Saturday, December 22, 2007


Quotation and Disquotation

In Language Turned on Itself, Cappelen and Lepore argue that any viable theory of quotation must preserve the following disquotational schema and strong disquotational schema:

QS: ' 'e' ' quotes 'e',

SDS: Only ' 'e' ' quotes 'e',

where both occurances of 'e' are replaced by any quotable item (25-6).

Now, Cappelen and Lepore's own minimalist theory simply takes QS as 'the fundamental axiom governing the semantics of quotation expressions' (124). So it's in the bag. Cappelen and Lepore go on to argue that QS entails SDS, so long as quotation expressions are unambiguous. Here's their argument from p128:

"- From QS it follows that for any quotable item e, ' 'e' ' quotes 'e'. If ' 'e' ' quotes some quotable other than 'e', say 'a', then it follows that the quotation expression ' 'e' ' is ambiguous (because it quotes both 'e' and 'a').

- But, as we argued in Ch. 7, quotation expressions are unambiguous (and context-insensitive and not semantically indeterminate).

- So the quotation expression ' 'e' ' can only quote 'e'.

- So SDS follows."

But notice the conclusion reached isn't SDS at all; we wanted to reach the claim that only ' 'e' ' quotes 'e', not that
' 'e' ' only quotes 'e'. And these simply aren't the same claim (even if they turn out to be equivalent).

Fortunately I think there's a quick fix to their argument so that they clearly get the result they want. For suppose that something other than ' 'e' ', let's say ' 'a' ', quotes 'e'. From QS it follows that ' 'a' ' also quotes 'a'. But then ' 'a' ' quotes both 'a' and 'e', and hence would be ambiguous. So, if quotation expressions are unambiguous, only ' 'e' ' quotes 'e', as required.

This is, I submit, how Cappelen and Lepore should have run their argument. QS is exploited to show that if something other than ' 'e' ' quotes 'e', that quotation expression would have to quote something else also, and hence would be ambiguous.

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Hi Aidan,
I should read this book. It looks like they should argue for SQS as you say. But I worry that the argument still doesn't look valid. Don't you need the background premise that there is only one quotation device in the language? Can't there be multiple quotation devices, lets say QD1, '...', and QD2, *...* (I mean to mention not use the expressions), so that ''a'' quotes 'a', but so does '*a*'? Or is this option ruled out earlier in the book? (Also, I take it that you mean 'SDS' and 'SQS' to be names for the same principle.) Take care,
Thanks Bryan, I've fixed the typo you spotted.

I'll give the other point some thought. I had worries about the validity of my little fix too, but I think yours is deeper. In any case, at least we're aiming at the right conclusion now.

Have a great Christmas!
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