An empirically-informed cognitive theory of propositions

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 43 (5):534-557 (2013)
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Scott Soames has recently argued that traditional accounts of propositions as n-tuples or sets of objects and properties or functions from worlds to extensions cannot adequately explain how these abstract entities come to represent the world. Soames’ new cognitive theory solves this problem by taking propositions to be derived from agents representing the world to be a certain way. Agents represent the world to be a certain way, for example, when they engage in the cognitive act of predicating, or cognizing, an act that takes place during cognitive events, such as perceiving, believing, judging and asserting. On the cognitive theory, propositions just are act types involving the act of predicating and certain other mental operations. This theory, Soames argues, solves not only the problem of how propositions come to represent but also a number of other difficulties for traditional theories, including the problem of de se propositions and the problems of accounting for how agents are capable of grasping propositions and how they come to stand in the relation of expression to sentences. I argue here that Soames’ particular version of the cognitive theory makes two problematic assumptions about cognitive operations and the contents of proper names. I then briefly examine what can count as evidence for the nature of the constituents of the cognitive operation types that produce propositions and argue that the common nature of cognitive operations and what they operate on ought to be determined empirically in cross-disciplinary work. I conclude by offering a semantics for cognitive act types that accommodates one type of empirical evidence.

Author's Profile

Berit Brogaard
University of Miami


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