Proposition (linguistics)

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In linguistics , more precisely in linguistic semantics , the term proposition is used to denote the content that is expressed with a sentence (in a context ). The most important property of propositions is that they take on a truth value, i. H. can be true or false (as distinct from facts or events ).

To the subject

Proposition and sentence

Among the sentence types that are described in grammar, there are many that do not directly express a proposition, for example question sentences or relative clauses - these accordingly do not have the property of being true or false. However, they can be analyzed in such a way that they contain a proposition scheme that is further processed into a different type of meaning through the formation of questions or relative clauses. Sentence types that express propositions directly are e.g. B. Statements ( declarative sentences ) or conditional sentences .

The propositional content of a sentence includes the aspects of a sentence meaning that can be confirmed or disputed. Further meanings that can resonate in a statement but cannot be disputed are outside the propositional content; in Paul Grice's theory these have been termed conventional implicatures .

Proposition, statement and thought

A term related to the proposition and often congruent is that of the logical statement . In Gottlob Frege's philosophy of language , it also corresponds to the thought . In contrast to propositions, according to Frege, however, there are thoughts that are neither true nor false , such as the thought expressed by the sentence "Odysseus is King of Ithaca".

Proposition can just as well deal with real as with possible and imagined facts, statements about possibilities result in so-called modal statements , but they also assume truth values.

In semantics and philosophy of language, different views on the more detailed definition of propositions are represented: "Whether it is a matter of sets of situations, sets of possible worlds or complexes of objects and / or concepts, opinions differ greatly."


The linguistic concept of the proposition can be illustrated by the following examples:

  1. The sentence “I claim that Hans is standing in front of the table” and the sentence “I command that Hans is standing in front of the table!” Express the same propositional content in the that sentence.
  2. The speech act statement : “Katrin works hard”, question : “Is Katrin hard work?” Or the request : “Katrin, work hard!” Have a different illocutive role, but the same reference <Katrin>, predication [work hard] and the same proposition.
  3. The proposition: {<Karl> [open the door]} is identical in the sentences: “Karl opens the door. - Karl doesn't open the door. - The door is opened by Karl. - Does Karl open the door? - Karl, open the door! - If only Karl opened the door! - When Karl opens the door, […]. ”(This also applies interlingually: Charles opens the door.…)

The proposition is thus something that, with Frege, can be understood as the common sense of different statements in different linguistic forms, questions and commands and that is captured in a paraphrase . These different complex linguistic expressions are formed from the same sub-expressions (Karl, opening, door). Frege calls this sense "thought"

Proposition in speech act theory

“Speech act theory assumes that there are different modes through which a proposition (or its propositional content) can be expressed”.

In response to Willard van Orman Quine's criticism , propositions were viewed by some researchers in terms of pragmatic aspects rather than the purely intentional meaning of sentences . Through the distinction made in speech act theory between the propositional content and the illocutionary function of an utterance, the proposition can be understood as an aspect of the individual utterance and no longer as a determination of the sentence as a type of linguistic utterance.

Proposition in semantics

Despite the achievements of speech act theory, a different understanding of propositions has persisted in formal semantics , which treats the sentence content as a mental object or as an objective thought in Frege's sense. The concept of propositional semantics can therefore be used for the prelinguistic object of an act of faith (see epistemic logic ), so that statements like the following are possible:

If x believes that M a but not M b, but a = b, then his belief does not relate to a fact, but only to a proposition.

Such an understanding of the proposition is, however, ontologically problematic, since it is neither a normal object nor merely the result of a linguistic analysis: "In this sense, proposition does not denote an object, but belongs to the class of abstract entities."

Web links

  • Scott Soames : Propositions. (PDF; 160 kB) In: Delia Graff Fara, Gillian Russell (eds.): Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Language. Routledge, New York 2011, ISBN 978-0-203-20696-6 .
  • Matthew McGrath: Propositions , The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Individual evidence

  1. z. B. Jürgen Pafel, Ingo Reich: Introduction to semantics. Basics - analyzes - theories. JB Metzler, Stuttgart 2016, p. 11.
  2. Jürgen Pafel, Ingo Reich: Introduction to Semantics. P. 12.
  3. a b c Bräuer: Proposition. In: Wulff D. Rehfus (Hrsg.): Short dictionary philosophy. UTB, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-8252-8208-2 , p. 570.
  4. ^ Proposition. In: Homberger: Subject dictionary for linguistics. 2000.
  5. so Ulrich: Proposition. In: Basic Linguistic Concepts. 5th edition. 2002.
  6. Gottlob Frege: The thought. A logical investigation. In: Contributions to the philosophy of German idealism. 2 1918-1919, pp. 58-77 (online) . Frege also makes direct ontological speculations about thoughts that linguistics dispenses with.
  7. ^ Peter Ernst: Pragmalinguistics: Basics, Applications, Problems. de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2002, ISBN 3-11-017013-2 , p. 97.
  8. Bräuer: Proposition. In: Rehfus: Concise Dictionary Philosophy. 2003, p. 571.