Propositions and Linguistic/Cognitive Action Conference (2017)

Venue: Manor House Schloss Mickeln, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf

Date: May 24th - 26th

List of Speakers

  • Professor Arianna Betti, Professor (Chair) of Philosophy of Language, University of Amsterdam.
  • Professor Richard Gaskin, Department of Philosophy, University of Liverpool
  • Professor Peter Hanks, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota.
  • Professor Andrea Iacona, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy and Educational Science, University of Turin
  • Distinguished Professor Jeffrey C. King, Department of Philosophy, Rutgers University.
  • Professor Robert Matthews, Proferssor of Philosophy, Center for Cognitive Science, Rutgers University.
  • Dr. Friedericke Moltmann, Senior Researcher, Department of Philosophy, New York University.
  • Professor Dolf Rami, Associate Professor, Georg-August-University Gottingen.
  • Professor Francois Recanati, Research Fellow, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Institue Jean Nicod (Paris).
  • Dr. Julia Zakkou (post-doctoral researcher), Philosophy, Hamburg University.

Conference Description

Propositions are commonly taken to be one or many of the following: the primary bearers of truth-value; the objects of belief and other "propositional attitudes (i.e., what is believed, doubted, etc.); the referents of that-clauses; and the meanings of sentences (Gaskin, 2008; Iacona, 2002, 2003; Moltmann, 2013, 2014, 2017). As one or many of these conceptualisations, propositions play a central role in cognitive science, linguistics, and philosophy. However, at this point in time there is no widespread agreement about what sort of entities propositions are.

This ambiguity is particularly troubling in the case of those (sub-)disciplines where a commitment to propositions is fundamental. For example, in truth-conditional semantics it is assumed that the meaning of sentences - what sentences say or express - are truth-conditions, which are borne by propositions. And, in cognitive science, it is assumed that propositions function as the basic units of representation or schemata: the supposed building blocks of the mind. Therefore, in cases like these - and in many others like them (cf. Betti, 2015) - the lack of clarity about just what kinds of things propositions are threatens to undermine the research paradigm at its foundations.

In this conference, we will consider a new approach to the study of the nature of propositions and propositional content: the approach that takes propositions to be types of cognitive or spoken actions (Hanks, 2015; King, 2013; King, Soames, and Speaks, 2015; Soames, 2010, forthcoming). According to this view, propositions are either types of events of cognitive predications or act types performed by speakers in uttering sentences (Soames, 2010, 2012; Hanks, 2015). In either case, representational and truth-conditional entities are taken to originate through our mental and spoken actions, and the role of propositions – as entities of this kind – is to classify and individuate these actions. In this way, propositions are viewed as types of token cognitive or spoken actions, which inherit their type truth-conditional or representational nature from the mental and spoken actions that are their tokens.

This new approach promises to provide an answer to the question of what sorts of things propositions are. But still a number of issues remain unclear. In regards to the approach itself, one could ask, for instance: Where does this approach stand in relation to the traditional distinction between conceptualism and traditional Platonic realism about propositions?; can propositions inherit truth-conditions or representational natures in worlds in which they are not tokened by mental and spoken actions?; if propositions inherit their truth-conditionality and representational nature from token mental and spoken actions, does this commit us to a particular conception of (i) truth (say, coherentist) and (ii) representation?; and many more.

More specifically, this new approach bring forward a number of questions related to those (sub-)disciplines in which a commitment to one or many conceptualisations of propositions is central. For example, if propositions as truth-conditional contents are act types performed by speakers in uttering sentences, then it is interesting to consider what impact would this have on debates about literal meaning, contextualism, and semantic minimalism in truth-conditional semantics (Recanati, 2004; Capellen and Lepore, 2004)? And, if propositions as representational entities are types of events of cognitive predications, then what would this imply for debates about the representational nature of cognition (Chater & Christiansen, 2010; Clark, 2013; Floridi, 2011)?

The aim of this conference is to bring together researchers from a range of (sub-)disciplines to consider questions of these kinds. On the one hand, then, the conference aims to examine and compare this new conception of propositions with its more entrenched counterparts: Platonic realism and conceptualism. But, on the other hand, this conference aims to consider how – if at all – this new conception of propositions can be put to work to resolve, move forward, or undermine debates in (sub-)disciplines that rely heavily on a working conception of propositions. It is hoped, therefore, that ultimately by focusing on this new, controversial cognitive/linguistic-action conception of propositions, the assumptions and commitments of the research paradigms of (sub-)disciplines can be identified and evaluated as a means to identify the potential stumbling blocks to both disciplinary and interdisciplinary progress.



Betti, A. 2015. Against Facts. MIT Press.
Capellen, H. & Lepore, E. 2004. Insensitive Semantics: A Defense of Semantic Minimalism andSpeech Act Pluralism. Wiley-Blackwell.
Chater, N. & Christiansen, M. 2010. Language Acquisition Meets Language Evolution. CognitiveScience, 34: 1131-1157.
Clark, A. 2013. Whatever Next? Predictive Brains, Situated Agents, and the Future of CognitiveScience. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 36(3): 1–73.
Floridi, L. 2011. The Philosophy of Information. Oxford University Press.
Gaskin, W. 2008. The Unity of the Proposition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hanks, P. 2015. Propositional Content. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
Iacona, A. 2002. Propositions, Genoa, Italy: Name.
– 2003. Are There Propositions?, Erkenntnis, 58: 325–351.
King, J. 2013. Propositional Unity: What’s the Problem, Who Has it and Who Solves it?Philosophical Studies, 165: 71–93.
King, J., Soames, S. and Speaks, J. 2014. New Thinking About Propositions. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Moltmann, F. 2003. Propositional Attitudes without Propositions. Synthese, 135: 77–118.
– 2013. Abstract Objects and the Semantics of Natural Language. Oxford University Press.
– 2014. Propositions, Attitudinal Objects, and the Distinction between Action and Products.Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 43: 5-6, special issue 'Propositions and their Grasp or Understanding', edited by D. Hunter and G. Rattan, 2014, pp. 679-701. 
 forthcoming a: Cognitive Products and the Semantics of Attitude Verbs and Deontic Modals. To appear in F. Moltmann / M. Textor (eds.): Act-Based Conceptions of Propositional Content. Contemporary and Historical Perspectives. Oxford University Press, New York, 2017
– forthcoming b: Levels of Linguistic Acts and the Semantics of Saying and Quoting. To appear in S. L. Tsohatzidis (ed.): Interpreting Austin: Critical Essays. Cambridge University Press.
Recanati, F. 2004. Literal Meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Soames, S. 2010. What is Meaning? Princeton: Princeton University Press.
– 2012. Propositions. In Fara and Russell, 2012: 209–20.
– forthcoming. Rethinking Language, Mind, and Meaning. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Schloss Mickeln