The tradition descending from Frege and Russell has typically treated theories of meaning either as theories of meanings (propositions expressed), or as theories of truth conditions. However, propositions of the classical sort don't exist, and truth conditions can't provide all the information required by a theory of meaning. In this book, one of the world's leading philosophers of language offers a way out of this dilemma.
Traditionally conceived, propositions are denizens of a "third realm" beyond mind and matter, "grasped" by mysterious Platonic intuition. As conceived here, they are cognitive-event types in which agents predicate properties and relations of thingsin using language, in perception, and in nonlinguistic thought. Because of this, one's acquaintance with, and knowledge of, propositions is acquaintance with, and knowledge of, events of one's cognitive life. This view also solves the problem of "the unity of the proposition" by explaining how propositions can be genuinely representational, and therefore bearers of truth. The problem, in the traditional conception, is that sentences, utterances, and mental states are representational because of the relations they bear to inherently representational Platonic complexes of universals and particulars. Since we have no way of understanding how such structures can be representational, independent of interpretations placed on them by agents, the problem is unsolvable when so conceived. However, when propositions are taken to be cognitive-event types, the order of explanation is reversed and a natural solution emerges. Propositions are representational because they are constitutively related to inherently representational cognitive acts.
Strikingly original, What Is Meaning? is a major advance.
About the Author
Scott Soames is professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. His books include Philosophy of Language, Philosophical Essays, Reference and Description, and Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century (all Princeton).
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Meanings 1
Chapter 2: Frege and Russell: The Real Problem of "the Unity of the Proposition" 11
Chapter 3: Why Truth Conditions Are Not Enough 33
Chapter 4: Propositions and Attitudes: Davidson's Challenge and Russell's Neglected Insight 49
Chapter 5: Toward a Theory of Propositions: A Deflationary Account 69
Chapter 6: The Cognitive-Realist Theory of Propositions 99
Chapter 7: Expanding the Cognitive-Realist Model 109
What People are Saying About This
This is a highly original book from a major figure in the philosophy of language. Scott Soames approaches classic problems about intentionality and the unity of the proposition in a new way. The writing and argumentation are admirably clear and straightforward, and there are careful historical discussions. This book makes an important contribution.
Robert Stalnaker, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
In this short book, Scott Soames makes a major contribution to the general theory of meaning. Along the way he provides a beautiful, concise critical account of several previous attempts to formulate such a theory. What Is Meaning? will be required reading for serious researchers in philosophical and linguistic semantics. It will also serve as a brief introduction to the theory of meaning for students in both fields.
Gilbert Harman, Princeton University