Semantic ExcusesStephen Yablo (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
T. S. Eliot Lecture Theatre
“Aboutness” is a grand-sounding name for something basically familiar. Books are on topics; portraits are of people; the 1812 Overture concerns the Battle of Borodino. Aboutness is the relation that meaningful items bear to whatever it is that they are on, or of, or that they address or concern. Brentano made aboutness the defining feature of the mental. Phenomenologists have studied the aboutness-features of particular mental states. Materialists have sought to ground it in teleology or natural regularities. Attempts have even been made, in library science and the theory of information, to operationalize aboutness.
And yet the notion plays no serious role in philosophical semantics. This is surprising — sentences have aboutness properties, if anything does. One leading theory gives the meaning of a sentence by listing the scenarios in which it is true, or false. Nothing is said about the principle of selection, about how and why the sentence would be true, or false, in those scenarios. Subject matter is the missing link here. A sentence is true because of how matters stand where its subject matter is concerned. I will be asking, first, how we might go about making subject matter a separate factor in sentence meaning/content, and second, what “directed contents” can do for us in other parts of philosophy.
The 2012 John Locke Lecture series will be held at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays in Trinity Term 2012. The lectures will be given at the T. S. Eliot Lecture Theatre, Merton College, Oxford (enter by Rose Lane). The schedule for the lectures is as follows:
2 May: Semantic Excuses
9 May: The Truth and Something But the Truth
16 May: Extrapolation and its Limits
23 May: Knowing About Things
30 May: Saying Things: Pretense and Presupposition
For more information on the John Locke Lectures, please visit:
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