In the Red Corner …

25 12 2007

bargeld.jpgWe proudly present: The “official” theme song of our project. The German band Einstürzende Neubauten wrote a ‘because’-theme. You can listen to it on this page (unfortunately, there is only a German version; indeed, an English translation would presumably corrupt the metrics).

The Fear of Metaphysics

19 12 2007

Finally, the threat that philosophy poses to the people has been realized. Henceforth, metaphysical content will rank beside violence, depiction of sexual congress or nudity, etc. as a danger for the welfare of children.

You don’t think so? Then read the New York Times’s review of Coppola’s new movie “Youth Without Youth”.

New Journal: Semantics & Pragmatics

28 11 2007

The new journal Semantics & Pragmatics is now accepting submissions. The journal, editetd by Kai von Fintel and David Beaver, is peer-reviewed and open access and has managed to assemble a very impressive team. You can find the journal’s website here and the editors’ blog here. Good luck S&P!

Posted by Miguel.

Schlick’s Chair

27 11 2007

I just stumbled across the following passage from Moritz Schlick’s “Form and Content” (1932):

I might use a chair in my room, for instance, as a means of saying anything I like. All I need to do is to select a number of different positions of the chair in the room and agree that each one shall correspond to a letter of the alphabet. By this agreement I shall have constructed a new language which will consist in changing the position of the chair; and by moving it about in the room I shall be able to express all the plays of Shakespeare with the same perfection as the best of the printed editions. (p. 288)

It is quite amusing to picture Schlick wildly moving his chair around his office to “read”, say, a passage from Macbeth. I wonder whether Carnap would have stayed and “listened”. On a more serious note, though, Schlick seems to be quite wrong when he says that he has created a new language. But what has he done? In a way, I guess, he has created, not a new language, but merely a new set of letters. His chair’s standing in the relevant position stands to the letter A as, e.g., “A”, “A” and “A” stand to it.

Posted by Miguel.

Can Truth Conditional Semantics Explain Linguistic Competence?

24 11 2007

[The issue of this post has been discussed by Jeff Speaks in a recent paper here. Hence, even though I am setting things up in a different manner and with a different target, I am not claiming originality on the main point. Speaks’ point deserves reiteration since it raises a challenge that has not been sufficiently addressed by proponents of truth conditional semantics. Another sidenote: a more precise title for this post would be: “Can TCS explain *the possibility of* linguistic competence?”. But it just looked too awful with such a long heading…]

Natural languages are infinite. Human beings are finite. Yet humans are competent with natural languages. A finite being cannot learn, one by one, what each of the infinitely many expressions of a language means. How is it possible that a finite being acquires competence with an infinite language? The task of answering this question is one of the central themes that drive the truth conditional project. Hence, if it turned out that truth conditional semantics (TCS) cannot provide a satisfying answer that should be worrisome to the Davidsonian. This post is about whether the Davidsonian should be worried. In the end, I believe, she should. Read the rest of this entry »

Grades of Truth-functionality

21 11 2007

Truth-functionality is a notion at the heart of classic propositional logic. A standard explication of the notion runs roughly as follows:

An n-ary connective C is truth-functional iff it corresponds to a truth-function.

More precisely, C is truth-functional iff there is a mapping from the truth-values of any n sentences S1 … Sn to the truth-value of the concatenation of C with S1 … Sn.

According to that explication, the following operators are equally truth-functional:

T It is true that …

TF It is either true or false that …

EX It is expressible in English that …

The two latter operators are only special in corresponding to a constant truth-function, namely the function that maps both True and False unto True.

But one may sense an important difference between TF and EX: the former connective actually operates on the truth-values of the embedded sentence such that the truth-value of the complex sentence is a result of that operation. But the latter connective does not operate on the truth-value of the embedded sentence at all. That it corresponds to a constant truth-function is not the result of its being sensitive to the truth-value of the embedded sentence; in some sense, it does not depend on that truth-value.

A definition of truth-functionality that captures the described difference between TF and EX can be given in terms of the explanatory connective ‘because of’:

An n-ary connective C is truth-functional iff the concatenation of C with any sentences S1 … Sn has the truth-value it has because of the truth-values of S1 … Sn.

This definition will classify the standard connectices of propositional logic as truth-functional (a true negation, for instance, is true because the negated sentence is false, and a false negation is false because the negated sentence is true). And it also classifies TF as truth-functional (‘It is either true or false that snow is white’ is true because ‘Snow is white’ is true; had the latter been false, then the former had been true because of that.)

But EX does not count as truth-functional in the defined sense (‘It is expressible in English that snow is white’ is true, but not because ‘Snow is white’ is true).

While I do not think that these considerations show that the standard definition of truth-functionality is in any way flawed (it is a technical notion after all), the alternative definition captures differences between operators that might as well be associated with the term ‘truth-functional’.

(See the papers-section for a more detailed exposition of my proposal.)

Posted by Benjamin.

Logical Symbols in HTML

12 11 2007

In case you want to include some logical symbols in your posts and / or comments, you can use the converter for funny characters. Simply click on the appropriate symbol and you will get the corresponding html code. (Found via Theorem(e).)

Posted by Miguel.