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Analytic Philosophy in AmericaAnd Other Historical and Contemporary Essays$
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Scott Soames

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780691160726

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691160726.001.0001

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For Want of Cognitively Defined Propositions

For Want of Cognitively Defined Propositions

A History of Insights and Missed Philosophical Opportunities

(p.71) 4 For Want of Cognitively Defined Propositions
Analytic Philosophy in America

Scott Soames

Princeton University Press

This chapter chronicles the troubled history of propositions in the thought of Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, Peter Strawson, and John Langshaw “J. L.” Austin. After noting the central role of propositions and propositional functions in Russell’s philosophical logic, it explains how and why his early Platonistic conception of propositions was defeated by the so-called problem of “the unity of the proposition.” It then shows how, by reversing one of his key explanatory priorities, the cognitive conception of propositions sketched in Chapter 3 can be used to solve the unity problem and to reinstate a conception of propositions capable of playing the role required of them in his philosophical logic. It argues that the tractarian theory of propositions suffers from three difficulties common to today’s “language of thought” theories of cognition. It concludes with a discussion of the rejection of propositions by ordinary-language philosophers who repudiated the idea that understanding expressions is, at bottom, knowing certain semantic facts about them.

Keywords:   Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, Peter Strawson, John Langshaw, J. L.” Austin, tractarian theory, propositions

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