Publication Year: 2014
Aboutness has been studied from any number of angles. Brentano made it the defining feature of the mental. Phenomenologists try to pin down the aboutness-features of particular mental states. Materialists sometimes claim to have grounded aboutness in natural regularities. Attempts have even been made, in library science and information theory, to operationalize the notion.
But it has played no real role in philosophical semantics. This is surprising; sentences have aboutness-properties if anything does. Aboutness is the first book to examine through a philosophical lens the role of subject matter in meaning.
A long-standing tradition sees meaning as truth-conditions, to be specified by listing the scenarios in which a sentence is true. Nothing is said about the principle of selection--about what in a scenario gets it onto the list. Subject matter is the missing link here. A sentence is true because of how matters stand where its subject matter is concerned.
Stephen Yablo maintains that this is not just a feature of subject matter, but its essence. One indicates what a sentence is about by mapping out logical space according to its changing ways of being true or false. The notion of content that results--directed content--is brought to bear on a range of philosophical topics, including ontology, verisimilitude, knowledge, loose talk, assertive content, and philosophical methodology.
Written by one of today's leading philosophers, Aboutness represents a major advance in semantics and the philosophy of language.
Published by: Princeton University Press
Series: Carl G. Hempel Lecture Series
Title page, Copyright
How to Read This Book
“Aboutness” is a grand-sounding name for something basically familiar. Books are on topics; portraits are of people; the 1812 Overture concerns the Battle of Borodino. Aboutness is the relation that meaningful items bear to whatever it is that they are on or of or that they address or...
1. I Wasn’t Talking about That
Carl Hempel, in whose honor these lectures are given, once wrote of some
other lectures, given by Rudolf Carnap at Harvard in the 1930s. Carnap is
supposed to have introduced his topic as follows:
Let A be some physical body, such as a stone, or...
2. Varieties of Aboutness
A few philosophers have tried to think systematically about subject matter, starting with Gilbert Ryle in his 1933 Analysis paper “About” (Ryle 1933). Nelson Goodman tries to improve on Ryle in a 1961 paper of the same name (Goodman 1961).1 The best and most thorough account to date is...
3. Inclusion in Metaphysics and Semantics
At this point we know quite a lot. We know for each indicative mood sentence S how to obtain its subject matter—the one it is exactly about. We know what it takes for one subject matter to include another. The larger subject matter has to refine the smaller one.We know, then, what it means...
4. A Semantic Conception of Truthmaking
I have been speaking of ways of being true, and sometimes of reasons for truth. The usual term, which I’ll use too, is truthmakers. I will not be trying to tell you “what truthmakers are,” because we can afford to be flexible; it is only their behavior that matters...
5. The Truth and Something But the Truth
Now that we know, more or less, what partial truth is, the question becomes why bother with it? Why make false statements with true bits in them, rather than asserting just the true bits? William James suggests a reason in his debate with Clifford...
6. Confirmation and Verisimilitude
Inquiry aims at the truth. What is it for one belief state to be closer to the truth than another? There are two dimensions to this. One relates to the kind of attitude we adopt. If A is true, our attitude toward it should be as close as possible to full belief. The other is to do with the attitude’s...
7. Knowing That and Knowing About
If one statement or claim implies another, and the first is clearly true, then one would expect the second to be clearly true, too. Controversy should not erupt between the premises and the conclusion of a valid one-premise argument. And yet sometimes the weaker statement does...
8. Extrapolation and Its Limits
Once again, it would be nice if I could explain the topic with examples, but
we will have to make do with anecdotes. The first concerns a conversation
Einstein is supposed to have had with some puzzled citizen.
Citizen: How does the telegraph system work? I don’t...
9. Going On in the Same Way
Who is right about remainders, the mysterian or the logical engineer? The extrapolation model allows a synthesis: A can always be extrapolated, but not always as far as one might like. It helps to view the matter diagrammatically (see Figure 9.1)...
10. Pretense and Presupposition
A great puzzle of twentieth-century philosophy of language was, how are finite beings able to understand a potential infinity of sentences? The answer is supposed to be that understanding is recursive: infinitely many sentences can be constructed out of finitely many words combined according...
11. The Missing Premise
Bear with me as I bring in an unrelated-seeming topic from introductory logic. Students are taught about valid arguments. Validity is a pretty demanding standard, they learn, rarely met outside of logic class. They are not to despair, however, for validity may be achieved by plugging...
12. What Is Said
I want to return now to the comparison begun in section 10.4 between piggybacking on a game and pivoting on a presupposition. The two have a lot in common, we said. A can take on different figurative contents, for instance, as we vary the game, and different incremental contents as...