, Volume 189, Issue 1, pp 75-96
Date: 27 Mar 2012

Against the identification of assertoric content with compositional value

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This essay investigates whether the things we say are identical to the things our sentences mean. It is argued that these theoretical notions should be distinguished, since assertoric content does not respect the compositionality principle. As a paradigmatic example, Kaplan’s formal language LD is shown to exemplify a failure of compositionality. It is demonstrated that by respecting the theoretical distinction between the objects of assertion and compositional values certain conflicts between compositionality and contextualism are avoided. This includes the conflict between eternalism and the semantics of tense, the embedding problems for contextualism about epistemic modals and taste claims, and the conflict between direct reference and the semantics of bound pronouns (and monstrous operators). After presenting the theoretical picture which distinguishes assertoric content from compositional semantic value, some objections to the picture are addressed. In so doing, the objection from King (Philos Perspect 17(1):195–246, 2003) stemming from apparent complications with the interaction of temporal expressions and attitude reports is assessed and shown to be non-threatening.

Thanks to Dilip Ninan, Derek Ball, Clas Weber, David Chalmers, Landon Rabern, Jonathan Schaffer, Wolfgang Schwarz, John Cusbert, Rhiannon Rabern, Daniel Nolan, Mark Jago, Rachael Briggs, Augustus Pablo, and Albert Atkin. An early version of this material was presented while visiting Arché in St. Andrews and the paper benefited from the many discussions in and around the Central. A later version was presented at the Propositions and Same-Saying workshop at the University of Sydney, July 19–21, 2010. Thanks also to the audience and the organizers of the workshop.