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Are Thoughts and Sentences Compositional? A Controversy between Abelard and a Pupil of Alberic on the Reconciliation of Ancient Theses on Mind and Language

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This paper reconstructs a controversy between a pupil of Alberic of Paris and Peter Abelard which illustrates two competing ways of reconciling different ancient traditions. I shall argue that their accounts of the relation between sentences and thoughts are incompatible with one another, although they rely on the same set of sources. The key to understanding their different views on assertive and non-assertive sentences lies in their disparate views about the structure of thoughts: whereas Abelard takes thoughts to be compositional, the opponent's arguments seem to rely on the premise that the mental states which correspond to sentences cannot be compositional in the way that Abelard suggested. Although, at a first glance, Abelard's position appears to be more coherent, it turns out that his opponent convincingly argues against weaknesses in Abelard's semantic theory by proposing a pragmatic approach.

Affiliations: 1: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


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