postmodernism). More than diagnose a widespread problem, however, in “On Bullshit” Frankfurt develops a theoretical account of the nature of bullshit. In his account, Frankfurt holds that bullshit is, like lying, a dishonest assertion; however, he makes clear how bullshitting is different from lying and holds (startlingly) that bullshit is more dishonest than lying. In this chapter I consider bullshit as a distinct perversion of assertion next to lying. I hold that understanding bullshit and lying as perversions of assertion sheds light on assertion and how it functions.
When a group or institution issues a declarative statement, what sort of speech act is this? Is it the assertion of a single individual (perhaps the group’s spokesperson or leader) or the assertion of all or most of the group members? Or is there a sense in which the group itself asserts that p? If assertion is a speech act, then who is the actor in the case of group assertion? These are the questions this chapter aims to address. Whether groups themselves can make assertions or whether a group of individuals can jointly assert that p depends, in part, on what sort of speech act assertion is. The literature on assertion has burgeoned over the past few years, and there is a great deal of debate regarding the nature of assertion. John MacFarlane has helpfully identified four theories of assertion. Following Sandy Goldberg, we can call these the attitudinal account, the constitutive rule account, the common-ground account, and the commitment account. I shall consider what group assertion might look like under each of these accounts and doing so will help us to examine some of the accounts of group assertion (often presented as theories of group testimony) on offer. I shall argue that, of the four accounts, the commitment account can best be extended to make sense of group assertion in all its various forms.
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.
According to commitment accounts of assertion, asserting is committing oneself to something’s being the case, where such commitment is understood in terms of norms governing a social practice. Sections 1 and 2 of this chapter elaborate and compare two types of commitment account, liability accounts (associated with C. S. Peirce) and dialectical norm accounts (associated with Robert Brandom), concluding that the latter are more defensible. Section 3 argues that both types possess an advantage over rival normative accounts of assertion in that they needn’t presuppose any notion of an assertion’s correctness. Section 4 shows how dialectical norm accounts can explain relations between assertion and truth. Section 5 sets forth objections that have been raised against commitment accounts, and argues that responses are available on behalf of dialectical norm accounts. Section 6 proposes that a liberalized dialectical norm account can illuminate phenomena sometimes seen as supporting truth relativism.
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.