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In order for something to be true or false it must take a stand on how things are, which involves a commitment to things being a certain way. These concepts of “taking a stand” and “commitment” are given to us by the concepts of assertion and judgment. Hence, in order for something to be true or false it must, in some sense, assert or judge that things are a certain way. The concept of a truth-evaluable, force-neutral content is incoherent. But what could it mean for a proposition to assert that things are a certain way?

The best way to make sense of this is to identify propositions with types of acts of predication, where predication is understood to be assertoric in character. But as everyone knows, this runs up against the Frege-Geach point. To solve this problem I introduced the concept of cancellation, which is best understood as a kind of context in which someone can perform an act of predication without thereby performing an assertion or judgment. Cancellation contexts come in many different forms. The main point of this paper is that it is a mistake to look for a general explanation of cancellation that will account for all the varieties of cancellation contexts. It is easy to explain what is going on in any particular case of cancellation, but these explanations are local and specific. The error comes in thinking that we have not understood cancellation until we have an overarching theory that covers all the forms that cancellation can take. I will argue for this conclusion by considering an attempt at such a general theory put forward by François Recanati (2019).

Before that, however, I would like to make a preliminary point about the inescapability of cancellation. Even Frege must accept the existence of something like cancellation. Frege held that assertion is “contained” in the assertoric form of declarative sentences. But then why doesn’t a speaker assert the antecedent or consequent of a conditional, despite the fact that both antecedent and consequent have assertoric form? The answer must be that something about the conditional cancels the normal assertoric force contained in assertoric sentences. So long as there is a semantic or conventional association between declarative sentences and assertion, cancellation is inescapable. The only way to avoid it is to deny that there is any such association, a view also defended by Recanati (1987; 2013). Here I will try to rebut Recanati’s argument. The remaining question is whether to locate assertion in the contents of declarative sentences or to view assertion as semantically associated with the declarative mood but external to content. The incoherence of the force-content distinction shows that it must be the former. 

Peter Hanks

Peter Hanks is Professor and Chair in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota. His research is in philosophy of language and the history of analytic philosophy. His book, Propositional Content, (Oxford 2015) argues against the force/content distinction and defends the view that propositions are types of acts of predication. He has also published papers on Russell and the early Wittgenstein, and is currently working on a book about Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.  


Peter Hanks

Université du Minnesota