, Volume 196, Issue 4, pp 1475–1499 | Cite as

Structured propositions and the logical form of predication

  • Gary OstertagEmail author
S.I. : Unity of Structured Propositions


Jeffrey King, Scott Soames, and others have recently challenged the familiar identification of a Russellian proposition, such as the proposition that Brutus stabbed Caesar, with an ordered sequence constructed out of objects, properties, and relations. There is, as they point out, a surplus of candidate sequences available that are each equally serviceable. If so, any choice among these candidates will be arbitrary. In this paper, I show that, unless a controversial assumption is made regarding the nature of nonsymmetrical relations, none of the proffered candidate sequences are in fact adequate to the play the role. Moreover, as I argue, the most promising alternative theory of relations—one that avoids the problematic assumption and, in addition, fits most naturally into the sequentialist’s framework—fails to meet a basic requirement: it cannot distinguish between the proposition that Brutus stabbed Caesar and the proposition that Caesar stabbed Brutus. The upshot is that the conspicuously structured entities that are widely assumed to be up to the task of “playing the proposition role” shed no light on the very structure they are invoked to represent.


Nonsymmetric relations Neutral relations Kit Fine Benacerraf problem Positionalism Structured proposition Russellian proposition 


  1. Armstrong, D. M. (1997). A world of states of affairs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bealer, G. (1998). Propositions. Mind, 105(1), 1–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Braun, D. (1993). Empty names. Noûs, 27(4), 449–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Dodd, J. (2007). Works of music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Donnelly, M. (2016). Positionalism revisited. In A. Marmodoro & D. Yates (Eds.), The metaphysics of relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198735878.001.0001.
  6. Dorr, C. (2004). Non-symmetric relations. In D. Zimmerman (Ed.), Oxford studies in metaphysics (Vol. 1). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Fine, K. (2000). Neutral relations. Philosophical Review, 109(1), 1–33. doi: 10.2307/2693553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gaskin, R., & Hill, D. J. (2012). On neutral relations. Dialectica, 66(1), 167–186. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-8361.2012.01294.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gilmore, C. (2014). Parts of propositions. In S. Kleinschmidt (Ed.), Mereology and location (pp. 156–208). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199593828.003.0009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hanks, P. (2011). Structured propositions as types. Mind, 120(1), 11–52. doi: 10.1093/mind/fzr011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hanks, P. (2015). Propositional content. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hochberg, H. (1999). Complexes and consciousness. Stockholm: Thales.Google Scholar
  13. Jubien, M. (2001). Propositions and the objects of thought. Philosophical Studies, 104(1), 47–62. doi: 10.1007/0-306-48134-0_10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Keller, L. (2013). The metaphysics of propositional constituency. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 43, 655–678. doi: 10.1080/00455091.2013.870735.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. King, J. (2007). The nature and structure of content. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Landini, G. (2007). Wittgenstein’s apprenticeship with Russell. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. MacBride, F. (2007). Neutral relations revisited. Dialectica, 61, 25–56. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-8361.2007.01092.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. MacBride, F. (2012). Hochberg’s micro-metaphysical relations: Order all the way down. In E. Tegtmeier (Ed.), Studies in the philosophy of Herbert Hochberg. Ontos: Heusenstamm. doi: 10.1515/9783110330557.87.Google Scholar
  19. MacBride, F. (2013). How involved do you want to be in a non-symmetric relationship? Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 92, 1–16. doi: 10.1080/00048402.2013.788046.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Merricks, T. (2015). Propositions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ostertag, G. (2013). Two aspects of propositional unity. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 43(5–6), 518–533. doi: 10.1080/00455091.2013.870725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Pietroski, P. (2005). Events and semantic architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Russell, B. (1903). The principles of mathematics. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.Google Scholar
  24. Russell, B. (1913/1992). The theory of knowledge: The 1913 manuscript, ed. by E. R. Eames in collaboration with K. Blackwell. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Salmon, N. (1986). Frege’s puzzle. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  26. Schiffer, S. (2016). Cognitive propositions. Philosophical Studies, 173, 2551–2563. doi: 10.1007/s11098-016-0634-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Soames, Scott. (1987). Direct reference, propositional attitudes, and semantic content. Philosophical Topics 15: 47–87. Reprinted in Philosophical Essays, Volume II. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. Page references are to the original.Google Scholar
  28. Soames, S. (1989). “Semantics and semantic competence.” Philosophical Perspectives 3: 575–596. Reprinted in Philosophical Essays, Volume I. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. Page references are to the original.Google Scholar
  29. Soames, S. (2010). What is meaning?. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Soames, S. (2014). Cognitive propositions. In J. King, S. Soames, & J. Speaks (Eds.), New thinking about propositions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Soames, S. (2015). Rethinking language, mind, and meaning. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. van Inwagen, P. (2006). Names for relations. Philosophical Perspectives, 20, 454–477. doi: 10.1111/j.1520-8583.2006.00115.x.Google Scholar
  33. Williamson, T. (1985). Converse relations. Philosophical Review, 94(2), 249–262. doi: 10.2307/2185430.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, The Graduate CenterCUNYNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyNassau Community CollegeGarden CityUSA

Personalised recommendations