Recent Posts

The Bertrand Russell Show

Feminist Philosophers

fragments of consciousness

Gender, Race and Philosophy: The Blog


Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog

Long Words Bother Me

semantics etc. highlights

Thoughts Arguments and Rants



Thursday, July 20, 2006

Kamp/Vlach Sentences: Further Reflections

Here are some further reflections on today's discussion. Consider again Kamp's old example and some variations on it:

(1) A child was born who will become ruler of the world.
(2) A child who will become ruler of the world was born.
(3) A child was born who would become ruler of the world.
(4) A child who would become ruler of the world was born.

Where P is past, and F is future, I take it that the preferred readings of (1) - (3) are as follows (these are not necessarily the only readings):

(1a) There is an x such that (P(x is a child and x is born) and F(x is ruler of the world))
(2a) There is an x such that (x is a child and P(x is born) and F(x is ruler of the world))
(3a) P(there is an x such that (x is a child and x is born and F(x is ruler of the world)))

Notice that the future tense operator occurs within the scope of a past tense operator in (3a). In Priorean tense logic, a future tense operator in the scope of a past tense operator takes us to some time that is future relative to a past time. In (1a) and (2a) P and F do not occur within the scope of another tense operator.

Two questions: first, how do you propose to analyze (4)? In the same way as (3)? Second, why do we tend to read (1) and the stylistic variation in (2) differently? Any ideas?


Alan White said...

I'm not a linguistic philosopher, but I can play that role. (A not-so-subtle plug for Richard Russo's _Straight Man_, which is a delightful romp through academia, if you have spare summer moments for reading on the beach.)

Really, I'm not nearly qualified to answer your questions Brit, but a couple of things occur to me about these sentences, since no one else is talking.

One concerns some conditions of use as a factor of narrative perspective. Of course the first pair could be used as predicting or prognosticating in the present, but those would be more unusual cases. As I indicated in my previous post, all four could be used in some sort of more typical narrative about a past individual who actually became a world ruler. (I was thinking about how a TV history narrator might talk.) In this context there is a distinct difference of use. The first pair imply that the narrator speaks from a present-time perspective in which "will" affirms known fact from that present-time perspective. The second pair imply that the narrator is to be taken to be speaking from the perspective of the time of the event of birth, even though the narration admits by the use of "was" that this time is past--the narrator is historically inserted as it were, but with knowledge of the future relative to that past from the narrator's actual placement in present time. In short, the pairs differ with respect to use in rhetorical narrative strategy.

The second thing that occurs to me is that the placement of the clauses might be related to essentialist-type claims. Within the kind of narration context I mention above, and thus only acknowledging the "will"/"would" difference in that way, (1) and (3) are similar in that they connote a non-essentialist predication of being-a-world-ruler to some child born; (2) and (4) connote a (sort of fatalistic) essentialism of that property attached to some child that was born.

Again, not what you asked, but all I can think of now.

Brit Brogaard said...

Thank you, Alan. This is very helpful! So you think (3) and (4) tend to receive different readings, right? Another question I have is this. Do you think that the reading where the birth and the ruling take place before the time of speech is salient mostly in journalistic/literary contexts?

Alan White said...

Thanks Brit--you're generous to say that. I'd agree that (3) and (4) might have the sort of meaning difference that I see in weakly connoting non-essentialism or essentialism respectively. Any other meaning difference must be more contextual, at least as I see it. And yes, I think that uses of all four of these are most easily placed in those contexts.

Brit Brogaard said...

Thanks again, Alan! I think that is very interesting, even though I am not quite sure yet how the Priorean will be able to account for all of this.