2020 Carl G. Hempel Lecture #3: "Plural signification and semantic paradox"

Date
Sep 23, 2020, 4:00 pm6:00 pm
Location
Virtual event

Speaker

Details

Event Description

Series title: "The Multiplicity of Meaning"

Abstract:  Suppose that Socrates is saying that not everything Socrates is saying is true. (Perhaps he has forgotten who he is, sees someone else saying that snow is black, and wrongly believes that that person is Socrates.) If everything he is saying is true, then since one of the things he’s saying is that not everything he is saying is true, one of the things he’s saying is false: a contradiction. So, not everything he’s saying is true. But then one of the things he’s saying—namely, that not everything he’s saying is true—is true. So, he is saying at least two things. This is sometimes called “Prior’s Paradox”, after A.N. Prior who first formalized it (though the argument was already implicitly endorsed by Buridan in the 1320s). But there is nothing paradoxicalabout it, unless one antecedently assumes that anyone uttering just one sentence is thereby saying at most one thing. Following Buridan, I think it’s just a good argument against that assumption. Other “semantic paradoxes”, like the Liar, likewise turn out under inspection simply to be sound arguments for the one-many character of various other semantic relations. For example, we can argue that ‘This sentence expresses something false’ expresses at least two things, namely something false, and the truth that it expresses something false. In some closely related cases, we can strengthen ‘at least two’ to ‘infinitely many’. These claims of multiplicity might seem arbitrary or mysterious if they were thought of merely as escape routes to block paradox. But I will claim that in the context of the more general Plural Signification picture and the arguments from the previous lectures, they make intuitive and theoretical sense, and show how that picture provides a satisfactory resolution of the paradoxes that have plagued philosophical thought about semantic relations since the beginning.

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