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Varieties of Aboutness

Varieties of Aboutness

(p.23) 2 Varieties of Aboutness
Stephen Yablo
Princeton University Press

A few philosophers have tried to think systematically about subject matter. Gilbert Ryle thought a sentence was about the items mentioned in it. Nelson Goodman thought it was about the items mentioned in certain consequences. David Lewis was the first to consider subject matters as entities in their own right, and the first to link a sentence's subject matter to what it says, as opposed to what it mentions. Lewisian subject matters are equivalence relations on, or partitions of, logical space. A sentence S is wholly about m if its truth-value in a world w is fixed by how matters stand m-wise in w. But he never identified anything as the subject matter of sentence S—the one it is exactly about. This chapter defines it as the m that distinguishes worlds according to S's changing ways of being true in them. Subject anti-matter is defined analogously, and S's overall subject matter is the two together. Aboutness comes out independent of truth-value, as we would hope. A sentence is not about anything different from its negation.

Keywords:   aboutness, subject matter, Gilbert Ryle, Nelson Goodman, David Lewis, truth-value

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