Syllabus: Propositional Attitudes


This course will survey the classic and contemporary literature on the semantics of propositional attitude sentences, i.e., sentences of the form:

S believes that P
S knows that P
S says that P
S wishes that P
No doubt the discussion will spill over into related topics such as the nature of meaning, the pragmatics/semantics interface, semantic competence, reference, and others. The discussion is driven by puzzles like the following. The names 'Hesperus' and 'Phosphorus' denote the same thing, and so one might expect to be able to substitute one name for the other in any sentence without altering that sentence's truth value. And yet the following sentences quite clearly seem capable of differing in truth value:
Hammurabi believed that Hesperus = Hesperus
Hammurabi believed that Hesperus = Phosphorus


Four short discussion notes (due 2/12, 3/5, 3/26 and 4/16), and a seminar paper (due 5/15).


Readings will be drawn from several sources. One is Nathan Salmon and Scott Soames, eds., Propositions and Attitudes (Oxford: Oxford, 1988). If you can get a hold of this book, do so; unfortunately it is out of print. Xeroxed copies of the entire book are available in the Syracuse University Bookstore. I hope to read portions of Scott Soames's forthcoming book, Beyond Rigidity. I will distribute this manuscript later in the semester. Finally, I will put a copy of A. P. Martinich's anthology The Philosophy of Language (which is worth purchasing, incidentally), as well as a number of other papers on reserve in the graduate student lounge.

Tentative Schedule

Abbreviations: S&S = Salmon and Soames, ed., Propositions and Attitudes; M = Martinich, ed., The Philosophy of Language -- copies on reserve in the graduate student lounge; R = xerox copy on reserve in the graduate student lounge

  1. Descriptivism
  2. Critique of Descriptivism 1: Kripke
  3. Critique of Descriptivism 2: Indexicals and Demonstratives
  4. Neo-Fregean Theories
  5. Hidden Indexical Theories
  6. Pretense
  7. I. L. F.s
  8. Neo-Russellianism 1
  9. Neo-Russellianism 2: Saul on substitutivity in simple sentences
  10. Neo-Russellianism 3: Criticisms and Developments
  11. Neo-Russellianism 4: Soames