Hostname: page-component-76fb5796d-skm99 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-25T09:08:42.003Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Why we should not identify sentence structure with propositional structure

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020


It is a common view among philosophers of language that both propositions and sentences are structured objects. One obvious question to ask about such a view is whether there is any interesting connection between these two sorts of structure. The author identifies two theses about this relationship. Identity (ID) – the structure of a sentence and the proposition it expresses are identical. Determinism (DET) – the structure of a sentence determines the structure of the proposition it expresses. After noting that ID entails DET, the author argues against DET (and therefore also against ID). This argument is based on considerations to do with unarticulated constituents, but it is not ultimately empirical. As well as answering a question suggested by contemporary theories of propositions, the conclusion is significant because some, but not all, of the theories of propositions currently popular entail ID and/or DET. Unless there is a response to the argument here, those theories are refuted.

On Act- and Language-Based Conceptions of Propositions
Copyright © Canadian Journal of Philosophy 2013

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Bach, Kent. 1994. “Conversational Impliciture.” Mind and Language 9 (2): 124162. 10.1111/j.1468-0017.1994.tb00220.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bach, Kent. 2001. “You Don't Say?Synthese 128: 1544. 10.1023/A:1010353722852.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bird, Alexander, and Tobin, Emma. 2012. “Natural Kinds.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Zalta, Edward N., 2012 edn. Scholar
Cappelen, Herman, and Lepore, Ernie. 2007. “The Myth of Unarticulated Constituents: Essays on the Philosophy of John Perry.” In Situating Semantics, edited by O'Rourke, Michael, and Washington, Corey. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Carston, Robyn. 2002. Thoughts and Utterances: The Pragmatics of Explicit Communication. Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chomsky, Noam. 1986. Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
Collins, John. 2007. “Syntax, More or Less.” Mind 116 (464): 805850. 10.1093/mind/fzm805.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Collins, John. 2010. “Naturalism in the Philosophy of Language; Or Why There is No Such Thing as Language.” In New Waves in Philosophy of Language, edited by Sawyer, Sarah. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
Collins, John. 2013. “Cutting it (too) Fine.” Philosophical Studies. 10.1007/s11098-013-0163-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grice, Herbert Paul. 1989. “Logic and Conversation.” In Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Harman, Gilbert. 1970. “Deep Structure as Logical Form.” Synthese 21: 275297. 10.1007/BF00484801.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hawthorne, John, and Lepore, Ernie. 2011. “On Words.” The Journal of Philosophy 108 (9): 447485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Heck, Richard G., and May, Robert. 2011. “The Composition of Thoughts.” Noûs 45 (1): 126166. 10.1111/j.1468-0068.2010.00769.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Heim, Irene Roswitha, and Kratzer, Angelika. 1997. Semantics in Generative Grammar. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
Hodgson, Thomas. 2013. “Propositions: An Essay on Linguistic Content.” PhD diss., University of St Andrews.Google Scholar
Kaplan, David. 1990. “Words.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 64: 93119. 10.2307/4106880.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
King, Jeffrey C. 2007. The Nature and Structure of Content. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199226061.001.0001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
King, Jeffrey C. 2009. “Questions of Unity.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 109: 257277. 10.1111/j.1467-9264.2009.00267.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
King, Jeffrey C. 2012. “Structured Propositions.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Zalta, Edward N., 2012 edn. Scholar
King, Jeffrey C. 2013a. “Propositional Unity: What's the Problem, Who Has it and Who Solves it?Philosophical Studies 165: 7193. 10.1007/s11098-012-9920-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
King, Jeffrey C. 2013b. “On Fineness of Grain.” Philosophical Studies 163 (3): 763781. 10.1007/s11098-011-9844-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
King, Jeffrey C., and Stanley, Jason. 2005. “Semantics, Pragmatics, and the Role of Semantic Content.” In Semantics versus Pragmatics, edited by Szabó, Zoltán Gendler. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199251520.003.0005.Google Scholar
Martí, Luisa. 2006. “Unarticulated Constituents Revisited.” Linguistics and Philosophy 29: 135166. 10.1007/s10988-005-4740-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Perry, John. 1986. “Thought without Representation.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volumes 60: 137152. 10.2307/4106900.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Recanati, François. 2002. “Unarticulated Constituents.” Linguistics and Philosophy 25: 299345. 10.1023/A:1015267930510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Recanati, François. 2004. Literal Meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511615382.Google Scholar
Recanati, François. 2007. “It is Raining (Somewhere).” Linguistics and Philosophy 30: 123146. 10.1007/s10988-006-9007-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Recanati, François. 2010. Truth-conditional Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199226993.001.0001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sennet, Adam. 2011. “Unarticulated Constituents and Propositional Structure.” Mind and Language 26 (4): 412435. 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2011.01423.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Soames, Scott. 1987. “Direct Reference, Propositional Attitudes, and Semantic Content.” Philosophical Topics 15 (1): 4787. 10.5840/philtopics198715112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Soames, Scott. 2008. “The Gap between Meaning and Assertion: Why What We Literally Say Often Differs from What Our Words Literally Mean.” In Philosophical Essays. Vol. 1. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Sperber, Dan, and Wilson, Deirdre. 1995. Relevance: Communication and Cognition. 2nd ednOxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Stainton, Robert J. 2005. “In Defense of Non-sentential Assertion.” In Semantics versus Pragmatics, edited by Szabó, Zoltán Gendler. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199251520.003.0011.Google Scholar
Stanley, Jason. 2000. “Context and Logical Form.” Linguistics and Philosophy 23: 391434. 10.1023/A:1005599312747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar