Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On Knowing/Saying To

First a question. Does anyone know of any literature (in epistemology or philosophy of language) dealing with sentences like either of the ones below?

1) Tom knows to go to the store.
2) Sara said to go to the bank.

It seems to me that sentence 1 should be of interest to epistemologists because it seems to exhibit something akin to the phenomenon that gets labeled "factivity" in the case of "knows that" ascriptions. By which I mean, just as it only makes sense for someone to utter "Tom knows that the store is open" if they themselves are of the opinion that the store is open, it only makes sense for someone to utter 1 if they stand in the some relevant approval/recommendation relationship to Tom's going to the store.

2 is interesting in the philosophy of language, because it seems to be the relevant way to report an instruction in indirect discourse. For instance, if Sara said, "Go to the bank" (to Jeff), but Jeff didn't hear her, and asked me what she said, I might report her utterance by saying 2. Insofar as some philosophers of language invoke considerations about indirect discourse as evidence for propositions (and/or as evidence about the nature of such propositions), sentences like 2 seem to be just as relevant when we raise questions about the existence/natures of instructions (understood as objects of a similar kind to propositions).

It is an interesting dissimilarity between 1 and 2 that a) only Tom can be the agent of "go to the store", while b) Sara is going to be generally dispreferred as a possible agent of "go to the bank" and c) the agent of "go to the bank" in 2 seems highly context sensitive (that is, there are readings corresponding to "Sara said for us to go to the bank", "Sara said for him to go to the bank", "Sara said for you to go to the bank", etc.)

I don't have any big "a-ha" thoughts on any of this yet, which is partially why I am hoping someone has written something about them. Both constructions seem deserving of attention, though.


shyam said...
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shyam said...

i don't know if these particular constructions have come up for discussion somewhere.

but, i suspect the first is a control construction and the second is a related type of construction.

so, the first is like
'John wants to go to the store'

in this the agent who goes to the store in the complement is John. in general, this is thought to occur because there is an element PRO in the complement whose interpretation is "controlled" by the matrix subject. So we have
'John wants PRO to go to the store' as the real structure.

I suspect that 'John knows to go to the store' is like that as well. We have 'John knows PRO to go to the store'. this would need to be worked on in detail. but, its a good working hypothesis.

the second isn't control, but a somewhat related phenomenon i suspect.

consider a sentences like
'the tailor knows what to wear'.
like in your sentence, the tailor is not the preferred agent for the wearer. in a sense, there need not be any particular agent involved either. one could be talking about what to wear for a certain occasion without anyone in mind. you can do something similar with the 'said to' construction, i think

in these types of constructions linguist also think there is a hidden item PROarb. so we get 'the tailor knows what PROarb to wear'.

so, i suspect it might be like 'Sara said PROarb to go to the bank'. the details will need some work, but i think thats a good working hypothesis.

that also gives a contact point with the literature. there is tons on control (its philosophically interesting too bc PRO is obligatorily de se) and there is a fair amount of stuff on PROarb (i don't know if there is a name for this like control). it would be good to look at that stuff and see if your 'said to' and 'know to' constructions really do pattern like PROarb and PRO respectively as i suspect.