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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Propositions and Attitude Ascriptions

Just a quick note relating to Chalmers' Propositions and Attitude Ascriptions (PA), which can be found here. In (PA) Chalmers defends a new approach to attitude ascriptions. Roughly: an utterance of 'S believes that p' is true iff S endorses a proposition q that is relevantly connected to p. q is relevantly connected to p iff p and q determine the same 2-intension, and q determines a p-relevant 1-intension. The 2-intension part is introduced in order to deal with cases of the following sort:

(1) Twin-Oscar believes water tastes good.

Suppose I utter (1). There is a feeling that (1) is false even if Twin-Oscar truly enjoys the clear non-alcoholic liquid in his glass. After all, Twin-Oscar is surrounded by XYZ and not H20. But if belief operators operated only on 1-intensions, then (1) would be true.

The account seems right to me. But I am wondering about:

(2) It is a priori for Twin-Oscar that water (if it exists) is the clear liquid in rivers and lakes.

Intuitively, (2) is false if uttered by me. Twin-Oscar is surrounded by XYZ not H20. But if deeply epistemic operators operate on 1-intension, as suggested by Chalmers, then (2) should be true (since the 1-intension of the operand sentence is necessary for Twin-Oscar). Now, I am aware that Chalmers has recently introduced some entertainability clause into his account of the a priori. But the operand sentence in (2) is entertainable (recall that I am the utterer, not Twin-Oscar). So it would seem that we need deeply epistemic operators to operate on something other than just 1-intension. Perhaps the following simple amendment might work: A's utterance of 'It is a priori for S that p' is true iff the 2-intension of 'p' (in the mouth of A) is true at the world of S, and the 1-intension of 'p' is necessary for S.


djc said...

Hi Brit,

I'd say that 'It is a priori for x that p' is naturally interpreted as 'It is a priori knowable by x that p', and so its truth-conditions are based on those of ordinary attitude ascriptions. In this case, they require that there is some enriched proposition that Twin Oscar can know a priori that determines the Russellian content of 'water is the clear liquid' (in the mouth of the ascriber) and has an appropriate primary intension. But in this case there isn't such a proposition -- the obvious proposition that he knows a priori (the one he expresses by saying 'Water is the clear liquid...') has an appropriate primary intension but the wrong Russellian content.

Perhaps there's some other way of making sense of 'a priori for X that p', not in terms of 'a priori knowable by X' but more analogous to my simple 'a priori that' operator. I'm not sure about this. But if there is, I suspect that the truth of 'It is a priori for x that p' will require that p has a necessary primary intension and is entertainable by X, which again will fail in your Twin Oscar case.

Brit Brogaard said...

Thanks for this, Dave. To me, a uniform treatment seems better. For why think the semantics for 'it is a priori that' differs substantially from that for 'it is a priori for x that'?

We also need to deal with:
(1) 'it is a priori to (practically) everyone that Superman is Superman'
(2) 'it is a priori to everyone who acquired the term Hesperus via the description "The BOITES" that Hesperus is the BOITES'
(3) 'It is a priori on Twin Earth that the liquid in the rivers and lakes there is XYZ'
(4) 'It was a priori in Ancient Greece that Hesperus was the BOITES'
(5) 'In five years it will be a priori to my young cousin that Hesperus is Hesperus'

Entertainability will then need to be indexed (not only to people but also to places and times).

djc said...

Hi, all of these seem to be naturally interpreted in terms of 'It is a priori knowable that' claims, and so can be treated by the standard semantics. If one did want to analyze these analogously to 'It is a priori that', one could simply bring in the notion of a proposition being entertainable (or live) at a centered world, which is defined in footnote 18 of the paper. On the relation between 'It is a priori that' and 'It is a priori knowable that', see the last section of the paper (pp. 41-44).

Brit Brogaard said...

Thanks David. I checked the places you mentioned. It seems to me that one could treat the standard 'it is a priori that' operator as 'it is a priori knowable by the speaker/me that'. Is there any reason not to go this way?

djc said...

Hi, the main reason to be cautious about this is the sort of consideration that Soames discusses in his book and that I discuss in my reply. On my account, attitude ascriptions have some flexibility in mode of presentation -- the ascribee needn't have a belief with the same 1-intension that the embedded sentence has for the ascriber. So 'Pierre believes that London is ugly' can be true even though Pierre's 1-intension for ugly is different from mine. But then you might think the same goes for the first person: 'I believe that N is phi' can be true even though 'N is phi' doesn't express a belief for me, but 'N* is phi' does, where N* is another name for the same individual with a somewhat different 1-intension. If so, then presumably the same applies to 'I know a priori that' and 'Possibly, I know a priori that'. If so, 'It is knowable a priori that N is phi' can be true even though 'N is phi' is not a priori for me, as long as the nearby 'N* is phi' is a priori for me. But in this case, 'N is phi' won't have a necessary 1-intension, so 'It is a priori that N is phi' is false.

There are ways of handling this sort of case without making the distinction, e.g. by holding that 'S knows a priori that' imposes tighter restrictions on 1-intensions than ordinary attitude ascriptions , but this is tricky and arguably ad hoc. I discuss the
various options in the paper -- see especially the discussion of the 'Wonkette' case.

Brit Brogaard said...

Right, it seems plausible that 'I believe that p' may be true even if I don't have a belief with the primary intension of 'p' (but one that is close enough). And if that holds, then clearly the same would hold for 'it is knowable a priori by me that p'.

But isn't it plausible to think that there a similar kind of flexibility built into 'it is a priori that'? So, if utter 'it is a priori that p', then this may be true even if it is not (quite) a priori for me that p but only that q.

Given the context-sensitivity of the notion of apriority, it would seem that the following might be acceptable:

It is a priori that p iff it is knowable a priori by me that p.