Week 7 – Cappelen and Lepore on unarticulated constituents.

The original paper for this week is here; the handout is here. Some even-more-inchoate-than-usual comments follow.

I knew virtually nothing about this debate before the meeting and found the paper very helpful in setting out the landscape. My biggest concern with the main argument is that the authors don’t say enough to rule out a ‘location-general’ reading of utterances like ‘it’s raining’, according to which the semantic content of the utterance is true if and only if it is raining anywhere in the world at the context of utterance. They focus instead on a ‘location-neutral’ reading of the utterance, according to which the semantic content of the utterance is true if and only if it is raining at the context of utterance (forget where it’s raining.)

It seems open to reject this location-neutral sense altogether, recognise only the location-general sense, and then use the location-general sense to analyse all of the propositions which C&L apply their location-neutral sense to. Perhaps this is the position taken by Recanati – but in the footnote C&L don’t say enough to be sure. This seems frustrating, as it’s the most natural way a friend of unarticulated constituents might go when faced with the cases C&L discuss.

If we think in terms of an opponent who wants to take this line, C&L’s argument starts to look pretty weak. Their ‘first exercise’, involving claims 7)-10), asks us to intuit that ‘rain’, as an abstract mass noun, is used in a location-neutral sense, and then move (analogically?) from this to the claim that ‘rains’, the verb, has a location-neutral sense. Even if we grant C&L’s intuitions about 7)-10), it seems quite reasonable to resist drawing any conclusions about ‘rains’ from them. Maybe something unusual about abstract mass nouns (and they have plenty of unusual features) accounts for the location-neutrality of 7)-10).

So looked at as an argument rather than as an imaginative exercise, this passage seems easily resistable. And there is prima facie reason to think that there isn’t a location-neutral proposition expressed by utterances of ‘it’s raining’ that is distinct from the location-general proposition ‘it’s raining somewhere or other’ (of course, C&L don’t deny that the location-general proposition exists – they just think that it’s distinct from the location-neutral proposition.) This prima facie reason is that the location-general and the purported location-neutral proposition are true in exactly the same range of possible worlds. On some views of propositions, this suffices for identity. So C&L will have to adopt a view where propositions are structured – but it seems a non-trivial problem to give an account of the structure of the two propositions such that they are interestingly distinct. In any case ,it’s a problem that C&L don’t even begin to address.

Somethings interesting to compare with ‘it’s raining’ (which is the sole focus of this paper) were verbs which have both a transitive and intransitive use. Consider ‘John drove’ and ‘John drove his car’. We don’t want to say that ‘drove’ is ambiguous. So is there an unarticulated constituent in ‘John drove’ which means that it should be analysed ‘John drove (some vehicle or other)? Cappelen and Lepore would presumably want to go with a ‘vehicle-neutral’ sense of ‘drove’ instead; but this seems to render ‘drove’ ambiguous between the intransitive and the transitive verbs.

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2 thoughts on “Week 7 – Cappelen and Lepore on unarticulated constituents.

  1. Hi there!
    I think you got some points, but things are not so easy on the UC’s issue.
    If you treat the content of “It’s raining” as involving second-order property (the existential quantifier ranging over locations), why would not put quantifiers ranging over speeds as well, since rains fall at some speed and “It’s raining” cannot be true unless the rain denoted fall at some speed?
    As this example tries to show, you strategy overgenerates.

    About your point related to the drove-ambiguity, there’s a difference in syntatic theory between “argument” and “adjunct” that can help you a lot on that issue.

    Best.

  2. Oh, I forgot!
    If you want to get more involved in this topic, try to read the Stephen Neale’s paper “On Location”, and the original paper where the term was introduced, John Perry’s “Thought Without Representation”.
    Emma Borg tries to solve the problem in a manner similiar to your in Minimal Semantics.

    Best.

    PS: Write me if you want to discuss something about UC’s.

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