From Truthmaker to Menu Semantics (Justin Bledin)

The Logic and Metaphysics Workshop will meet on April 11th from 4:15-6:15 (NY time) in-person at the Graduate Center (Room 5382) for a talk by Justin Bledin (Johns Hopkins).

Title: From Truthmaker to Menu Semantics

Abstract: The logical foundations of English and other natural languages are often assumed to have an essentially truth-theoretic character where the meanings of connectives and quantifiers are grounded in the truth and falsity of sentences. In this talk, I explore a fundamentally different perspective that shifts the focus from the truth value to the ‘menu’. Under this alternative conception of the logic of natural language, speakers manifest their logical competence by, metaphorically speaking, constructing and combining menus of items in various types throughout the grammar. The logical connectives are ‘menu constructors’: negation can be used to express that items are ‘off’ the menu, conjunction produces combinations of ‘on-menu’ items, and disjunction introduces choice between items. My point of departure for this truth displacing project is, oddly enough, recent work in ‘truthmaker’ or ‘exact’ semantics. What I try to do is build a bridge between the standard theory of truthmaker semantics (van Fraassen 1969; Fine 2017), which assigns menus of truthmakers and falsemakers at the sentential level, and compositional semantics in the general style of Montague. One of the most striking aspects of the theory is its treatment of noun phrases, as both quantificational and non-quantificational NPs are all assigned both denotations and ‘anti-denotations’ drawn or constructed from a rich entity space populated by both positive and negative individuals and their sums. Towards the end of the talk, I will try to bring out the explanatory power of menu semantics by applying it to a couple of problem areas in natural language quantification.

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