Truth-Conditions for Tensed Statements

By | September 13, 2006

Just a few quick, not fully thought-out ideas on this topic.

Consider the present-tensed statement “It is now 3 o’clock”. How should we articulate truth conditions for this statement? The dominant view is that the truth conditions must take into account the de facto time of utterance. Thus,

(1) “It is now 3 o’clock” uttered at time T is true iff it is 3 o’clock at T.

I think this is somewhat mistaken and would propose, instead, that the truth conditions should take into account the putative time of utterance from the speaker’s perspective.

Why? Well suppose Rip Van Winkle has just awoken from his slumber. His watch has long since stopped, but he doesn’t know it. Looking at the watch, he sees it says 3 o’clock, and comes to believe that that is the correct time. In fact, however, it is 2 o’clock. As Rip walks down the street a person sees his watch and asks him for the time. Rip responds, “It is now 3 o’clock”. Hearing this, the person says, “Oh my, I’m later than I thought,” and runs off, leaving Rip behind.

Clearly, Rip believes it is 3 o’clock when he answers the other person’s question. That is, then, the putative time of utterance. The de facto time of utterance, however, is 2 o’clock. If we followed the common practice and articulated the truth conditions of Rip’s statement “It is now 3 o’clock” in terms of the de facto time of utterance as in (1), then we in terms of the , and that is the time he intends to convey to the other person. and his listener ta

Why? Well, when we talk about the meaning of an utterance we can look at it from either of two perspective. The first perspective is that of the listener. Thus, given an utterance, we ask ourselves how a competent listener would ordinarily construe the utterance. The second perspective is that of the speaker. Thus, given an utterance, we ask what the speaker intends to communicate by means of that utterance. Clearly, these two standpoints of assessment – let’s call them listener’s meaning and speaker’s meaning, respectively – can diverge, as happens when two competent speakers of the same language miscommunicate.

One theory – I’ll call it the date-stamp theory (DS) – proposes that we spell out the truth-conditions by replacing the indexical ‘now’ with the specific date or time at which the statement is uttered. Thus,

DS: “It is now 3 o’clock” uttered at time T is true iff it is 3 o’clock at T.

Another theory, which I’ll call the token-reflexive theory (TR), replaces the indexical ‘now’ with a reflexive expression referring to the time of the utterance without specifying that time, as in the DS theory. Thus,

TR: “It is now 3 o’clock” uttered at time T is true iff the time that statement-token is uttered at 3 o’clock.

One thought on “Truth-Conditions for Tensed Statements

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