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Saturday, May 18, 2019


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Hi Bill,

Thanks for this enlightening post. I am hoping you'd be willing to go over the problems that arise by denying that propositions are thought-accusatives. If I'm not mistaken, the major competing views on the metaphysics of propositions these days are essentially Platonist in the sense that they do not believe propositions depend on minds for their existence. I have in mind, on the one hand, Lewisian views according to which propositions are sets of possible worlds and, on the other hand, so-called 'structural proposition' views that purport to derive from Russell. I myself think that there are problems with both views, but do not find myself persuaded to believe as a result that propositions depend on minds. So I would find it beneficial if you could sketch the problems with Platonism about propositions. Thanks!

You're welcome, John. I'd like to discuss this with you in a separate post.

For now I will just say two things. First, while I can understand how a proposition could be modeled as a set, or represented as a set, I don't think it makes sense to say that a proposition IS a set.

If propositions are sets, then some sets have truth-values. But no set has a truth-value. Ergo, etc.

I distinguish between 'Fregean' and 'Russellian' propositions. The proposition expressed by a tokening of 'Socrates is wise' does not, on the Fregean or abstract view, have Socrates himself as a constituent whereas on the Russellian view it does.

Do you accept this distinction or a reasonable facsimile thereof?

Hi Bill,

As I said, I reject both of the views of propositions I mentioned briefly in my original comment. Your objection to the view that propositions are sets strikes me as reasonable. There are other objections as well. As I recall, Trenton Merricks does a nice job of arguing against this view in his book, Propositions (OUP 2015).

I do accept your distinction between Fregean and Russellian propositions. I don't accept the Russelian view of propositions, though. So I suppose I am therefore inclined to prefer the Fregean view. Would you agree that this Fregean view is 'Platonist' in the sense that it does not take propositions to depend for their existence on minds? Or, perhaps less tendentiously, would you agree that most advocates of a Fregean view today take that view to be Platonist in the above sense?


I would say that for a theory of propositions to be 'platonist,' it would have to maintain both that (i) propositions are 'abstract,' i.e., not in space or time, and (ii) not dependent for their existence on any mind, finite or infinite. On this use of terms, Russellian propositions are not 'platonic' because not abstract even though they do exist mind-independently.

Would you agree that on any acceptable theory, a proposition is a truth-bearer? And that there are two truth values, at least, and that contingent propositions are possibly such that they are false, if true, and possibly such that they are true, if false?

It could be argued on that basis that neither sets not Russellian 'propositions' are propositions.

Hi Bill,

That seems a reasonable enough account of what makes a theory of propositions 'Platonist'. Unless I'm mistaken, then, that makes the Fregean view Platonist. Is that right?

I agree with everything you say about what is minimally true of a proposition: that it is a truth-bearer, and that there are (at least) two truth values, such that contingent propositions have the features you say.

What I am interested in, however, is not whether Russellian propositions really count as propositions, but specifically what you mentioned in your original post: that accepting "some form of Platonism about propositions" "involves problems of its own". Your last comment suggests that you did not have Russellian views in mind when you made that comment, but that you nevertheless think Russellian views are to be rejected. That's fine. I agree with you that Russellian views are to be rejected.

What I am therefore interested to know is this: which Platonist theories of propositions did you have in mind in your original post, and what are the problems involved in accepting such views?

Hi John,

I think everyone would agree that the Fregean view of propositions is broadly 'platonist.' For Frege, a proposition (Gedanke) is the sense (Sinn) of a declarative sentence (Satz) from which all indexical elements including tenses of verbs have been extruded. Senses are 'third world entities' in Popper's world-3 sense.

But I don't want to take on board everything that Frege says about Gedanken. For one thing, if they are senses, then they are modes of presentation (Darstellungsweisen). But of what? Not of facts or states of affairs, but of The True!(das Wahre). I don't know about that.

So in my mouth, 'Fregean' means Frege-like and does not commit me to all the details of Frege's actual view.

>>What I am therefore interested to know is this: which Platonist theories of propositions did you have in mind in your original post, and what are the problems involved in accepting such views?<<

I will try to answer this in a separate post and I will be interested in what you think.

Hi Bill,

Fair enough (regarding your claim that when you speak of 'Fregean propositions' you mean "Frege-like", and do not mean to commit yourself to all the details of Frege's actual view).

I look forward to reading your post on the problems with Platonism about propositions!

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