Some of you might not know that some of us have organized the PNRG (Proper Names Reading Group). The PNRG is intended to get all the pro-language enthusiasts together. Our plan is to read one paper a week, and discuss its content by means of the comments given by one of us. Last week Dustin Tucker commented on Kroon’s “Causal Descriptivism”, and the first week I commented Braun’s introductory paper “Proper Names and Natural Kind Terms”. Next week, Thursday 24th, we will learn from Mike’s comments of Stanley’s “Names and Rigid Designators”. We meet every Thursday (except this week), 5-7, Seminar Room. If you are interested and want to glance at the reading list, drop me a line.
In my complementary comments to Braun I dared to argue that the four problems of Millianism (as Braun presents them) really boil down to two. As it turned out, I found that the claims were stronger than the argumentative support I was then giving. Jason Konek and Jon Shaheen pointed this out. They argued against the idea that the so-called “problem of informativeness” could be reduced to the problem of belief ascriptions. Jason exemplified his claim by referring to Eric Swanson’s ‘presupposition’ solution to the problem of informativeness, which, he said, is independent from his solution to the problem of belief ascription. Jon argued differently. He said that the problem of informativeness could be accounted for without appealing to mental states, and so without solving the problem of belief ascription. I still think that any good solution to one of the informativeness-belief-ascription dyad is a good solution to the other.
In this post I want to present Eric Swanson’s claims about these issues. I will argue against Jason that (1) Swanson’s treatment of the puzzles makes it even clearer to see why a solution to informativeness is a solution to belief ascription (and vice versa): and exemplify against Jon that (2) you cannot solve informativeness problems without appealing to mental states.
Here’s Swanson’s description of why his solution to the problem of informativeness is important:
“One might think that it does not much matter, from a philosophical point of view, which pragmatic answer we give to the question of informativeness. But it does matter, quite a bit, because how we answer this question of informativeness makes a difference to how we should explain the difference between (3) and (4)
(3) Sal believes that Johnny Ramone is in the Ramones.
(4) Sal believes that John Cummings is in the Ramones.”
Swanson, Interactions with Context, p. 10
In other words, one’s solution to informativeness makes an important difference to one’s solution to the problem of belief ascription. So it is not true, as was suggested by Jason, that one can give independent accounts of these phenomena. Swanson does reject this claim. Furthermore, he does say later on why the solutions are importantly related with each other. The solution to informativeness gives a solution to belief ascription. And so he says:
“My presuppositional answer to the question of informativeness suggests that to better understand proper names’ behavior in belief ascriptions we should carefully examine the general behavior of presupposition-carrying expressions in belief ascriptions.” Ibidem
So a presuppositional answer to informativeness gives a presuppositional answer to belief ascription. Is this surprising? It is for Jason. It is not for me. Now, let me make my second point. I will exemplify, via Swanson, why you cannot solve informativeness without solving belief ascription.
Take a look at Swanson’s solution to informativeness:
“We can now explain how assertions of (1) and (2) can differ in informativeness.
(1) Johnny Ramone is in the Ramones.
(2) John Cummings is in the Ramones.
Consider an addressee for whom (1) is uninformative and (2) is informative. In normal circumstances such an addressee will take it to be common ground that the thing she associates with ‘Johnny Ramone’ is the thing the speaker associates with ‘Johnny Ramone’. She will similarly take it to be common ground that the thing she associates with ‘John Cummings’ is the thing the speaker associates with ‘John Cummings’. For this reason she will take a speaker who asserts (1) to be trying to communicate information about the man the addressee associates with ‘Johnny Ramone’, and a speaker who asserts (2) to be trying to communicate information about the man the addressee associates with ‘John Cummings’. Thus the relevant information that she will glean from an assertion of (2) is that the man she associates with ‘John Cummings’ is in the Ramones. And though our believer does know that the man she associates with ‘Johnny Ramone’ is in the Ramones, she does not know that the man she associates with ‘John Cummings’ is in the Ramones. This is why (2) is informative to her, while (1) is not.”
Swanson, Ibid, p.17
The point seems to be clear enough here. The reason why there is a difference in informativeness between two sentences that differ by using different but correferential names, is because one expresses something that is already ‘known’ by the addressee, while the other does not. In short, the addressee lacks a mental state about presuppositions concerning the use of names, and that makes (2) informative.
For my purposes it does not matter what the mental state is about, it just matters that informativeness, contra Shaheen, requires differences in terms of mental states. Further, it matters that this ‘also’ explains belief ascription.
Before going to Swanson’s, it is useful to see that it can in fact be used to solve the problem. The same fact that makes (2) informative to the addressee is also the fact that makes (3) and (4) have different truth values, namely: that Sal does not know that the man she associates with ‘John Cummings’ is in the Ramones. That is why she believes that Johnny Ramone is in the Ramones, but not that John Cummings is in the Ramones, so (3) is true and (4) is false.
Swanson’s solution to informativeness says we have to blame the addressee’s mental states about presuppositions. He’s solution to belief ascription is similar, but he embeds it inside a general account of presupposition-carrying mental states. That makes it fancier than I need, but it is still helpful for my purposes. Even if it is embedded within a bigger story, the solution is still ‘the same’.
After cutting through the complex story about hiperintensions, would-be-referents, local accommodation, contexts, et. al. Swanson gives his solution to belief ascription as follows:
“Nevertheless, the propositions that we arrive at for ‘John Cummings is in the Ramones’ are not among Sal’s beliefs – he does not believe that any of the candidate would be referents of ‘John Cummings’ are in the Ramones – and I think it is plausible that the propositions we arrive at for ‘Johnny Ramone is in the Ramones’ do an adequate job of characterizing Sal’s belief state given the resources available to the speaker.” Ibid. p. 33
Does this mean that the problem of belief ascription has the same solution to the problem of informativeness? Yes, it does. (3) and (4) differ in truth value because of Sal’s mental states (presupposition carrying ones, just like with informativeness) about ‘John Cummings’ and the man it is associated with. The only difference between solutions is that the solution to belief ascription is embedded within a larger story that is meant for us to be convinced about the whole line of argument.
Hence, my conclusions: (1) Jason is wrong to think that Swanson’s solution to informativeness is independent from Swanson’s solution to belief ascription. Therefore, he also seems wrong to think (or lacks an example to the point) that the solutions are independent at all. And (2) here is an example of how your account of informativeness requires the use of mental states, as per Jon.