The Truth and Nothing but the Truth: Non-Literalism and The Habits of Sherlock Holmes

Southwest Philosophy Review 36 (2) (2020)
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Abstract

Abstract: Many, if not most philosophers, deny that a sentence like ‘Sherlock Holmes smokes’ could be true. However, this attitude conflicts with the assignment of true to that sentence by natural language speakers. Furthermore, this process of assigning truth values to sentences like ‘Sherlock Holes smokes’ seems indistinguishable from the process that leads speakers to assign true to other sentences, those like ‘Bertrand Russell smokes’. I will explore the idea that when speakers assign the value true to the first sentence, they are not mistaken or confused — that we ought to take these assignments at face value. I show how the most popular alternative to this idea is inadequate for explaining various sentences involving fictional names. In addition, I offer evidence that these truth value assignments to sentences are tracking semantic content rather than pragmatic effects.

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