, Volume 196, Issue 4, pp 1403–1424 | Cite as

Force cancellation

  • François RecanatiEmail author
S.I.: Unity of Structured Propositions


Peter Hanks and Scott Soames both defend pragmatic solutions to the problem of the unity of the proposition. According to them, what ties together Tim and baldness in the singular proposition expressed by ‘Tim is bald’ is an act of the speaker (or thinker) : the act of predicating baldness of Tim. But Soames construes that act as force neutral and noncommittal while, for Hanks, it is inherently assertive and committal. Hanks answers the Frege–Geach challenge by arguing that, in complex sentences, the force inherent in the content of an embedded sentence is cancelled. Indrek Reiland has recently objected to Hanks’s proposal that it faces a dilemma: either force cancellation dissolves the unity of the proposition secured by the cancelled act of assertion (and Hanks’s proposal does not work), or Hanks’s proposal reduces to Soames’s. In this paper, I respond to Reiland by offering an analysis of force cancellation which gets rid of the alleged dilemma. The proposal is based on a set of distinctions from speech act theory : between two senses of ’force’, two types of act, and two types of context. The role of simulation in force cancellation is emphasized, and connections drawn to broader issues such as the evolution of complex language.


Unity of the proposition Illocutionary force Locutionary act Polyphony Echoic uses Cancellation Frege–Geach problem Embedding Simulation Language and theory of mind 



The research leading to this paper has received support from the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche under Grant Agreement No. ANR-10-LABX-0087 IEC and Grant Agreement No. ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02 PSL. I am grateful to Peter Hanks, Herb Clark, Indrek Reiland, and several anonymous reviewers for discussion.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut Jean NicodEcole Normale SupérieureParisFrance

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