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The Metasyntactic Interpretation of Two-Dimensionalism

Abstract

Robert Stalnaker contrasts two interpretations, semantic and metasemantic, of the two-dimensionalist framework. On the semantic interpretation, the primary intension or diagonal proposition associated with an utterance is a semantic value that the utterance has in virtue of the actual linguistic meaning of the corresponding sentence, and that primary intension is both what a competent speaker grasps and what determines different secondary intensions or horizontal propositions relative to different possible worlds considered as actual. The metasemantic interpretation reverses the order of explanation: an utterance has the primary intension it has because it yields the secondary intensions it yields relative to different possible worlds considered as actual. In these possible worlds, the semantic facts can be different: the metasemantic interpretation is metasemantic in the sense that the secondary intensions are determined relative to possible worlds considered as actual given the meanings the expressions have there. Stalnaker holds a causal picture of the reference of names, according to which names have no meaning over and above their unique referent, and therefore maintains that the semantic interpretation is not an option. He thus endorses the metasemantic interpretation, while insisting that this interpretation does not, contrary to what he originally thought, yield any account of a priori truth and knowledge. My double aim in this paper is to show (i) that the metasemantic interpretation, as sketched by Stalnaker, is not compatible with one natural understanding of the causal picture of reference, on which names are rigid because they have their original bearers essentially, and (ii) that a third kind of interpretation of the framework is available, the metasyntactic interpretation, which grants that names have their bearers essentially and yields some account of a priori knowledge.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The phrase "modal illusions" is used e.g. in the introduction to García-Carpintero and Macià (2006).

  2. 2.

    See Plantinga (1974, pp. 81–87), Donnellan (1977, 1983), Tichy (1983), Salmon (1986, 1993), Michael (1998), and Wong (1991, 1996, 2006).

  3. 3.

    See Stalnaker (1970/1999; 1978/1999) and Kaplan (1989a).

  4. 4.

    The phrase "possible worlds considered as actual" dates back to Davies and Humberstone (1980). This and "possible worlds of interpretation" are used interchangeably here. Both notions are meant to remain neutral on the issue of how to construe the relevant possibilities.

  5. 5.

    The notion of a "propositional concept" was introduced by Stalnaker (1978/1999). This and the notion of a "two-dimensional matrix" are equivalent.

  6. 6.

    Different two-dimensionalists use different terms for the metaphysical values of utterances, sometimes to signify differences in how these are to be construed: proposition expressed (Stalnaker), content (Kaplan), secondary intension (Chalmers), C-intension (Jackson), H-intension (Davies). The differences between these notions will not be relevant to our purposes here. I will use "horizontal proposition" as a generic term.

  7. 7.

    See Stalnaker (1978/1999, p. 81).

  8. 8.

    Different two-dimensionalists use different terms for the epistemic values of utterances, and these sometimes reflect differences in how these epistemic values are construed: diagonal proposition (Stalnaker), character (Kaplan), "fixedly actual" proposition (Davies & Humberstone), primary intension (Chalmers), A-intension (Jackson). Here I will use "diagonal proposition" as the generic term.

  9. 9.

    See Chalmers (2006, p. 64).

  10. 10.

    See Kaplan (1989b, pp.573–576) for the distinction between semantics and metasemantics.

  11. 11.

    See e.g. Donnellan (1970), Kaplan (1989a, b), Kripke (1972/1980), Putnam (1975), Salmon (1986), Wettstein (1986).

  12. 12.

    For instance, Kripke tells us: "When I say that designator is rigid, and designates the same thing in all possible worlds, I mean that, as used in our language, it stands for that thing, when we talk about counterfactual situations. I don’t mean, of course, that there mightn’t be counterfactual situations in which in the other possible worlds people actually spoke a different language." (Kripke 1972/1980, p. 77).

  13. 13.

    Kripke is characteristically cautious and evasive on this delicate matter. When he considers the possibility that our names 'Hesperus' and 'Phosphorus' be used by speakers in some other possible world to designate different stars there he uses the epistemic modal 'might' and not the metaphysical modal 'could' (see Kripke 1972/1980, pp. 102–103).

  14. 14.

    See Kripke (1972/1980, pp.111–113).

  15. 15.

    Kripke says: “It seems to me that anything coming from a different origin would not be this object.” (Kripke 1972/1980, p. 113).

  16. 16.

    The generic term "mode of presentation" here covers both descriptive and nondescriptive modes of presentation. Although the metasyntactic interpretation of two-dimensionalism is naturally exemplified by cases involving descriptive modes of presentation, the same account may be compatible with other kinds of modes of presentation. What matters for the purposes of the metasyntactic interpretation is not so much the precise nature and format of modes of presentation in the mind as the role that these should be capable of playing: what modes of presentation must do is determine potentially variable values relative to different possible worlds. Nondescriptive modes of presentation that can accomplish this are compatible with the present account.

  17. 17.

    I coin the term "metasyntactical" after Kaplan, who says (1989b, p. 574, fn. 18): "It is interesting to note that historical chains also have a use in what we might call metasyntax. They give the basis for saying that various utterances are utterances of the same word." Kaplan has suggested in several places (1989b, pp. 598–599; 1990) that "syntactical technology" might be the key to solve the cognitive issues raised by referentialism. The metasyntactic interpretation of two-dimensionalism defended here acknowledges the central importance of the syntactic identity of words in dealing with the puzzles, and emphasizes in particular the responsability of the epistemology of syntax.

  18. 18.

    Chalmers (2004, 2006) defends what he calls epistemic two-dimensional semantics. The present account is not related to his. His account starts by defining an epistemic space. On the present account, by contrast, it is the metaphysical value of an utterance that comes first: epistemic values are representations of metaphysical values, and, in that sense, presuppose them. See Stalnaker (1990/1999) on the order of explanation between narrow and broad content.

  19. 19.

    Stalnaker (1997/2003b, p. 177) anticipates the kind of position I am defending here: "Then it would seem to follow that, although we can define a language with a Millian semantics, we could never speak one, since we could not have the knowledge required to know what the sentences of such a language say." On the position advocated here, we can and do speak a Millian language; only, we know what it means only by description. But why should that not count as knowledge of what its sentences say?

  20. 20.

    See Stalnaker (1999, p. 14; 2001/2003b, p. 155; 2003a, p. 213; 2006, pp. 302–303).

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Acknowledgements

A first version of this paper was presented in a conference on self-locating beliefs co-organized by MIT and Institut Jean Nicod, September 8–9, 2009. I wish to thank the audience for profitable comments and discussions. I am grateful to Christopher Peacocke, François Recanati, Robert Stalnaker, and Stephen Yablo for helpful suggestions, comments, and discussions on these topics during and after the conference. Also, special thanks to Mahrad Almotahari for his detailed comments on the paper during the conference. My research is funded by a Research Fellow Grant from the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique de la Communauté Française de Belgique.

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Correspondence to Gregory Bochner.

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Bochner, G. The Metasyntactic Interpretation of Two-Dimensionalism. Philos Stud 163, 611–626 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-011-9834-y

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Keywords

  • Names
  • Direct reference
  • Two-dimensionalism
  • Necessary a posteriori
  • Contingent a priori
  • Diagonal proposition