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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

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Actually we have discussed this subject, and that actual example, many times on this blog. But once more.

My position is that signs signify – that is exactly what they do – and it is the signs that signify, not the person. I fundamentally disbelieve in telepathy as a hermeneutical principle.

I don’t disagree that the person can add or subtract something from the meaning of the linguistic signs, by means of other signs. For example, A talking to B and C, A winks to B to signify that he is lying to C, or misleading him. But the wink is still a sign, signifying negation of the proposition communicated to C.

So if we disbelieve in telepathy, we must investigate how assertion is communicated. In my view, (1) the assertion operator is embedded in the form of an assertoric or declarative sentence, namely the complete sentence, (3) the ‘that’ operator signifies removal of that assertoric component, (3) ‘It is true’ or ‘It is the case’ adds the operator back. Thus

‘The sun is shining’ = ‘it is the case’ + ‘that the sun is shining’

If Tom is drunk, then Tom ought not drive = ‘it is the case’ + ‘that Tom is drunk’ + ‘then’ + ‘that Tom ought not drive’


Nowhere is ‘Tom is drunk’ asserted, although the content of that proposition is referred to.

It is a consequence of this view that propositions, assertoric content and all, cannot be referred to. As soon as we try to, we end up referring to the content, not the proposition itself, for we have to add the ‘that’ clause in order to form a noun phrase referring to the content. If we succeeded in referring to the proposition itself, we would have a malformed proposition. E.g.

It is the case the sun is shining

We tried to refer to the proposition by removing the term ‘that’, but we ended up with the complete proposition ‘the sun is shining’ plus the dangling ‘it is the case’. We could correct to
It is the case that the sun is shining

But the expression ‘that the sun is shining’ does not refer to the proposition, but its content.

This view is of a piece with my deflationary account of truth, also deflationary account of reference, deflationary everything etc.

Hence I fundamentally disagree with

what gives it [the proposition] the 'assertoric quality' to coin a phrase is something external to the proposition itself

For reasons which should be clear from everything that was asserted by my text above.

What I say here is also consistent with my work on biblical hermeneutics. It is implausible to suppose that the texts written by authors dead for more than a thousand or two thousand years ago are a form of ‘speech act’. For one thing, the text is not spoken, but written language. The writing was complete when it was written, also the text was copied many times over by scribes or printers, who were not asserting anything. We ask, rather, what does the text mean, what is the meaning of that word, etc etc. No speech, no act.

Alles Klar?

but speakers/writers use sentences to express propositions; what we see or hear are the sentences (or, more generally, signs), while what we understand are the propositions, but only if we correctly perceive what the speaker/writer intends in the use of that sentence/sign.

take the sentence:

S - "visiting relatives can be annoying."

what does that sign signify?

it is, of course, consistent with (at least) two propositions (or meanings):

S1 - "it can be annoying to go and visit relatives."

S2 - "relatives who come to visit can be annoying."

isn't it clearly the case that which of S1 or S2 is signified by S depends on the intent of the speaker/writer? That is, some element of a speech/writing act?

the same goes for the wink: winks are consistent with dissimulation AND flirting (for example), depending on the intent of the winker. they signify nothing inherently.

Ed,

John Doran is talking sense, don't you think? You need to respond to him.

>> My position is that signs signify – that is exactly what they do – and it is the signs that signify, not the person. I fundamentally disbelieve in telepathy as a hermeneutical principle. <<

We disagree fundamentally right here. The disagreement is a very deep one since I cannot imagine how what you are saying could be true. Telepathy? I don't get the comparison. You seem to think that signs have a sort of magical property whereby they express meanings and refer to objects, just by themselves.

>>assertoric or declarative sentence<<

I think there is confusion here. A sentence can embody an assertion without being grammatically declarative. For example, the rhetorical question uses a sentence in the interrogative mood to make an assertion.

'Did you notice that Angela Merkel was nervous in Trump's
presence?' has the form of a question, but makes an assertion. To be precise, it makes an assertion when it is uttered.

Sentences in the interrogative mood can also be used to issue commands. 'Must you text while driving?' (said sternly to your teen-aged daughter) And to make requests. 'Can you pass the salt?' 'Is it possible for you to reach the butter?'

Declarative sentences can be used to issue commands. Mommy to child: 'We cover our mouths when we yawn.'

>>John Doran is talking sense, don't you think? You need to respond to him.

Well neither of you has addressed what I wrote after my initial, and clearly contentious intro,but let me try to reply to some of it.

>>isn't it clearly the case that which of S1 or S2 is signified by S depends on the intent of the speaker/writer? That is, some element of a speech/writing act?

S is a fundamentally ambiguous sentence. Typically this kind of ambiguity is resolved by other signs, often in the surrounding text. But that is my whole point. All we have are the signs, they is the only means we have, there is nothing else. I reject telepathy.

which of S1 or S2 is signified by S’ Well S of itself, being ambiguous, has two different possible senses. What the speaker intended is in his head alone, I don’t see how he can communicate this without further signs.

Now he can add ‘Ah, I meant that it can be annoying to go and visit relatives'. Of course. But then that is a further set of signs by which he realises his intention. No telepathy, just more signs.

I am struggling to work out how else he might realise his intention, having uttered an ambiguous utterance. Any ideas?

>> the same goes for the wink: winks are consistent with dissimulation AND flirting (for example), depending on the intent of the winker. they signify nothing inherently.

Again, how is the intention realised? Telepathy again?

>>You seem to think that signs have a sort of magical property whereby they express meanings and refer to objects, just by themselves.

In the case of an ancient Greek text, all I have is the text. As I said before, the act of writing is long gone. I can’t believe you seriously disagree with this.(I don't disagree that further information is needed, such as conventions relevant to the genre etc. That is all part of the symbolism).

Is it magic? Decoding ancient texts is something computers find very difficult, perhaps it’s a magical ability that humans have, but nonetheless I reject telepathy. The only clue I have to divine an ancient writer’s intention is the text itself.

But you have ignored my reply to your Geach objection. The sentence ‘Tom is drunk’ is embedded in the longer sentence ‘If Tom is drunk, then Tom ought not drive’. The change in meaning of the sentence is a result of the surrounding words. Suppose I print out the whole if-then sentence, then cut out ‘Tom is drunk’ from it. Staring at that sentence out of context, I interpret it as an assertion. When I replace it, i.e surround it with ‘If’ on the left and ‘, then Tom ought not drive’ on the right, I change its meaning.

Which part of this do you disagree with? Do you disagree with
(1) The sentence ‘Tom is drunk’ is embedded in the longer sentence ‘If Tom is drunk, then Tom ought not drive’.

(2) The embedded sentence has a different meaning than if self-standing.

(3) The difference in meaning is precisely the difference between assertion, and the content which is the reference of the noun-phrase ‘that Tom is drunk’.


(And finally). There clearly is a communication problem here. My intentions in communicating what I think are not being realised, and neither are your intentions in your best efforts to understand.

How do we resolve the problem? (1) We write nothing more, but I concentrate very hard sending thought waves across the Atlantic, you concentrate hard on receiving the waves. Any luck? Or (2) I keep writing some more, i.e. more signs, you reply with further signs and so on, until both our intentions are realised. You give signs that you understand, I sign back that you have understood.

Which of these shall we try? Thought waves or symbols?

Bit of a silence here. Let’s tackle another part of the main argument

If the argument is valid, as it plainly is, then, in both of its occurrences, the sentence 'Tom is drunk' must express the same proposition. But this cannot be the case if a proposition is identical to an assertion.

I deny that the sentence ‘Tom is drunk’ in the major expresses a proposition at all. It expresses a proposition in the minor, I agree. I also claim that both sentences must have the same content in major and minor. But having the same content is not the same as expressing the same proposition. Perhaps we should rewrite the major as follows:

That Tom is drunk implies that Tom ought not drive

We connect a name for contents, using a that-clause, with the connector ‘entails’. Thus we express the whole argument as follows
It is the case (that Tom is drunk implies that Tom ought not drive)
It is the case that Tom is drunk
It is the case that Tom ought not drive

I'm not ignoring you, my friend. I hope to address all your points. Right now, I must attend to the needs of Fratello Asino, Brother Jackass.

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