Under what circumstances does a given individual, taken as value of `x, satisfy th[e] formula ["John asserted that x is a spy"? Answer: If the appropriate singular proposition was the content of John's assertive utterance. (pp. 225-6)
Kaplan goes on to explain his notion of singular proposition. The presentation is a bit idiosyncratic.
|Some spy is smart.
||<<'Some', spyhood>, smartness>
|Every spy is smart.
||<<'Every', spyhood>, smartness>
|The spy is smart.
||<<'The', spyhood>, smartness>
|John is smart.
The details of how Kaplan is representing quantifier phrases do not much matter (viz., the idea that the quantifier words are syncategorematic). What does matter is that the last sentence, "John is smart", is being treated very differently from the others: as expressing a proposition that contains John himself.
The difference manifests itself when when we evaluate these propositions at different possible worlds. If we ask whether <<'Some', spyhood>, smartness> is true in some given world, we are asking a question about the things in that world that are spies and are smart, namely: Is there anything that is both? By contrast, if we want evaluate the proposition <John, smartness> at a given possible world, then Kaplan thinks this amounts to asking, quite simply, whether John is smart in that world.
One might have thought that we could also ask whether the person who is John in that world is smart in that world. Is that different? Why or why not?
One might well say that the notion of a singular proposition has rigidity 'built into it'. Why? And in what sense?
This leads Kaplan to the statement of the view he wants to defend:
...[S]ome or all of the denoting phrases used in an utterance should not be considered part of the content of what is said but should rather be thought of as contextual factors which help us to interpret the actual physical utterance as having a certain content. (p. 228)
The main payoff of making this move is what it allows us to say about the semantics of demonstratives ("this", "that") and indexicals ("I", "here", "now").
My own view—and, I think, the general view—is that the examples Kaplan initially uses to motivate this idea, on pp. 228-9, are poorly chosen. The examples primarily concern various sorts of ambiguity, which has nothing to do with context-sensitivity. But this point will not matter to us, and there is a way in which the examples can be help one at least get an initial idea what sort of distinction Kaplan wants to make.
At the bottom of p. 229, then, Kaplan turns to the case of demonstratives, such as "that book" or "this man". There is a pronominal use of such expressions—as in "If you see someone who needs help, then give that man a hand"—which Kaplan sets aside. He is interested, rather, in what we might call the "referring" use of demonstratives and which he calls the "demonstrative" use, which (he says) is typically associated with a "demonstration" that serves somehow to pick out the referent of the uttered demonstrative. The central question in which Kaplan is interested can then be put as follows: What sort of contribution to the proposition expressed does the demonstration (e.g., pointing) make?
There are two possible views.
- We can take the demonstration to be a contextual factor that helps to determine the content of the utterance. The content itself is then a singular proposition.
- We can make the demonstration part of the content of the utterance, so that the content is a general proposition, e.g.: The thing at which I am pointing is suspicious.
Kaplan suggests that the former is the correct analysis, but he sets the issue aside and adopts a strategy not unlike the one Kripke uses in "Speaker's Reference and Semantic Reference": He stipulates that the word "dthat", in his mouth, will have the semantics stated by (1), and then explores what that would be like. So a sentence of the form "Dthat['the F'] is G" will express the singular proposition <a, G>, where a the object that is the unique F.
Tough question: How does "dthat['the F']" compare to the actualized description "the actual F"? (There is some debate about this.)
There follows, on pp. 235-8, an extremely convoluted, and therefore difficult, discussion of the relation between an utterance, its meaning, and its content. (It's worth the effort to try to understand Kaplan's discussion, but if it's too difficult just skip to the top of p. 238.) The distinction towards which Kaplan is moving here is now known as the distinction between the context of utterance and the world of evaluation. Here's the gist of the argument.
First, consider an "eternal" sentence like "The President of the United States on 10 March 2015 speaks Spanish". The truth-value of this sentence does not depend upon the time at which it is uttered. Its truth-value does, of course, depend upon the facts: There are some ways the world could be that would make it true and others that would make it false. So one might think of its meaning as being its "truth-condition", which we can represent as a function from possible worlds to truth-values (the truth-value the sentence has in that world).
Now consider a "fugitive" sentence such as "The President of the United States speaks Spanish". The truth-value of this sentence will vary with the time at which it is uttered (who the President is then), as well as with other facts (what languages that person speaks). So in this case one might think of the meaning of the sentence as a function from worlds and times to truth-values.
Kaplan thinks this idea (which traces to Richard Montague) is right, in a way, but that it misses an important subtlety. Suppose I say now, "The President of the United States is a woman". Then what I say is false. Might what I said have been true? One might think so: Hilary Clinton might have been the President instead. But, and here's the point: It does not show that what I said might have been true that Hilary Clinton might be the President in 2018, so that I might truly utter the sentence "The President of the United States is a woman" three years from now. The utterance of the sentence that I make now fixes its "temporal co-ordinate", so to speak, so that what I say when I utter the sentence now is not "fugitive" or "time-relative" but "eternal", almost as if I'd explicitly added "in 2015".
The best sort of example of this sort of phenomenon is a sentence like "I am here now", which Kaplan mentions on p. 237. This sentence is context-dependent along even more dimensions: not just time of utterance, but also location and speaker. But any utterance of this sentence will be true. So, if one thinks of its meaning as a function from speakers, times, locations, and worlds to truth-values, then its meaning is the "constant function" that is always true. But that, again, seems to miss something important. Suppose I now utter "I am here now". Then if we ask whether what I said might have been false, the answer seems to be "Yes, of course". I might have been somewhere else. So, Kaplan would suggest, we should think of the context in which I make my utterance as fixing its various contextual parameters—speaker, time, location—so that the content of my utterance ends up being something like: RH is in his study at 2:21 EDT on 10 March 2015. The content is not the same as that of: The person making this utterance is where this utterance is being made at the time this utterance is being made.
Actually, it is easy to think of cases in which an utterance of "I am here now" would not be true. Can you think of one? Alternatively, can you think of utterances of "I am not here now" that might be true? (The bearing of this phenomenon on Kaplan's theory is not entirely clear, however, so ignore it henceforth.)
Thus, Kaplan thinks that there is a sense in which "I" means: the person making this utterance. But that description only fixes the reference of "I" on a given occasion; it does not "give the meaning", in Kripke's sense.
This is why Kaplan says at the bottom of p. 238 that it would be better to think of the meaning of a fugitive sentence as a function from "contexts" to contents, that is: from the circumstances in which an utterance might be made to the proposition an utterance of that sentence would express if made in those circumstances.
In his later writings, Kaplan distinguises between content and what he calls character. The latter is supposed to capture the notion of "the meaning of a word". So the content of any given utterance of "I" will just be a person, but the character of "I" is a function from contexts of utterance to people: from contexts to the person uttering "I". Similarly, the character of "now" is a function from contexts to times (the time "now" is being uttered); the character of "yesterday" is a function from contexts to days (the day before it is being uttered); and so forth.
All of this is supposed to help us better understand the difference between:
- The President in 2015 speaks Spanish.
- Dthat['the President in 2015'] speaks Spanish.
What's puzzling is that, on the one hand, according to Kaplan, these sentences express different sorts of propositions (general vs singular). But, on the other hand, in any given world, an utterance of (i) will be true if, and only if, the corresponding utterance of (ii) would be true. If we think of meaning of a sentence S, then, as a function from worlds to truth values that gives you the truth-value a sentence would have if uttered in that world, then (i) and (ii) have the same meaning. But, Kaplan says, that is a mistake: The meaning of a sentence should be thought of as a function from worlds to contents, and the content of an utterance of (i) is different from the content of an utterance of (ii) in the same situation, even though those utterances will always have the same truth-value.
Kaplan suggests that his machinery helps us make proper sense of Donnellan's distinction between referential and attributive uses. How so? And to what extent? (Hint: Does Kaplan agree with Donnellan that "the man drinking champagne" can be used to refer to someone who is not drinking champagne?)
Finally, Kaplan discusses a question that has been in the background of much of his discussion, namely: How exactly is the referent of an uttered demonstrative, such as "that picture", determined? There are three options:
- The demonstrative refers to the object to which the speaker intends to refer.
- The demonstrative refers to the object that various 'contextual cues' would lead a "linguistically competent public observer" to pick out.
- Kaplan's own view: (2), but with intentions playing a limited "disambiguating" role if the demonstration itself is too vague.
We'll spend some time discussing this issue in our next class, when we read Marga Reimer's paper "Demonstratives, Demonstrations, and Demonstrata", so do not worry too much about it for now.