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Temporal ‘de re’ Attitudes (Yael Sharvit)

The Logic and Metaphysics Workshop will meet on September 9th from 4:15-6:15 in room 7314 of the CUNY Graduate Center for a talk by Yael Sharvit (UCLA).

Title: Temporal ‘de re’ Attitudes

Abstract: A sensible approach to the semantics of tense says that present tense and past tense “refer” to the evaluation time and to some pre-evaluation time, respectively. Indeed, this seems to be the case in unembedded sentences (e.g., Mary is thirty-five, Mary was thirty-five). But embedded tenses seem to misbehave: (1) does not express the proposition that two months prior to s* (= the speech time) Joseph was sure about the truth of [Mary is currently thirty-five]; this proposition is expressed by (2). Assuming that tenses are indexical expressions does not automatically solve the problem, since (1) does not express the proposition that two months prior to s* Joseph was sure about the truth of [Mary will be thirty-five at s*] either; that proposition is expressed by (3). (In addition, (2) does not express the proposition that two months prior to s* Joseph was sure about the truth of [Mary will be thirty-five at some s** < s*].) In fact, (1) roughly expresses the proposition that two months prior to s* Joseph was sure about the truth of [Mary is currently thirty-five and will still be thirty-five at s*] (Smith (1978), Enc (1987)). Indeed, unlike (1), (1′) is usually quite odd (presumably because most speakers presuppose that, like them, Joseph can accept that Mary is thirty-five for a period of two – sometimes even twelve – months, but not that she is thirty-five for a period of twenty months). To explain why the embedded past in (2) “refers” to the embedded evaluation time, and why the embedded present in (1)/(1’) “refers” to a time much larger than that, we assume, with Abusch (1997), that these embedded tenses are indexical expressions governed by general constraints on ‘de re’ attitude reports, including – crucially – the Upper Limit Constraint. Expanding on Abusch (1997) and Percus (2013), we derive the Upper Limit Constraint itself from general principles as well.

(1) Two months ago, Joseph was sure that Mary is thirty-five.
(2) Two months ago, Joseph was sure that Mary was thirty-five.
(3) Two months ago, Joseph was sure that Mary would now be thirty-five.
(1′)  Twenty months ago, Joseph was sure that Mary is thirty-five.

 

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