I'm thinking about this problem and getting increasingly frustrated by the way in which it's discussed in philosophy. I wonder if you have any ideas. Let me explain what bothers me . . .
Typically, philosophers begin with the idea that 'the proposition' needs to be explained or characterized in some special way that will solve the alleged problem. So Frege had his unsaturated concepts, Russell worried about the relating relation, etc. And nowadays there is this vast literature about structured or unstructured propositions, acts of predication, etc.
I don't understand how anything of this kind could possibly help. To explain, I take it that the most basic and intuitive problem here is really the problem of the nature of thought. At least that is the most natural and paradigm case: I think that a is F, and now we ask what is going on in my mental life that makes that happen. How is it even possible? But when we posit these mysterious entities, propositions, as the objects or contents of thoughts we're just pushing the question back.
I agree that introducing propositions only pushes the problem back. But what exactly is the problem? The problem is to provide a satisfying answer to the following question: In virtue of what do some strings of words attract a truth-value? A truth-valued declarative sentence is more than a list of its constituent words, and (obviously) more than each item on the list. A list of words is neither true nor false. But an assertively uttered declarative sentence is either true or false. For example,
Tom is tired
when assertively uttered or otherwise appropriately tokened is either true or false. But the list
Tom, is, tired
is not either true or false. And yet we have the same words in the sentence and in the list in the same order. There is more to the sentence than its words whether these are taken distributively or collectively. How shall we account for this 'more'?
Some will say that the sentence is true or false in virtue of expressing a proposition that is true or false. On this account, the primary truth-bearer is not the (tokened) sentence, but the proposition it expresses. Accordingly, the sentence is truth-valued because the proposition is truth-valued.
But a similar problem arise with the proposition. It too is a complex, not of words, but of senses (on a roughly Fregean theory of propositions). If there was a problem about the unity of a sentence, then there will also be a problem about the unity of the proposition the sentence expresses on a given occasion of its use. What makes a proposition a truth-valued entity as opposed to a mere collection (set, mereological sum, whatever) of its constituents?
So here is one way the introduction of propositions "pushes the problem back." So far, then I am in agreement with Jacques.
If some proposition p just inherently means that a is F, or is inherently true if a is F, regardless of any beliefs or concepts or mental activities of mine, then surely I could operate with proposition p while taking it to mean or represent some other situation--that a is not F, or that b is G, or whatever.
This is not clear. Someone who introduces Fregean or quasi-Fregean propositions as the contents of such propositional attitudes as belief and desire will say that believing that whales are mammals involves no judgmental synthesis, no mental activity on the part of the believer, since this synthesis is already accomplished in the proposition. (How this synthesis is accomplished is a very difficult question, an insoluble one in my opinion.) So I could not take the proposition Whales are mammals to mean Grass is green. The Fregean proposition is part of the mechanism whereby I mean that whales are mammals.
The brute fact that it represents, if that even makes sense, seems to have no implications for my representational use of the proposition or relation to it (or whatever it is that I'm supposed to be doing with propositions).
But you are not using the proposition to represent the fact. Your intending the fact is routed through the proposition which is the sense of the corresponding declarative sentence. (Frege of course has no truck with truth-making facts; he holds the bizarre view that the referent, Bedeutung, of the sentence is THE TRUE. I am sketching here, but not endorsing, a quasi-Fregean theory of propositions.)
Even if we could explain how it is unified, that would still seem to leave the basic problem of how I am able to think a unified thought by means of that entity. (If I'm thinking that proposition p is true, or represents the world accurately, what is it about my activity or state of mind that somehow unifies the representational content p with the further property of being true or being-an-accurate-representation?)
I think you are missing the point that the proposition is a semantic and epistemic intermediary; it is not the direct object of a mental act. You are not thinking that Snow is white is true; you are thinking that snow is white via the propositional content Snow is white.
On the other hand, if p is such that, necessarily, in having p before my mind I entertain or grasp the thought that a is F, the basic mystery is just being described or reiterated. What on earth am I doing when I somehow manage to think that a is F? Postulating this thing that is supposed to enable me to think so doesn't seem like any kind of explanation. What kind of thing is this, meaningful or representational in itself, yet also necessarily dictating my representational grasp of it? Why not just say that I think that a is F, with no hint of any analysis or explanation of that fact about me?
Are you proposing a Wittgensteinian eschewal of theory and philosophical explanation?
Tom believes that Cicero is a Roman; Cicero is Tully. But Tom does not believe that Tully is a Roman. Is there not a genuine puzzle here the solution to which will involve a theory of propositions?
One view is that the ultimate truth-bearers are token acts of predication. For example, the thing that is true is my act of predicating property F of object a, according to rules somehow determined by property F. But this too seems hopeless as an explanation or analysis. Phrases like 'predicating a property of an object' don't mean anything more than 'thinking that something is a certain way'. No doubt, once I do that, I'm doing something that we might call 'correct' or 'true' depending on what the world is like. But is there any real difference between predicating F to a, on the one hand, and just thinking that a is an F? I have no idea what these people are talking about, or how they think this is explanatory. Every theory seems ultimately to depend on the unexplained notion of someone having a propositional thought--that a certain proposition is true, that some possible world is actual, that a property is instantiated, or whatever. And yet that seems to be the very notion that we want to understand here--the notion of propositional thought, thinking that something is the case. Alternatively, they're positing these non-propositional events or activities--just the brute fact that someone 'predicates' or someone 'grasps' a proposition, without these things being taken to depend on thinking that things are thus-and-so. But in that case, the theories are all obviously false; they just deny the phenomenon we want to explain.
Do you have a reference in the literature for me?
Suppose I say of Elliot that he is sober. That is a token act of predication: I apply the predicate 'sober' to Elliot. But Karl can say the same thing by applying the predicate 'nuechtern' to Elliot. So I don't see how token acts of predication could be the ultimate truth-bearers. These acts are different. But the content expressed is the same. Besides, how can an act be true or false?
I get the impression that you are driving in a Wittgensteinian direction, We say things like 'Hillary is a liar' and we think the corresponding thoughts. Apparently, you want to leave it at that and not seek any philosophical explanation on the ground that these explanations don't really explain anything.
Would you go so far as to say that the problem of the unity of the sentence, the problem of what makes a sentence different from a list of words, is a pseudo-problem?
Well, I don't know if that makes sense, but I'd appreciate any thoughts you might have. I feel this is an absolutely fundamental set of problems, with important implications, but the philosophical literature just seems to confuse me . . .
It makes plenty of sense . . .