DISSERTATION SEMINAR

Abstract

What is the meaning of a sentence? Here are two plausible characterizations: (1) In communication speakers assert sentences and thereby express their beliefs. Call the meaning of our assertions assertoric content. (2) Formal semantic theories assigns meanings (relative to contexts) to the sentences of the language, in accordance with the principle of compositionality. Call the meanings so assigned semantic values.  What is the relation between assertoric content and compositional semantic value? In order to assess the explanatory role of compositional semantics in an overall theory of communication, we need to answer this question. Traditionally, the answer ha been that assertoric content and semantic values are the same thing, namely the proposition expressed by a sentence in context. This enables a simple and straighforward explanatory role for formal semantics in a theory of communication. However, faced with problem-cases where sentences that (intuitively) have the same assertoric content can be shown to have different semantic values, an increasingly popular view is that we should distinguish assertoric content from semantic values. The idea goes back to Dummett (1973) and Lewis (1980), and has recently been defended by e.g. Ninan (2010), Rabern (2012) and Yalcin (2014). As a consequence, the relation between formal semantics and an explanation of communication becomes more complex. My dissertation assesses the arguments for, and the consequences of, distinguishing assertoric content and compositional semantc value.   

 

In the first half of the talk I give a general introduction to the topic of the dissertation, and provide some historical and thematic background. In the second part of the talk I present the main arguments from chapters 4 and 5 in my thesis in some detail. The main question there is whether content as defined by David Kaplan in his seminal ’Demonstratives’ (Kaplan, 1989)  can serve as assertoric content. I critizise an argument by Marc Richard (1981) to the conclusion that it cannot. I also present what I take to be a better a better argument for the conclusion that Kaplanian content is not what we assert and believe. I also consider (and reject) a potential objection to my argument.