Posts Chapter 4 Propositions and Their Neighbors

Chapter 4 Propositions and Their Neighbors


Philosophers of the realist persuasion have claimed that propositions are also abstract entities. They describe propositions as language-independent and mind-independent abstract entities that function as the objects of acts of assertion/denial and acts of thinking. They are also the referents of that-clauses and they are the primary bearers of truth values.

Those skeptical to this notion claim that we can accommodate all the phenomena of interest without introducing propositions into our ontology.

Some other entities realists state are facts, states of affairs and events.

The Traditional Theory of Propositions

Take the following statement,

(1) Socrates is courageous.

We have looked at this sentence before with a simple look at a subject, Socrates, and some another universal - the property of courage. But a realist will insist that our speaker is doing more than just uttering some words, but they’re performing a referring act. Realists believe that this act of assertion deny that this is some sort of sentence or refers to the objects.

When it comes to an asserting, there must be a required speaker to be identified,

(2) Chris asserts that Socrates is courageous.

With the changed sentence we’ve identified the speaker with a that-clause. This concept also applies to thoughts as well.

(3) Hillary doubts Bill Clinton will be reelected.

The odd aspect of this whole argument by realists is that they have stated that these propositions are language-independent and mind-independent abstract entities. This means that one doesn’t have to think or assert these propositions for them to exist.

Whether there is a proposition has been said or thought, it exists forever and is available to a person to say or think.

These propositional attitudes are bearers of truth values, necessarily or essentially. A proposition like two plus two equals four is necessarily true because it fails to ever be false. Another proposition such as a triangle has four sides is necessarily false because it is impossible to be true. Other propositions such as Trump is President is contingently true because they are true, but as a proposition they could be false. There will be a time when Trump isn’t President and the proposition will no longer be true. The same holds for Trump is the President of France is contingently false because it is false, but there is a possibility it may be true.

Nominalism about Propositions

Nominalists have a lot of the same critiques that were discussed in early chapters, such as the bloated ontology and this “two-world” ontology where you have things that aren’t really physical. It’s no surprise that the idea of a proposition as an entity is not something a nominalist likes.

The big critique is the notion that these propositions are merely are merely metalinguistic claims, which are claims about sentences. One argument is the idea of a sentence being used to express a truth and falsehood, that something other than the sentence itself is the primary truth vehicle. Take the sentence,

(4) I am going where you have just been.

In some contexts this will be truth and in others it will be false. Metalinguistic followers deny that this sentence can be any sort of truth vehicle.

Facts, States of Affairs, and Events

Metaphysicians that defend the proposition ontology will often claim there are entities like facts, states of affairs, and events.

Facts: are the things in the world that make true propositions true.

States of Affairs: are things like Big Ben’s being the tallest structure at Westminster. They are situations, the sorts of things that have essentially or necessarily the property of obtaining or failing to obtain. Some states of affair obtain necessarily such as two plus two’s equaling four. Others obtain contingently such as Bill Clinton being a slow runner. Other contingently fail, such as the Patriots winning the Superbowl.

Events: not everyone thinks that events is a separate ontological category from states of affairs, but Donald Davidson has a view. He believes that we need events to function as the terms of the causal relation and to provide an account of the behavior of adverbs in sentences like,

(5) The water boiled quickly in the kitchen this morning.


I’ll admit that this was a harder chapter to summarize as notes for this page. As it isn’t a big deal to read, but I always find this sort of linguistic based argument to be so convoluted and stupid. I enjoyed the epistemology book that I read, but I’ve found there is more linguistic elements involved in the discussion of metaphysics.

All Rights Reserved.