, Volume 189, Issue 1, pp 75–96

Against the identification of assertoric content with compositional value


DOI: 10.1007/s11229-012-0096-9

Cite this article as:
Rabern, B. Synthese (2012) 189: 75. doi:10.1007/s11229-012-0096-9


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.


Assertoric content Compositionality Contextualism Propositions Direct reference Monsters Embedding Semantics 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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