More about Inscriptionalism

  • M. J. Cresswell
Part of the Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy book series (SLAP, volume 36)


The theories of propositional attitudes discussed in the last chapter all hoped to analyse sentences about such attitudes as relating people to linguistic items. The view that this is the way to do it may conveniently be called ‘inscriptionalism’ and in this chapter, which is really a sort of coda to the last, I shall try to apply the lessons just learnt to inscriptionalist theories of indirect discourse, and to theories of attitudes based on them. I shall first set out a general argument against inscriptionalist theories of indirect discourse, and I shall then shew how this argument applies to two such theories, one a theory of indirect discourse developed in Boër and Lycan, 1986 and one a theory of attitudes in general found in Appendix I of Lycan, 1984. In both cases I have benefited by comments either by letter (from Boër) or in conversation (with Lycan) and I shall discuss these later because I believe that they throw a great deal of light on the extremely difficult issues involved.


Mental Event Propositional Attitude Semantic Role Language Game Conceptual Role 
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  1. 1.
    This is of course not strictly correct since Davidson’s theory was a paratactic theory of oratio obliqua utterances On p. 98 I suggested that such a theory could still allow that a sentence of oratio obliqua could be a single sentence. The analysis in Boër and Lycan, 1986 explicitly takes a `sentence’ of oratio obliqua to be two sentences. Whether Davidson’s own theory is a victim of my argument depends on whether it is possible for the very same utterance to have different meanings as an utterance in different languages. If you think, as I do, that it can, then ‘the argument will still apply. (Other problems with an utterance view of parataxis are pointed out by Boër and Lycan on p. 51, and also in the works they refer to in Note 3 on p. 183.)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    I have myself shewn in Cresswell, 1985d, generalizing the work of Skyrms, 1978 that, with a suitably constrained system of language levels, any intensional semantics can be expressed metalinguistically. But of course the meta-linguistic semantics for an operator at any given level makes reference to interpretations of sentences at lower levels.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Robert Stalnaker would presumably argue (as in Stalnaker, 1985) that the most appropriate way to individuate mental events of the required kind is in terms of possible outcomes of actions. So the mental events would in effect become classes of possible worlds. As such the problems mentioned here are easily solved and we get ordinary possible-worlds semantics. Obviously I have no wish to object to Lycan’s views if construed in this way. I know that Lycan thinks that mental events do have truth values and do have propositional structure so that, even if he might not wish to analyse propositions as sets of possible worlds, his view is perhaps closer to my own than the inscriptionalist way of putting it might indicate.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. J. Cresswell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyVictoria University of WellingtonNew Zealand

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