Friederike Moltmann » Teaching » Acts, Objects, and Attitudes, 6 lectures at NYU, fall 2015
Acts, Objects, and Attitudes, 6 lectures at NYU, fall 2015

Date: November 02, 2015

New York University, Department of Philosophy

Times:  Mondays 4-6, Nov. 9, Nov. 16, Nov. 23 , Nov. 30, Dec. 7, Dec. 14

Location: R. 103, NYU, Department of Linguistics, 10 Washington Square, NYC, NY 10003


General Description

Contemporary philosophy of language and linguistic semantics are dominated by the view that (abstract) propositions act as the meanings of sentences as well as the contents (or objects) or propositional attitudes. The notion of an abstract proposition has recently been challenged by a number of philosophers who instead have proposed act-based conceptions of propositional content (Soames, Hanks). In these informal talks, I will critically discuss the standard view as well as the alternatives that replace propositions by types of acts. I will instead outline a view  that rejects the identification of the meaning of a sentence with the content of a propositional attitudes. On that view, instead, sentences are considered predicates of a range of attitudinal and modal objects, which include mental states, products of cognitive and illocutionary acts (thoughts, judgments, decisions, assertions, requests, promises), products of locutionary and phatic acts (in Austin's sense), as well as modal objects of the sort of obligations, permissions, and abilities. I will discuss both philosophical motivations for the view and linguistic (semantic and syntactic) evidence for it.

Outline and programme (as of Nov 9, further updates on this page!)



Nov. 9:  The standard view of propositions and attitude reports and its problems

Handout 1

This session presents the standard view of propositions as abstract objects that act as the objects of propositional atttudes as well as the semantic values of (independent and embedded ) sentences. Going along with the standard view is the Relational Analysis of attitude reports and  the Propositional Analysis of 'special' quantifiers and pronouns such as 'something' and 'that'.  We will discuss a range of conceptual empirical challenges for the standard view as well as the associated analyses of attitude reports and special quantifiers, challenges which motivate the new view according to which sentences act as predicates of a variety of attitudinal and modal objects.


Friederike Moltmann: Propositional Attitudes without Propositions, Synthese 135, 77-118, 2003

Friederike Moltmann: Propositions and Attitudinal Objects, Chapter 4 of Abstract Objects and the Semantics of Natural Language


Nov. 16:  Act-based conceptions of propositions and their problems

This session focus on a critique of Soames' recent view that identifies propositions with types of acts (or predication).

Guest speaker:

Stephen Schiffer (NYU): 'A critique of Soames' theory' (first half)

Handout (S. Schiffer)

Friederike Moltmann: 'Problems for the view of propositions as types of acts' (second half)

Handout 2 (F. Moltmann)

Readings (suggestions)

Peter Hanks: Propositions, Synonymy and Compositional Semantics, to appear in Moltmann/Textor (eds): Act-Based Conceptions of Propositional Content. Oxford UP.

Scott Soames: Propositions as Cognitive Acts.


Nov. 23:  Act-based conceptions of propositional content (continuation)

Handout 2b

This session focuses on the difference between Soames' and Peter Hanks' recent views that both identify propositions with types of acts. hereas Soames takes propositions to be types of acts of enternatining, Hanks takes them to be truth- or satisfaction-directed acts. We will discuss difficulties for both views.


Nov. 30: Attitudinal objects and the action-product distinction: Twardowski and further developments

Handout 3

This session focuses on the semantics of nominalizations of the sort 'thought', 'judgment, 'claim', 'decision',  'request', and promise'.  While the standard view maintains that such nouns are ambiguous between describing acts and describing propositions, the view will be defended that thaey unambiguously describe the (nonenduring) products of acts of thinking, judging, claiming, deciding, and requesting, in English as in other languages. This view will be related to Twardowski's historical distinction between actions and products well as Bolzano's observation and recent typological work to the effect that natural languages generally lack terms for propositions


Kazmierz Twardowski (1911): 'Actions and Products'  (ask me for a copy by email)


Dec. 7: Locutionary products and phatic products, verbs of saying, and the semantics of quotation

Handout 4

This session focuses on reports of illocutionary acts. On the standard view, the verb 'say' and manner of speaking verbs take propositions as arguments, just like illocutionary acts.On the new view, they would all involve predicating their clausal compement of the product of the described illocutionary act. Both views face serious problems from a rage of new linguistic observations, onbservations which support the Austinian distinction between locutionary (and phatic) and illocutionary acts. The proposal then is that the verb  'say' and verbs of manner of speaking have their clausal complement characterize only a locutionary product, not an illocutionary product. More specifically, that-clause complements of such verbs characterize locutionary product, whereas direct quotes as complements characterize phatic acts


Dec. 14:  Truthmaker Semantics for Modal and Attitudinal Objects

Attention: special time 5.30 - 7.30

Special guest: Kit Fine

Handout 5

This session presents a development of a truthmaker semantics for attitudinal and modal objects


Associated workshop:

'Imperatives and Deontic Modals',

March 20, 2016

NYU, Department of Philosophy, 2nd  floor

Sponsored by the New York Institute of Philosophy

speakers: Kit Fine, Friederike Moltmann, Craige Roberts (Ohio), Peter Vranas (Wisconsin)