The Asymmetry Challenge for Expressivism

I'm in the midst of writing for a general audience about what I'm calling the 'Asymmetry Challenge' for (pure, noncognitivist) expressivism. The Challenge is to jointly solve the Sentential Mood, Truth-Aptness, and Asymmetric Embedding problems. These three problems are often recognized individually, though I think that jointly solving them is more difficult than many appreciate.

The source of the Asymmetry Challenge lies in the expressivist view that the moral sentences we typically use to express desire-like states or to prescribe behavior have important features that other kinds of sentences lack, even though these latter kinds of sentences paradigmatically express desire-like states or prescribe behavior. Moral sentences, unlike these other kinds of sentences, are declarative, truth-apt, and embeddable into a wider array of complex, linguistic constructions. But what feature could moral sentences have that these others sentences lack—again, especially when moral sentences function so much like these other types of sentences—that warrants this asymmetry? I'm hoping some of you may have suggestions or questions that might help me as I write my way through the Challenge.
 

English sentences and those of other natural languages are of a variety of kinds:

Declaratives: 'Insulting others is common', 'The coffee is imported', 'The desk is made of mahogany';

Imperatives: 'Do your work', 'Take two asparin', 'Have fun';

Interrogatives: 'Are you doing your work?', 'When are you coming home?';

Exclamatives: 'Hooray!', 'Thank you!', 'Yes!'; and

Optatives: 'How I wish you were here', 'If only I were with you'.

These various sentential constructions are conventional devices that allow us to perform different sorts of acts: declaratives appear to provide a conventional means of representing; imperatives and interrogatives appear to provide a conventional means of directing people to do things; and exclamatives and optatives appear to be conventional devices for expressing certain types of desire-like states. Thus, natural languages like English have grammatical constructions that serve as conventional devices allowing us to serve these various functions.

Expressivism holds that moral sentences provide a conventional means of expressing desire-like states—preferences, decisions, etc.—or of directing people's behavior. Here is Blackburn saying so eloquently:

"That is, it is only through understanding the activities associated with particular linguistic transactions that we understand the words used in conducting them. Amongst the activities involved in ethics are these: valuing, grading, forbidding, permitting, performing resolves, backing off, communicating emotions such as anger or resentment, embarrassment or shame, voicing attitudes such as admiration, or disdain or contempt, or even disgust, querying conduct, pressing attack, warding it off. … When we voice our ethics we have a distinct conversational dynamics. People are badgered. Reproaches are made and rejected. Prescriptions are issued and enforced. Resentments arise and are soothed. Emotions are tugged. The smooth clothing of statements proposed as true or denied as false disguises the living body beneath" (Ruling Passions, p. 51)

But all of this raises three difficult problems for expressivism. The first is to explain why moral sentences are declarative. For expressivists claim that moral sentences are conventional devices that we use to express desire-like states or to direct behavior. And natural languages have perfectly good grammatical constructions that provide a conventional means of performing these activities—exclamatives and imperatives. Thus, one would expect moral sentences to be exclamative or imperative. But of course, moral sentences wear the "smooth clothing of statements"; they are in the declarative mood. Why? Why should natural languages have developed to "disguise" some of our most important human actitvities? As far as I can tell, expressivists have never explained this asymmetry very well. Indeed, I'm unsure whether expressivists have ever explained this asymmetry at all. This is the sentential mood problem. (It sometimes appears that resolving this problem is part of what Blackburn has called the "quasi-realist" project. For example, even recently Blackburn has said that the "functional pluralist still has to confront the smooth propositional surface of ordinary discourse and thought: the fact that, as Wittgenstein said, 'the clothing of our language makes everything alike'" (Practical Tortoise Raising, 2010, Oxford (Oxford U. P.): p. 2). But Blackburn also goes on to describe this project as resolving the Frege-Geach Challenge, never coming back, as far as I can tell, to the sentential mood problem.)

The second problem is to explain why moral sentences are properly evaluable as 'true' or 'false'. For, again, expressivists claim that the primary function of moral sentences is to express desire-like attitudes or to direct behavior. But so also do, respectively, exclamative and imperative sentences, which are not properly evaluable as 'true' or 'false'. What feature could moral sentences have, but exclamative or imperative sentences lack, which could account for such an asymmetry? This is the truth-aptness problem.

The third problem is to explain why moral sentences and nondeclaratives are unequally embeddable in complex, linguistic constructions. For once again, expressivist claim that moral sentences, like exclamatives and imperatives, are conventional devices used to express desire-like states or to prescribe behavior. And since moral, exclamative, and imperative sentences all serve such similar functions, one should expect these kinds of sentences to embed in the same sorts of linguistic constructions. They do not. For example, moral sentences, but not exclamatives or imperatives, are embeddable as:

Antecedents of conditionals:

• If insulting others is wrong, I will refrain from insulting my little brother.

* If down with insulting others, I will refrain from insulting my little brother.

* If let's refrain from insulting others, I will refrain from insulting my little brother.

 Complements of attitude verbs:

• I believe that insulting others is wrong.

* I believe that down with insulting others.

* I believe that let's refrain from insulting others.

Within the scope of modal operators:

• It is possible that insulting others is wrong.

* It is possible that down with insulting others.

* It is possible that let's refrain from insulting others.

Within the scope of negations:

• It is not the case that insulting others is wrong.

* It is not the case that down with insulting others.

* It is not the case that let's refrain from insulting others.

What feature could moral sentences have, which exclamative or imperative sentences lack, that could account for such asymmetry, especially when, according to expressivists, they serve such similar functions? This is the asymmetric embedding problem.

So the Asymmetry Challenge for expressivism is to jointly solve the sentential mood, truth-aptness, and asymmetric embedding problems. Doing so is difficult. To get some sense of the pressure this challenge puts on expressivism, consider how tempting it must be for expressivists to respond to the truth-aptness problem by claiming that moral sentences are truth-apt, but not so for similarly functioning exclamatives or imperatives, simply because moral sentences are declarative. But such a response simply forces into the open the sentential mood problem: why are our moral sentences declarative when they function so much like the perfectly useful exclamative and imperative constructions we have at our disposal? Furthermore, the expressivist's answer to the sentential mood problem better not be in this case, on pain of begging the question, that moral sentences are declarative because the declarative mood is the construction reserved for sentences that are truth-apt; for their declarative form was in this case invoked to explain their truth-aptness. (See also Dreier's 'Bob is Hiyo' objection.)

Likewise, consider another tempting response to the asymmetric embedding problem: neither exclamatives nor imperatives can embed in these contexts because the resulting sentences are ungrammatical; only the embedding of declaratives, one might respond, results in grammatical sentences. As before, this response simply forces into the open the sentential mood problem: why are moral sentences declarative when they function so much like exclamative or imperative sentences? But second, it raises the question why these contexts only accept declarative sentences? After all, it is not as if exclamatives and imperatives cannot embed in complex grammatical constructions. For exclamatives and imperatives in fact embed widely into a variety of such constructions, such as:

Consequents of conditionals

• If you have completed Part 1 of the exam, then well done!

• If you have completed Part 1 of the exam, then move on to Part 2.

Conjunctions

• Good night and good luck!

• Take two asparin and call me in the morning.

Disjunctions

• Well done or have you once again reverted to cheating?

• Wear a warm shirt or bring your sweater.

What feature do declaratives, including moral declaratives, have which permits them, but neither exclamatives nor imperatives, to embed as antecedents of conditionals or complements of attitude verbs and modal and negation operators, especially when moral sentences function so much like exclamatives and imperatives?

The most powerful strategy for meeting the Asymmetry Challenge is to identify a feature that moral sentences have, but that exclamatives and imperatives lack, that can solve the sentential mood, truth-aptness, and asymmetric embedding problem in one feel swoop. Gibbard could be read as deploying this sort of strategy. The strategy requires a certain view about 'true' and 'false', namely, that such words are vehicles for registering our agreement and disagreement respectively. If I evaluate as true the sentence 'Insulting others is common', I am agreeing with the belief expressed by that sentence, the belief that insulting others is common. Likewise, if I evaluate as true the sentence 'Insulting others is wrong', I am agreeing with the decision expressed by that sentence, the decision to avoid insulting others. Three assumptions drive such a view: first, all sentences are vehicles for expressing mental states; second, sentences that are truth-apt are those that express mental states with which it is possible to agree or disagree; third, sentences that express mental states with which it is possible to agree or disagree are those for which the declarative mood is reserved. Thus, although moral sentences share with exclamative and imperative sentences the feature of being conventional devices for expressing desire-like states, they, on Gibbard's view, express decisions, and decisions have in common with belief-like states that with them it is possible to agree or disagree. I can agree or disagree with a decision to refrain from insulting others, just as I can agree or disagree with a belief that insulting others is common. Thus sentences that express decisions, like sentences that express representational beliefs, are evaluable as 'true' or 'false', since we use 'true' and 'false' to register agreement or disagreement; and they are in the declarative mood, because the declarative mood is reserved for sentences that express agree-able or disagree-able states. Although Gibbard says nothing explicitly about the particular complex linguistic contexts driving the asymmetric embedding problem, a reasonable extension of this strategy would suggest that these linguistic contexts require sentences that express agree-able or disagree-able mental states and, hence, that these linguistic contexts require declarative sentences.

I think this strategy fails to jointly solve the sentential mood, truth-aptness, and asymmetric embedding problems. For in whatever sense moral sentences might be thought to express decisions, such decisions are also naturally expressible by imperative sentences. For example, in whatever sense 'Insulting others is wrong' might express the decision that we refrain from insulting others, that decision is also naturally expressible by imperatives, such as 'Let's refrain from insulting others', 'Don't insult others', 'Avoid insulting others', and the like. (Gibbard himself recognizes this.) But imperative sentences are not truth-apt. Furthermore, solving the truth-aptness problem this way fails to solve the sentential mood problem; for if imperatives, like moral sentences, express decisions, why are moral sentences not imperative? Similarly, if imperative equally express decisions, then according to the strategy on offer, imperatives should be embeddable in the problematic linguistic contexts that drive the asymmetric embedding problem, contrary to fact. Thus, this strategy fails to solve the sentential mood, truth-aptness, and asymmetric embedding problems. Expressivism seems unable to jointly solve these, and therefore, fails to rise to the Asymmetry Challenge.

17 Replies to “The Asymmetry Challenge for Expressivism

  1. Hi Dan,
    very interesting. I don’t have a fully worked out answer, but only a start of a response.
    This begins from the evolutionary story that both Blacburn and Gibbard sometimes talk about. Groups of people face all kinds of co-operation problems. In some way, the individuals of these groups need to harmonise their actions. In order to do so, they do not only need to express how they feel or what they command or want others to do (which they could by using exclamatives and imperatives). They also need to express highly complex and universal planning for different circumstances, what they prefer people to prefer, what they disapprove people for preferring, what they disapprove people for not disapproving of, what they disapprove people for doing even in the hypothetical circumstances in which they themselves would have different attitudes, and so on.
    Now, it seems that when we look at the complexity of the attitudes which are needed to be expressed in solving the co-operation problems, standard exclamations and prescriptions just would not be enough. The sentences expressing the complex attitudes just would be almost infinitely long if they consisted of mere exclamations and prescriptions.
    The expressivists could then say that the normative language with its descriptive surface was a solution to this problem. It allows us to express the complex attitudes very efficiently. One reason why it allows us to do this is that it borrows all the syntactic resources of ordinary descriptive language. This then explains why the domain of language that is expressive still has its sentential mood, truth-aptness, and embeddability.
    I wonder if the expressivists would/could/should say something like this.

  2. Hi Jussi,
    Thank you so much for this. I certainly appreciate the point about about the complexity of the attitude. I’m not seeing, though, how the complexity of the attitude, which remains after all one about how to feel or how to behave, explains why the attitude should be expressed using the declarative form or, especially, why such a sentence (or attitude) would be truth-apt.

  3. Hi Dan,
    Here is a rough sense of the way I have thought about these issues. I won’t try to rebut the post point by point — there’s too much there. I would be interested in hearing why this view is not responsive to the concerns you raise above. (I’m ignoring exclamatives and focusing on imperatives here.)
    Expressivists should not, given what we know about the relationship between clause type (declarative, interrogative, imperative) and use (assertion, questioning, directing), deny that moral sentences are used to make assertions. Expressivists should hold that not all assertions have the same kind of function. While some assertions express proposals to update the common ground, other assertions express (without asserting) a feature of the speaker’s state of mind. Some assertions express features of the speaker’s evidential state (e.g., assertions of epistemic modals). Others express features of the speaker’s evaluative state (e.g., assertions of moral claims).
    The way I prefer to implement this semantically is using the dynamic semantic idea that one kind of assertion expresses an update function, the other kind of assertion expresses a test. If that is on track, perhaps what unifies this latter class of assertions is that they set the stage for coordination on attitudes: they raise coordination as an issue. What unifies the former class of assertions is that they are just proposals to coordinate on an attitude.
    On this way of thinking about the issues, imperatives have a very different function from moral claims; they do not “function so much like the perfectly useful exclamative and imperative constructions we have at our disposal”. Imperatives conventionally express proposals for addressees to change their plans (see, e.g., Paul Portner’s work, some of my work, etc.); they conventionally express directives. Moral claims do not do this: like epistemic modals, but unlike utterances expressing propositions or directives, they function strictly to convey a characteristic of the speaker’s state of mind (without asserting that the speaker is in that state of mind). In terms of their characteristic use, moral claims — although they concern the same part of one’s psychology as imperatives (the action-guiding part) — are much closer to epistemic modals than to imperatives.
    Since the notion “assertion” — at least the sense of that notion that the clause-type declarative maps onto — does not really cover a single kind of speech act at all, assertions should be individuated functionally. A sentence-token/utterance counts as an assertion just if it can be called true/false, can be referred to using expressions like “what S asserted was that …”, and so on. This is all that can/should be said by way of explaining why “moral sentences are properly evaluable as ‘true’ or ‘false'”: moral sentences are suited, in virtue of their clause type, for a speech act which constitutively makes them appropriate for such evaluation. (Your reason for being dissatisfied with this sort of response is, I believe, dealt with above.)
    Finally, the explanation for why moral claims and imperatives embed in different ways is probably syntactic: lots of embedding environments (but, of course, not all embedding environments) subcategorize for sentences with, e.g., overt grammatical subjects. Why think this has anything to do with meaning?
    Nate Charlow

  4. Hi Dan
    simple point really. Take the complex attitudes described by Blackburn and Gibbard. What exclamations, prescriptions, and so one would you have to use to express them in non-normative language? The sentence would quickly become very awkward and long to express the emotive ascent. Even if we used the hurraah! and boo! terms, this would be a long utterances of booing and hurraaing for different situations. Come to think of it, there is a nice story in Hare why prescriptions themselves are not enough to capture what ethical terms express.
    The expressivist/deflationioist stories of the truth-predicate are a good illustration of this. Deflationists think that in principle everything expressable with ‘truth’ could be said in another way. But take,
    ‘what John said is true’.
    Without the truth predicate, expressing this agreement would require a very long sentence:
    ‘John said ‘p’ and p, or John said ‘q’ and q, …
    So, in the same way the expressivist could say that the complex co-operation solving sets of attitudes and sensitivities could be expressed in other ways but this would be very inefficient. The descriptive surface of normative language enables us to do this in much more efficient way. And, evolution tends to lead to efficient solutions to co-operation problems.

  5. Hi Nate (and Dan),
    Nate writes: Finally, the explanation for why moral claims and imperatives embed in different ways is probably syntactic: lots of embedding environments (but, of course, not all embedding environments) subcategorize for sentences with, e.g., overt grammatical subjects. Why think this has anything to do with meaning?
    I’m probably missing something, but I took the moral of Jamie Dreier’s nice paper with the Hiyo example in it, to be that we need something besides appropriate syntax plus some understandable function for free-standing uses of an expression to underwrite embedding. We need the account of the free-standing uses to help us figure out what the expressions mean when embedded.
    So is your point something like this? Both the states of mind normally expressed by imperatives and those expressed by moral utterances are apt for giving sense to more complex sentences with them embedded. But it is just that there is a syntactic rule forbidding the embedding of the former but not the latter. So just as a matter of the syntactic rules we can’t embed them, but if they were embedded we’d have no problem about the meanings of the complex sentences so-constructed. The fact that they express different sorts of states of mind (as you say earlier in your response) doesn’t play a role in the explanation.
    If that were right I’d suspect we should not find the phenomenon to be explained to be a cross-language regularity. You are probably better placed than I to say whether that’s true.

  6. Hi Jussi,
    Thanks for continuing to help me through this. I agree that there would be evolutionary pressure to develop sentence structures that more simply express complex attitudes. The question is why those pressures would lead to simpler sentences that are declarative rather than exclamative or imperative, especially when they are still in business of expressing, for example, decisions about how to feel or how to behave. Why “disguise” them as ‘Insulting others is wrong’ rather than, for example ‘Wrong for insulting others!’ or some other exclamative or imperative construction that is just as simple? We’re also still left with the questions, I think, why those resulting declarative sentences would still be truth-apt when they express desire-like attitudes and why they would be unequally embeddable since they are still in the business of expressing these types of states, even if they are more complex. In other words, I see the pressure for the development of simpler sentences–I’m not seeing how this is a response to the three problems.

  7. Hi Nate,
    First, it’s wonderful to talk to you. I’ve appreciated your work from afar…
    There is a lot going on in your response, so I may have to come back to it tomorrow when I have a bit more time. So here are just two thoughts for now.
    1. As you have put things,’assertion’ seems to be a term that you are using simply to name a category of different kinds of speech acts that are conventionally performed by means of declarative sentences. So there seems to be no sense in which someone performs a speech act of “assertion,” but rather only a sense in which one performs one of a number of possible speech acts that are conventionally performed using the declarative mood. So we have the sentential mood problem: Why are the speech acts we perform to “express a speaker’s state of mind” voiced using the declarative mood? We already have a mood for that. This is related to the next point:
    2. The kind of speech act you describe being performed with moral sentences sounds very much like the kind of act performed with exclamatives (“to express a speaker’s state of mind”). So while I recognize you wanted to focus on imperatives, omitting exclamatives is actually important, for all of the questions I raised earlier matter with respect to exclamatives. If moral sentences express a speaker’s state of mind, why are they declarative rather than exclamative? (Again, I realize that you probably have other reasons for wanting to avoid talking about exclamatives.)
    Mark has hinted at how I would respond to your final question, but I’ll think more about the rest of your post tonight. Thanks again, Nate.

  8. Hi Mark,
    I was just claiming that the (theory-neutral) explanation for the difference in embedding is, as a matter of fact, syntactic. I agree that a sentence’s being declarative doesn’t itself guarantee that it is genuinely evaluable for truth. But it does guarantee that its embedding profile — the environments in which it is embeddable — is roughly like that of any other declarative. This is why “Bob is hiyo” is embeddable in a conditional antecedent. The difference between imperatives and moral declaratives in their embedding profiles is still, at bottom, syntactic.
    I should have been more explicit about this, but in my view what explains why moral claims are genuinely evaluable for truth is that they share a kind of common use with language, like epistemic modals, whose semantic function is to proffer a test. Truth in these cases means that the test is passed.
    I think this frees me of the commitment to the idea that “the states of mind normally expressed by imperatives and those expressed by moral utterances are apt for giving sense to more complex sentences with them embedded”. In any case, I definitely don’t think that’s the case. To meaningfully (as opposed to just grammatically) embed in a conditional antecedent, you need to be the sort of thing that can be genuinely evaluated for truth.
    I guess this gives me some basis for backtracking on the idea that assertions should be individuated functionally. But I have other reasons for thinking this is the right view of assertion.

  9. Hi Dan,
    Thanks! 🙂
    I rather dislike the “express a speaker’s state of mind” formulation for exactly those reasons. Let me flag that I was using it in a very specific sense: the sort of expression that happens when you represent a sentence’s meaning with a test. Tests — typed as they are as queries of a first-order state of mind (that, upon execution, leave that state of mind unchanged) — have a distinctive pragmatic profile that make them ill-suited for representing the meaning of things like exclamatives. Exclamatives aren’t used to invite this sort of querying. So they express a state of mind, but in a different way, and to a different conversational purpose.

  10. Hi Nate,
    In light of your reply to Mark, I wanted to go back a bit to the setup and follow it through just to clarify that I think you and I are actually on the same page about what needs to be done to solve the Asymmetry Problem. I will then have a few questions about your own proposal, but to keep these two parts of the conversation separate, I’ll post the questions in a follow-up.
    So here is a brief conversation:

    “Declaratives embed as consequents and as antecedents.
    Exclamatives and imperatives embed as consequents but not as antecedents.
    Why the assymetry?
    “Because only declaratives can embed as antecedents of conditionals.”

    This reply simply restates the observation rather than explaining it. So there must be some nonsyntactic feature that declaratives (including moral declaratives) have that exclamatives and imperatives lack that explains the asymmetry.
    One could simply insist that the only thing standing in the way of exclamative and imperative sentences embedding as antecedents is a grammatical rule. But again, the question is why there is this grammatical rule in the first place? Why should natural languages have developed to permit conditionals to accept as their antecedents declaratives but neither exclamatives nor imperatives? (The rule was not imposed; it is a natural linguistic development.) It seems there must be something about declaratives that permits this, some feature that conditionals want their antecedents to have, which turns out to be a feature that exclamatives and imperatives lack. So that is why I think the explanation ultimately needs to be, at least in part, semantic.
    You have gone on to provide an explanation: the constructions that give rise to the asymmetric embedding problem require declaratives and prohibit other types because these constructions require sentences that are truth-apt, and declaratives but neither exclamatives nor imperatives are truth-apt. This raises, in essence, the truth-aptness and sentential mood problems. What (nonsyntactic) feature makes a sentence–including the sentences that have developed to voice our moral judgments–apt for evaluation as ‘true’ or ‘false’ and appropriate for the declarative mood? The answer will need to be a feature that non-moral declaratives also have but exclamatives and imperatives lack.
    I’ll post a few questions shortly concerning your own proposal about what this feature is.

  11. Nate, here are some questions about your own particular solution to the Asymmetry Challenge:
    We left off at this question: What (non-syntactic) feature makes a sentence–including the sentences that have developed to voice our moral judgments–apt for evaluation as ‘true’ or ‘false’ and appropriate for the declarative mood? The answer will need to be a (non-syntactic) feature that non-moral declaratives also have but that exclamatives and imperatives lack.
    The feature you identify has something importantly to do with the type of direct speech acts that sentences are conventionally used to perform. So the explanation for why the sentences that conventionally voice moral judgments are truth-apt and declarative is that the direct speech acts we perform when voicing our moral judgments have something in common with the speech acts performed using non-moral declaratives; but they do not also have this in common with the speech acts performed using exclamatives or imperatives. If I’ve understood your reply to Mark correctly, you think that sentences are truth-apt and declarative when they are a conventional means of proffering a test; since the direct speech acts performed using moral sentences are, but those performed using imperatives and exclamatives are not, the proffering of a test, this explains why moral sentences, but neither imperatives nor exclamatives, are truth-apt and declarative. But this doesn’t seem to solve the two problems, since you’ve identified a feature that moral sentences do not share with ordinary, non-moral declaratives, since ordinary, non-moral declaratives are not, on your view, conventional devices for proffering a test. So being a conventional means of proffering a test cannot be what explains a sentence’s truth-aptness or their fitness for the declarative mood.
    Here is a bit more detail that will also raise several other questions. You’ve identified at least five different general kinds of speech act.
    1. The speech act of proposing to update the common ground. These are acts of proposing to coordinate attitudes in some way.
    2. The speech act of expressing one’s evidentiary state. These are acts of raising the issue of whether to coordinate evidentiary states in some way. In essence, these are acts of proffering a test.
    3. The speech act of expressing one’s evaluative state. These are acts of raising the issue of whether to coordinate evaluative states in some way. In essence, these are acts of proffering a test similar to that proffered by the second kind of speech act, only this test concerns the coordination of different kinds of states.
    4. The speech act of expressing some other desire-like states. (For some reason, these are not acts of raising issues about the coordination of these desire-like states, and so they for some reason are not the proffering of a test.)
    5. The speech act of proposing that an addressees change plans. It would seem that, like the other speech act of proposing, these are acts of proposing to coordinate behaviors in some way.
    Assuming I’ve understood all of this correctly, I would have several questions:
    * The first is the one raised earlier: Since speech acts of the first kind do not proffer a test, why are the sentences conventionally used to perform them (e.g. ‘That is red’) truth-apt?
    * Since the second, third, and fourth kinds of speech acts are all expressions of certain non-representational states, why is the fourth not considered an act of raising issues about the coordination of certain states, and so not the proffering of a test, and so the sentences conventionally used to perform them not also truth-apt?
    * Since both the first and fifth kinds of speech acts are proposals to coordinate something, rather than acts of raising certain issues, why are the sentences conventionally used to perform the first truth-apt and declarative, but not the sentences conventionally used to perform the fifth kind.
    I know I’m throwing a lot at you, and I’m sure I’m probably making some assumptions that you might not share. But at least you know I’ve been thinking about your proposals! 🙂

  12. Hi Dan,
    Thanks for your reply. Lots of food for thought for me.
    To the first point, I think this misunderstands what is typically going on in syntactic explanations. Some environments just subcategorize for syntax of a certain syntactic type, for no reason whatsoever (beyond the sort of arcane syntactic explanations of distributional facts you get in Chomskyan syntax). And I still think that this is all there is to say about why imperatives do not embed in conditional antecedents. But I think we can set this aside.
    To the second point (“being a conventional means of proffering a test cannot be what explains a sentence’s truth-aptness or their fitness for the declarative mood”), I disagree. Tests are operations that get you to test your state of mind for the presence of certain features. “True” is the upshot of performing a test yielding the result that your state of mind has the feature in question; “true” means thumbs up. (I could give a longer pragmatic rationale for this story, but I don’t think I need to. I have stated an account of truth for things that express tests.)
    You ask: “Since speech acts of the first kind do not proffer a test, why are the sentences conventionally used to perform them (e.g. ‘That is red’) truth-apt?” Because they express propositions, and propositions can be evaluated for truth. Indeed, I think propositions are evaluated, by agents, for truth in the same way that tests are. Evaluating P for truth is a matter of testing your state of mind for the property expressed by MUST(P). (I think this also answers your last question.)
    Why not say exclamatives express tests? Let me turn the question around: why not say exclamatives express propositions? I think I can just help myself to whatever answer works. (More helpfully, I would start by saying that exclamatives typically have a purely performative function. They do not invite addressees to check themselves for compliance.)

  13. Nate, thank you for this. It helps me understand your view a bit more clearly. Very quickly… Here seems to be a paradigm way of performing tests in your sense:
    ‘Should we be excited?’
    ‘Is the table brown?’

    In other words, I’m assuming you’ll have some story to tell about why interrogatives should not be considered as conventional devices for performing tests in whatever sense you think other types of sentences conventionally perform tests. (And, hence, why the sentences conventionally used to do what look to be the same kinds of things are not truth-apt or declarative.)

  14. Analogously, a paradigm way of issuing a command is with a declarative of the form “I command you to X”. I don’t think this pushes us to think we have to explain why declaratives shouldn’t be understood as conventional devices for issuing commands.
    But here goes. I would say that all of these cases involve indirect speech acts, in Searle’s sense. In the case of your examples, you conventionally ask a question by way of performing a test. In my example, you conventionally express a proposition by way of issuing a command.
    Sorry for being slow to respond. I’ve attempting to move at the moment.

  15. Nate, I was expecting that you would reverse the explanation. According to the explanation just given, we indirectly ask a question by way of directly performing a test. But if being a conventional means of directly performing a test is what explains truth-aptness, then ‘Yes’/’No’ questions should be truth-apt, which of course they are not. So I was thinking you would say that the interrogative form is a conventional means of directly proposing certain kinds of coordinating behavior (that one’s addressee answer a question), somehow thereby allowing us to indirectly perform a test.

  16. You’ve misinterpreted me — the “by way of” is intended as “as a means to”. The speech act indirectly performed in these cases is the test and command, respectively.

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