pp 1–25 | Cite as

What propositional structure could not be

Article Type S.I. : Unity of Structured Propositions


The dominant account of propositions holds that they are structured entities that have, as constituents, the semantic values of the constituents of the sentences that express them. Since such theories hold that propositions are structured, in some sense, like the sentences that express them, they must provide an answer to what I will call Soames’ Question: “What level, or levels, of sentence structure does semantic information incorporate?” (Soames in Philos Mind Action Theory 3:575–596, 1989). As it turns out, answering Soames’ Question is no easy task. I argue in this paper that the two most promising ways of answering it, the Logical Form Account and the LF Account, are both unsatisfactory. This result casts doubt on the very idea that propositions are structured.


Propositions Structured propositions Benacerraf problem Logical form LF Jeffrey C. King 



A version of this paper was presented at the Buffalo Logic Colloquium, March 2015, and the Unity and Individuation of Structured Propositions Conference: Ninth Barcelona Conference on Issues in the Theory of Reference, June 22-24 2015. I thank audiences at both places for their comments. Special thanks to Paddy Blanchette, David Braun, John Keller, Chris Menzel and two anonymous referees for this journal for helpful feedback.


  1. Armstrong, J., & Stanley, J. (2011). Singular thoughts and singular propositions. Philosophical Studies, 154(2), 205–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bealer, G. (1982). Quality and concept. Oxford: OUP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bealer, G. (1998). Propositions. Mind New Series, 107(425), 1–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benacerraf, P. (1965). What numbers could not be. Philosophical Review, 74(1), 47–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blackmon, J. (2013). Searle’s wall. Erkenntnis, 78(1), 109–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blanchette, P. (2000). Models and modality. Synthese, 124, 45–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bolzano, B. (1837). The Theory of Science. edition: Jan Berg (1973). (trans: Burnham Terrell). Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  8. Braun, D. (1993). Empty names. Nous, 27(4), 449–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chomsky, N. (1995). The minimalist program. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  10. Church, A. (1974). Outline of a revised formulation of the logic of sense and denotation (II). Noûs, 8(2), 135–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Collins, J. (2014). Cutting it (too) fine. Philosophical Studies, 2014(169), 143–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fletcher, L. (2013). Why it isn’t syntax that unifies the proposition. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 43(5–6), 590–611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fox, D. (2002). On logical form. In R. Hendrick (Ed.), Minimalist syntax. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  14. Frege, G. (1918/1956). The thought: A logical inquiry (A. M. & Marcelle Quinton, Trans) Mind 65 (1956) (pp. 289–311). Reprinted in Readings in the Philosophy of Language,by P. Ludlow, Ed. 1997, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  15. Gilmore, C. (2014). Parts of propositions. In S. Kleinschmidt (Ed.), Mereology and location (pp. 156–208). Oxford: OUP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hanks, P. (2015). Propositional content. Oxford: OUP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Heim, I., Kratzer, A. (1998). Semantics in generative grammar. Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  18. Jeffrey, C., King, S. S., & Speaks, J. (2014). New thinking about propositions. Oxford: OUP.Google Scholar
  19. Jespersen, B. (2012). Recent work on structured meaning and propositional unity. Philosophy Compass, 2012, 1–11.Google Scholar
  20. Kaplan, D. (2005). Reading ‘on denoting’ on its centenary. Mind, 114(456), 933–1003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Keller, L. J. Forthcoming. Propositions supernaturalized. In T. Dougherty & J. Walls (Eds.), Two dozen (or so) arguments for God. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Keller, L. J. (2013). The metaphysics of propositional constituency. The Canadian Journal of Philosophy: Essays on the Nature of Propositions, 43, 655–678.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Keller, L. J. (2017). Against naturalized cognitive propositions. Erkenntnis, 82(4), 929–946.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. King, J. C. Forthcoming. On propositions and fineness of grain (again!). Synthese.Google Scholar
  25. King, J. C. (1996). Structured propositions and sentence structure. Journal of Philosophical Logic, 25(5), 495–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. King, J. C. (2007). The nature and structure of content. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. King, J. C. (2011). Structured propositions. In Zalta E. N. (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. (Fall 2017 Edition).
  28. King, J. C. (2013a). Propositional unity: What’s the problem, who has it, and who solves it? Philosophical Studies, 165(1), 71–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. King, J. C. (Forthcoming). On propositions and fineness of grain (again!). Synthese.Google Scholar
  30. King, J. C. (2013b). On fineness of grain. Philosophical Studies, 163(3), 763–781.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. May, R. (1998). Logical form in linguistics. In MIT encyclopedia of cognitive science. Cambridge: MIT PressGoogle Scholar
  32. Moore, G. E. (1899). The nature of judgment. Mind, 5(8), 176–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ostertag, G. (2013). Two aspects of propositional unity. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 43(5–6), 518–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pickel, B. Forthcoming. Structured propositions in a generative grammar. Mind.Google Scholar
  35. Pietroski, P. (2015) . Logical form. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.) The stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Spring 2016 ed.).
  36. Resnick, M. (1997). Mathematics as a science of patterns. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  37. Richard, M. (1990). Propositional attitudes: An essay on thoughts and how we describe them. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ripley, D. (2012). Structures and circumstances. Synthese, 189(1), 97–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Russell, B. (1903). Principles of mathematics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Russell, B. (1905). On denoting. Mind, New Series, 14(56), 479–493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Salmon, N. C. (1986). Frege’s puzzle. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  42. Salmon, N. C. (1989). Tense and singular propositions. In J. Almog, J. Perry, & H. Wettstein (Eds.), Themes from Kaplan (pp. 331–392). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Schiffer, S. (1996). Language created language-independent entities. Philosophical Topics, 24(1), 149–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schiffer, S. (2003). The things we mean. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Searle, J. (1992). The rediscovery of the mind. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  46. Shapiro, S. (1997). Philosophy of mathematics: Structure and ontology. Oxford: OUP.Google Scholar
  47. Soames, S. (1987). Direct reference, propositional attitudes, and semantic content. Philosophical Topics, 15(1), 47–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Soames, S. (1989). Semantics and semantic competence, philosophical perspectives. Philosophy of Mind and Action Theory, 3, 575–596.Google Scholar
  49. Soames, S. (2002). Beyond rigidity: The unfinished semantic agenda of naming and necessity. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Soames, S. (2010). What is meaning? soochow lectures in philosophy. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Soames, S. (2015). Rethinking language, mind, and meaning: The hempel lectures, Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Soames, S. (2014). The analytic tradition in philosophy, volume 1: Founding giants. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Szabó, Z. (2012). Against logical form. In I. G. Preyer (Ed.), Donald Davidson on truth, meaning, and the mental (pp. 105–126). Oxford: OUP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Niagara UniversityLewistonUSA

Personalised recommendations