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Further reading on Wittgenstein and formal semantics

For those of you interested in following up on our previous episode, Martin Stokhof has a number of papers on the topics we discussed.

On Wittgenstein and formal semantics, you can check out:

The Architecture of Meaning: Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and Formal Semantics,’ Martin Stokhof
Formal Semantics and Wittgenstein: An Alternative,’ Martin Stokhof

On the distinction between abstraction and idealization, see:

Abstractions and Idealisations: The Construction of Modern Linguistics,’ Martin Stokhof & Michiel van Lambalgen

And on the philosophical import of formal languages, take a look at:

Hand or Hammer?  On Formal and Natural Languages in Semantics,’ Martin Stokhof

Posted in Further Reading.

Episode 53: Martin Stokhof discusses formal semantics and Wittgenstein

This month, we talk semantics with Martin Stokhof, Professor of Philosophy of Language at the Institute for Logic, Language, and Computation in Amsterdam.  Click here to listen to our conversation.

Martin StokhofFormal semanticists are in the business of spelling out the rules by which the meaning of a sentence in English (or French, or Spanish, or some other human language) are derived from the words in it and the way they’re put together.  You might think this is pretty straightforward, but see our interview with Hans Kamp for some nice examples of how the enterprise gets tricky rather quickly.  Basically, the issue is that it’s very complicated, in practice, to model the messiness of human language in a super precise way–in a way that, for example, a computer could understand.


Posted in Podcast.

Elucidations is now on Twitter!

Check out our new Twitter feed at @ElucidationsPod. We’d love to hear your comments/thoughts/suggestions.

Posted in Announcements.

Episode 52: Rafeeq Hasan discusses Rousseau on freedom and happiness

This month, we talk political philosophy with Rafeeq Hasan, Harper-Schmidt Fellow and Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago. Click here to listen to our conversation.

RAFEEQIn today’s political discussions, we tend to assume that there are two ways a person can lean. Either you place a premium on your own personal freedom and property, or you place a premium on harmonizing your needs with the needs of others in your community. We think of these two ideals as mutually exclusive.  Of course it’s impossible to lean both ways!


Posted in Podcast.

Conditional Questions: A Problem for a ‘Classical’ Semantic Approach

In Elucidations Episode 51, Groenendijk and Roelofsen sketch out some of the merits of the inquisitive semantics approach to questions in contrast to the ‘classical’ semantic approach. One stark area of contrast is with respect to conditional questions—questions like: “If Matt drinks coffee, does Phil drink coffee?” Groenedijk and Roelofsen observe that the classic semantic approach to questions cannot easily accommodate these conditional questions. In this post, I’d like to flesh out this observation just a bit more.

The ‘classical’ semantic approach that we are working with takes the proposition the primary unit of analysis. That is, we start by laying out the truth conditions of propositions, and then build the rest of our semantic framework around this bedrock.  Remember that ‘proposition’ is jargon for the content of a sentence. For example, we say that the proposition expressed by the sentence “Julie got an A on her philosophy paper” is that Julie got an A on her paper; we say that the sentence is true when Julie in fact gets an A on her paper. Our classical semantics picture fleshes this out a bit more by introducing the idea of ‘possible worlds:’ formally entities meant to represent logically coherent states of affairs (i.e.: they contain no logical contradictions). We then say that a proposition is the set of worlds in which the sentence is true—the set of possible words in which Julie in fact got an A on her paper. For more on possible world semantics, see Matt’s post here: Possible Worlds Semantics.


Posted in Supplements.

Inquisitive Semantics Website

There really is a lot of exciting work being done right now using the framework of inquisitive semantics.  If you’d like to browse through it all, a great place to start is the inquisitive semantics website.

Matt Teichman

Posted in Uncategorized.

Background reading on inquisitive semantics

If you’d like to take a look how the inquisitive semantic framework is set up, this is an up-to-date overview:

Ciardelli, Groenendijk, and Roelofsen, ‘Inquisitive Semantics: a New Notion of Meaning

And if you’d like to examine the framework in a little more detail, this paper will probably answer all of your burning questions:

Ciardelli, Groenendijk, and Roelofsen, ‘Inquisitive Semantics: NASSLI 2012 Lecture Notes

Posted in Further Reading.

Episode 51: Jeroen Groenendijk and Floris Roelofsen discuss inquisitive semantics

Jeroen GroenendijkFloris RoelofsenThis month, we get a little bit meta and ask our distinguished guests some questions about questions.  Or at least about the semantics of questions.  Jeroen Groenendijk is Professor of Philosophy of Language and Floris Roelofsen is Assistant Professor of Logic and Semantics at the Institute for Logic, Language, and Computation in Amsterdam. Click here to listen to our conversation.


Posted in Podcast.

How to save the value of productive work

Toward the end of his interview on Elucidations, Greg Salmieri [S.] argues against Aristotle’s view that some of our life-activities are intrinsically valuable apart from the whole they constitute, in order to make room for valuing productive work alongside the candidates Aristotle himself prefers. This raises a question about Aristotle and a worry about S.’s own view.

The question is this: what was Aristotle’s criterion for distinguishing the intrinsically valuable activities from the rest? The answer lies in the function argument of Nicomachean Ethics I.7. Aristotle argues there (to a first approximation) that our activities have intrinsic value when they express our characteristic nature, which is rational. So the intrinsically valuable activities just are the essentially rational activities, among which are contemplation and exercising practical wisdom. These are then the candidates for the governing activity of a happy human life.

But even if we think that Aristotle should have been (or even was) an ‘inclusivist’ about activities and allowed for a mixture of different activities in a happy life with no single governing activity, his list still seems to leave out productive work in a way S. finds objectionable. This seems right to me, but it is not enough to protest that Aristotle’s view arose in a context of aristocratic leisure. It is not the leisureliness of contemplation and exercising practical wisdom that makes them intrinsically valuable – indeed, Aristotle himself notes that the political life, the highest exercise of practical wisdom, is very far from being leisurely – but rather their essential rationality.


Posted in Supplements.

Instruments, Constituents, and the Holistic View on Life

In this post, I would like to propose an elaboration of Salmieri’s (Episode 50) discussion of instrumental and constitutive means, and his suggestion of a holistic approach to the evaluation of activities (the ‘holistic view of life’). In particular, I will suggest one way in which we can see a blurring of the distinction of instrumental and constitutive means as leading us to the holistic picture that Salmieri sketches in the episode. This post should not be taken as a definitive interpretation of Salmieri—I will not contend that he would necessarily adopt my elaboration—but it will hopefully help listeners to think about the connection between the discussion instrumental and constitutive means in the middle of the episode, and the reconceptualization of productive activity that Salmieri advocates at its conclusion.


Posted in Supplements.