Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

Naturalism about Propositions, Naturalism about Properties

Date: 11 October 2017

Time: 15:00

Place: Seminari de Filosofia UB


On the traditional Platonist or Fregean picture of cognitive representation, we represent by standing in certain relations to intrinsically representational propositions qua abstract objects. On this picture it is propositions that represent fundamentally and we who represent derivatively.

The Platonist picture has recently come under attack. First, it leaves it completely unexplained how we could come to stand in the relevant relations to propositions qua abstract objects. Second, it leaves unexplained what propositions qua abstract objects are such that they could intrinsically represent. In other words, it can’t solve the problem of the unity of the proposition or the problem of explaining how propositions have truth-conditions (Davidson 2005, Jubien 2001, King 2007, 2009, Soames 2010, 2014, Hanks 2015).

On the critics’ alternative Naturalist picture of cognitive representation that is inspired by Russell’s multiple relation theory of judgment, it is we who represent fundamentally and propositions that represent derivatively. And we represent by referring to objects and predicating properties of them. (Soames 2010, 2014, Hanks 2015)      

One challenge to the Naturalist picture raised by Robert Stalnaker and others is as follows: if one is worried about explaining how propositions have truth-conditions one should also be worried about explaining how properties, the things we predicate, have their satisfaction-conditions. However, the Naturalists usually just appeal to unexplained properties. But then, why worry about unexplained propositions?        

Some Naturalists respond to this by trying to claim that the notions of proposition and property are not on a par and the second doesn't need an explanation. In this talk I will answer the challenge differently. I grant that we need an explanation of how properties qua predicables have their satisfaction-conditions. However, I'll claim that the challenge is to be met analogously as in the case of propositions by taking the mental capacity for indicating predicables to be prior to predicables. I'll also touch upon a host of interesting questions that this order of explanation raises about how predicables relate to the worldly qualities of objects qua their satisfaction-makers.