Assertion De Re
In this paper I sketch an alternative to Stalnaker’s view of referential uses of descriptions. Stalnaker has long promoted a pragmatic account of assertions, presuppositions, and informativeness. He is also a fervent advocate of propositionalism, the doctrine that the contents of assertions, presuppositions, and attitudes, (are or) determine sets of possible worlds. I argue that the combination of a pragmatic account and propositionalism creates several problems. (i) It does not predict the right truth-conditions for some assertions. (ii) It cannot duly separate facts of reference from presuppositions about facts of reference. (iii) It reproduces, at the level of what is presupposed, the cognitive significance problems that pragmatic presuppositions were meant to solve at the level of what is asserted. I argue that the solution to these problems involves giving up propositionalism. While Stalnaker analyses assertions and presuppositions in terms of singular propositions and possible worlds, I propose to analyse them in terms of properties and centred worlds. But unlike other centred world accounts inspired by Lewis, the view I advertise is not egocentric: the circumstance of evaluation of an assertion need not be centred on the subject, it can be centred on an object. When the assertion involves a referential use of a description, the object at the centre is the one that the speaker “has in mind.” Unlike its egocentric counterparts, this view can maintain that referential communication is direct: speakers and hearers can grasp the same truth-conditions.
KeywordsReferential uses of descriptions Assertion Keith Donnellan Robert Stalnaker David Lewis Pragmatics Context Communication Propositions Centred worlds Rigidity
I am currently Chargé de Recherches by the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique, Communauté française de Belgique (F.R.S.-FNRS), at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), in the Centre of Research in Linguistics LaDisco. I am grateful to the F.R.S.-FNRS for its support. I thank my colleagues from ULB and from the Université de Liège, Philippe De Brabanter, Mikhail Kissine, Philippe Kreutz, Bruno Leclercq, Sébastien Richard, and Antonin Thuns, for helpful discussions on the ideas of this paper in a joint seminar in September 2016.
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