Theories of Aboutness

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 96 (4):697-723 (2018)
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Our topic is the theory of topics. My goal is to clarify and evaluate three competing traditions: what I call the way-based approach, the atom-based approach, and the subject-predicate approach. I develop criteria for adequacy using robust linguistic intuitions that feature prominently in the literature. Then I evaluate the extent to which various existing theories satisfy these constraints. I conclude that recent theories due to Parry, Perry, Lewis, and Yablo do not meet the constraints in total. I then introduce the issue-based theory—a novel and natural entry in the atom-based tradition that meets our constraints. In a coda, I categorize a recent theory from Fine as atom-based, and contrast it to the issue-based theory, concluding that they are evenly matched, relative to our main criteria of adequacy. I offer tentative reasons to nevertheless favour the issue-based theory.
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