Topic: HUMAN SEMANTICS
The Semantics of Belief Ascriptions
By Michael McKinsey
Since it was first proposed by Frege (1892), the view that cognitive attitude verbs express mental relations that hold between persons and propositions has dominated discussion of the semantics of such verbs. I will call this view "the relation theory". In the particular case of the verb `believes', for instance, the relation theory holds that a sentence of the form `S believes that p' says of the person referred to by S and the proposition expressed by the sentence p that the former bears the relation of believing to the latter. In this paper, I will present an array of evidence against the relation theory, some of it classical and some of it new, and I will argue that this evidence is quite overwhelming and cannot be explained away. I will also propose a new theory of the meaning and logical form of cognitive ascriptions that explains the available evidence. This new theory is based on the concept of linguistic meaning instead of the concept of a proposition, and it provides a compositional account of the meaning of cognitive ascriptions, even though it implies that the cognitive verbs, in their basic senses, do not express relations of any sort. I will conclude by showing that much of the evidence I give against the relation theory can also be applied to refute various recently proposed "contextual" views of cognitive ascriptions.
The paper above presents a Russellian view on epistemic ascriptions. One of my favourite excerpts is the one where he quotes and begins to explain Berg's famous examples:
A particularly poignant example of this kind of exception to the Russellians' rule has been described by Jonathan Berg:(...)A viewer marvelling at Superman's ability to conceal his identity might remark to another viewer, "Look, there's Superman in his Clark Kent outfit; he's incredibly convincing! Everyone thinks he's a reporter--Jimmy Olson, Mr. White--why even that clever Lois Lane believes that Superman is a reporter." (Berg, 1988, p. 355; his emphasis.)
In this nice example, our intuition is that the sentence (12) is true:(12) Lois believes that Superman is a reporter.
Moreover, of course, this use of (12) would not at all suggest or implicate the falsehood that Lois would accept the sentence `Superman is a reporter'.
Posted by Tony Marmo at 00:01 GMT
Updated: Wednesday, 3 November 2004 09:01 GMT