Monday, August 15, 2011

Use and mention

I was editing a paper I'm writing with a colleague, and I came on this phrase:

we will draw out the details of the Specific Analogy Thesis (SAT).
It turns out that the acronym "SAT" never gets used anywhere else in the paper. Question: Was it used in the displayed phrase, or was it merely mentioned? I am inclined to think that either it was only mentioned, or it was both used and mentioned. In any case, we have a nice case here where grammar allows mention without either quotation marks or switch of typeface. It looks like apposition is another marker for mentioning, especially where capital letters are used.

Now, consider this sentence as we might find it in a paper on Spinoza: "Spinoza's Independence Thesis is the controversial claim that substances are completely independent beings." Suppose that this sentence contains the first use or mention of "Independence Thesis." The sentence introduces the term "Spinoza's Independence Thesis" into the language of the paper. But the sentence is also an assertion--among other things, the writer is asserting about Spinoza's Independence Thesis that it is controversial. In the sentence qua assertion, "Spinoza's Independence Thesis" is being used. But in addition to the writer's making an assertion, the writer is performing another speech act, the speech act of stipulating a term. Maybe the way to look at it is this: one asserts of Spinoza's Independence Thesis that it is the controversial claim that substances are completely independent beings, while implicating the stipulation that "Spinoza's Independence Thesis" denotes the claim that substances are completely independent beings (note that "controversial" is present in the assertion but not the definition). Or perhaps we should say that both the assertion and stipulation are there in the sentence with equal rights.

Daniel Hill said...

Thanks, Alex. Nice post. You pose the question `Was it used in the displayed phrase, or was it merely mentioned?'. I take it that `it' refers here (as it ought grammatically to do) to the acronym `SAT'. I don't think `SAT' is mentioned in the phrase; it's merely used. (If `it' refers to the thesis SAT then SAT is merely mentioned, as it is impossible to use a thesis in this sense.) That said, I am happy with the suggestion that there is an implicature that `SAT' denotes the Specific Analogy Thesis, and this implicature mentions SAT (by using `"SAT"'). (I have a paper on use/mention and Reach's problem if you're interested.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yes, "it" referred to "SAT" (not to SAT).

What is Reach's problem?

Vince said...

Smacks of the name binding problem in programming languages.

Alexander R Pruss said...

What is the name binding problem?