SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Disagreement matters: why von Fintel's theory of definite descriptions should be favoured
(Philosophy of Language, English)

Even when one knows that two sentences both make the same false existential presupposition, one might evaluate one of them as false, while feeling unable to assign a truth-value to the other. For example, some people feel squeamish, i.e. are unable to evaluate the sentence as true or false, when asked to assign a truth-value to sentence (1) but confidently judge (2) to be false. I will call sentences with existential presupposition failure SWEPF (Schoubye 2009).

(1) The king of France is bald.

(2) The king of France is presenting at SOPhiA 2019.

In the contemporary literature several ways of explaining this difference in truth-value assignments have been proposed (Elbourne 2013, Felka 2014, Lasersohn 1993, Schoubye 2009, von Fintel 2004, Yablo 2006 and 2009). I think that there is a further desideratum for a theory that explains the presented difference that has not been discussed so far. The desideratum is the following: I take it that between speakers who judge some SWEPF as squeamish, there remains the possibility of disagreement in how to judge a particular SWEPF. This means that there are evaluator-relative SWEPF such that some speakers judge them to be squeamy and others judge them to be false. I take it that for example sentence (3) is such a SWEPF.

(3) The king of France lives in a spaceship.

In order to account for the desideratum a theory of SWEPF has to either allow for speaker-relativity regarding the correctly assigned truth-value of SWEPF or explain why some people assign wrong truth-values. The discussion of the desideratum is important because not all of the contemporary explanations can account for it. To show this, I will group the contemporary explanations in different approaches and then look how the most elaborated theory of each approach deals with the desideratum. I will then argue that only von Fintel's theory of SWEPF deals with the desideratum in a satisfying way and that this gives us a reason to favour von Fintel's theory over the others.

Time: 11:20-11:50, 19 September 2019 (Thursday)
Location: SR 1.006

Aglaia Anna Marlene von Götz 
(University of Oxford, United Kingdom)

I am a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Oxford (BPhil in Philosophy). I did my undergraduate studies in at the University of Zurich (UZH), where I studied philosophy (120 ECTS) and mathematics (60 ECTS). My main research interest is in philosophy of language, other than that I am also interested in metaphysics, epistemology, feminist philosophy, the history of analytic Philosophy and philosophy of mind.

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