‘In Defence of Sententialism’

Dialectica 68 (4):581-603 (2014)
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Propositional attitude sentences, such as (1) Pierre believes that snow is white, have proved to be formidably difficult to account for in a semantic theory. It is generally agreed that the that-clause ‘that snow is white’ purports to refer to the proposition that snow is white, but no agreement has been reached on what this proposition is. Sententialism is a semantic theory which tries to undermine the very enterprise of understanding what proposition is referred to in (1): according to sententialists, in (1) reference is made to the sentence “Snow is white”. Sententialism is generally considered doomed. The two main reasons why are the famous translation argument, firstly suggested by Alonzo Church, and a problem raised by Stephen Schiffer. The purpose of this paper is to provide a unified solution to both criticisms. What I take to be the key ingredient sententialists may exploit is an observation that concerns the nature of languages and quotations: since quotation marks display the quoted material, if you are a speaker of the language the quoted material belongs to, you usually cannot but understand what is quoted. Moreover, I show that sententialists may appeal to that very observation also in order to answer another problem, pointed out by Kent Bach. I conclude that there are good reasons for resisting the temptation of introducing propositions in order to account for propositional attitude sentences.
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