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
    • Required Reading: Russell, "Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description" (S&S); Frege, "Thoughts" (S&S), Selection from the Frege-Russell correspondence (S&S).
    • (Highly) Recommended Reading:  Frege, "On Sense and Nominatum" (M); Russell, "On Denoting" (M); Russell, "Descriptions" (M); Locke, "Of Words" (M)
  2. Critique of Descriptivism 1: Kripke
    • Required Reading: Kripke, "A Puzzle about Belief" (S&S)
    • Recommended Reading: Kripke, "Naming and Necessity" (M); Evans, "The Causal Theory of Names" (M)
  3. Critique of Descriptivism 2: Indexicals and Demonstratives
    • Required Reading: Perry, "Frege on Demonstratives" (R), Kaplan, "Demonstratives" (R)
    • Recommended Reading: Perry, "The Problem of the Essential Indexical" (S&S), Kaplan, "Dthat" (M)
  4. Neo-Fregean Theories
    • Required Reading: Forbes, "The Indispensability of Sinn" (R); Richard, Propositional Attitudes, pp. 78-105 (R)
    • Recommended Reading: Crimmins, "So-Labeled Neo-Fregeanism" (R)
  5. Hidden Indexical Theories
    • Required Reading: Crimmins and Perry, "The Prince and the Phone Booth: Reporting Puzzling Beliefs" (R); Richard, Propositional Attitudes, pp. 133-190 (R); Sider, "Three Problems for Richard's Theory of Belief Ascription" (R); Soames, "Beyond Singular Propositions" (R); Richard, "Defective Contexts, Accommodation, and Normalization" (R)
    • Recommended Reading: Saul, "The Best of Intentions: Ignorance, Idiosyncrasy, and Belief Reporting" (R); Crimmins, "Context in the Attitudes" (R); Richard, "Attitudes in Context" (R)
  6. Pretense
    • Required Reading: Crimmins, "Hesperus and Phosphorus: Sense, Pretense, and Reference" (R); Stanley, "Fictionalism and Semantic Pretense" (R).
  7. I. L. F.s
    • Required Reading: Davidson, "Truth and Meaning" (M); Larson and Ludlow, "Interpreted Logical Forms" (R)
  8. Neo-Russellianism 1
    • Required Reading: Salmon, Frege's Puzzle, chapters 7-9 (R)
    • Recommended Reading:  Tom McKay, "On Proper Names in Belief Ascription" (R)
  9. Neo-Russellianism 2: Saul on substitutivity in simple sentences
    • Required Reading: Saul, "Substitution and Simple Sentences" (R)
    • Recommended Reading: Forbes, "How Much Substitutivity?" (R), "Enlightened Semantics for Simple Sentences" (R); Moore, "Saving Substitutivity in Simple Sentences" (R), "Did Clinton Lie?" (R); Saul, ""Did Clinton Say Something False?" (R), "Substitution, Simple Sentences, and Sex Scandals" (R), "Reply to Forbes"(R)
  10. Neo-Russellianism 3: Criticisms and Developments
    • Required Reading: Saul, "The Pragmatics of Attitude Ascription" (R), Braun, "Understanding Belief Reports" (R)
  11. Neo-Russellianism 4: Soames
    • Required Reading: Soames, excerpts from Beyond Rigidity (R)