Truth and the Absence of Fact

Truth and the Absence of Fact

Truth and the Absence of Fact

Truth and the Absence of Fact

Synopsis

Hartry Field presents a selection of thirteen of his most important essays on a set of related topics at the foundations of philosophy; one essay is previously unpublished, and eight are accompanied by substantial new postscripts. Five of the essays are primarily about truth, meaning, and propositional attitudes, five are primarily about semantic indeterminacy and other kinds of 'factual defectiveness' in our discourse, and three areprimarily about issues concerning objectivity, especially in mathematics and in epistemology.

Excerpt

Stalnaker's Inquiry (1984) offers us a theory of the deliberation and inquiry of intelligent agents that makes heavy use of believing and desiring, construed in a particular way. Let a Stalnaker-proposition, or S-proposition, be a function from some algebra of possible worlds (not necessarily comprising all the possible worlds) into truth values. (If we ignore the qualification that not all possible worlds need be assigned truth values, we could just as well say that an S-proposition is simply a set of possible worlds.) Stalnaker wants to construe believing and desiring as relations between the cognitive states of the agent and S-propositions. Stalnaker thinks that the S-proposition assigned to an intentional mental state should be viewed as the content of that state, or the object of that state.

Stalnaker sees two sorts of advantages to his view of the objects of intentional states over rivals (in particular, rivals that ascribe more fine-grained contents): first, that it better fits a pragmatic picture of the purpose of postulating intentional states (in large part because of the identity conditions on contents that it offers); and second, that only by conceiving of the objects of mental states in this way can we solve the problem of intentionality, that is, the problem of giving a naturalistic account of what gives mental states the content they have. I will be disagreeing with his views on both points.

I should say at the outset that the whole idea of 'the object of' or 'the content of' an intentional mental state needs to be treated with care; Stalnaker's book (like virtually all of the literature on this subject, including some of my own previous work) takes this notion too much for granted. I have no doubt that there are useful rough and ready senses in which a mental state can have content and in which different mental states can have the same content. But our relatively ordinary assertions of contentfulness and of sameness of content seem highly context-dependent— especially assertions of sameness of content between the mental states of different agents. (Even more especially, when those agents do not share a language; still more, when they don't even belong to the same species.) Any view according to which we are to assign entities to mental states that are to serve as their contents (and are then to define having-of-content and sameness-of-content in terms of such assigned entities) is clearly ladening our ordinary talk of having-of-content and sameness-of-content with a substantial body of theory; and my first point is that the nature of the theory and the motivation for introducing it deserve serious discussion.

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