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Sunday, 7 December 2008


examples he investigates, it may be worth a digression to run through one
of Burge's cases.
Burge asks us to accept, for purposes of argument, the following assumptions:
a. The fact that contracts need not be written (verbal contracts bind)
is constitutive of our concept of contract.
b. There is an English speaker (call him Jones) whose views about contracts
are much like ours except that he is misinformed about (what we
would call) "verbal contracts". In particular, Jones believes that contracts
must be written, hence that soi-disant verbal contracts are not
Burge's intuition is that we ought to say in this case that Jones has the
same concept of contract that we do, notwithstanding that he (Jones) denies
a truth that is, by assumption, constitutive of our concept of contract. Burge
also takes it (if I read him correctly) that when Jones utters (in otherwise
normal circumstances) "Smith just signed a contract", his utterance should
be taken to express the belief that Smith just signed a contract; i.e., to
express, inter alia, the very concept of which valid though not written is, by
assumption, constitutive. Burge's point is, approximately, that what concept
is expressed by what you utter is determined not (or not just) by what is "in
your head", but also by what concept is expressed by the homophonic
utterances of other speakers of your language. And, of course, it is a truism
that, for paradigmatic English speakers, "contract" expresses the concept
Burge is, in my view, putting more weight on the notion same language
than that notion will bear. As the linguists are forever reminding us, language
and language community, when not merely mystical concepts, are largely
geopolitical ones having much to do with who has got the gunboats. But
let us grant Burge same language and, while we are at it, let us grant him the
notion of a truth constitutive of a concept, Still, it seems to me, we cannot
grant Burge his intuitions about what belief Jones uses "Smith just signed
a contract" to express. For, surely, Jones expresses the same concept by
"contract" when he says that as when he says, for example, "I deny that
verbal contracts bind". But if the concept of contract expressed in this
latter case is our concept of contract (and if, by assumption, being binding
when verbal is constitutive of our concept of contract) then the belief that
Jones is expressing when he denies that verbal contracts bind is explicitly selfcontradictory.
Specifically, the belief expressed is that what is binding when
verbal is not binding when verbal. Notice, moreover, that we have to read
this belief de dicto it is not just that Jones believes of something which is as
a matter of fact so and so that it is not so and so (cf. Russell's "I thought
your yacht was longer than it is"). If it means anything to say that Jones
has our concept of contract, it must mean that we should construe his
utterances of "contract" in the same way we would construe our own. If,
however, we do translate that way, we get self-contradictions whenever Jones
says of verbal contracts what, by Burge's own assumption, Jones believes to
be true of them: viz., that there aren't any. I take it, however, that there is