Notes on Ruloff's Papers on Arguments from Propositions and Intentionality to God

“Divine Thoughts and Fregean Propositional Realism”, IJPoR 76:2 (2014): 41-51.

In this paper, Ruloff critiques Anderson and Welty’s argument from intentionality to God. Ruloff expresses their argument as follows:
P1: The laws of logic are propositions.
P2: Propositions bear intrinsic intentionality.
P3: Therefore, the laws of logic are propositions that bear intrinsic intentionality. (From P1 and P2)
P4: x is intrinsically intentional only if x is mental (or mind-dependent).
P5: Therefore, the laws of logic are propositions that are mental (or mind-dependent). (From P3 and P4)
P6: The laws of logic exist necessarily.
P7: If the laws of logic exist necessarily and are mental, then the laws of logic are the contents of a necessarily existent mind.
P8: Therefore, the laws of logic are the contents of a necessarily existent mind. (From P5, P6, and P7)
P9: Therefore, a necessarily existent mind exists. (From P8)
Ruloff offers a defeater for P4, i.e., against the thesis that intentional entities must depend upon a mind. Toward that end, he sketches a standard account of propositions: Fregean Propositional Realism (FPR), according to which propositions are mind-independent abstract objects that are intrinsically and essentially intentional, and yet wholly independent of any and all minds. Officially:
Fregean propositional realism (FPR): Propositions are abstract, mind and language-independent, truth-bearing, representational entities, that function as the referents of propositional attitude reports and the meanings of declarative sentence-tokens.
Crucially, it is widely held that there is a straightforward argument for their intrinsic and essential intentionality, viz., propositions are the primary bearers of truth-values, and their truth-values are simply a function of their correspondence with the world (or lack thereof). Indeed, on FPR, the intentionality of thought is derivative of/dependent upon the intentionality of propositions, and not the other way around. 

Ruloff offers two main arguments for FPR that are commonly given and widely accepted. The first is the “singular term” argument (STA). According to STA, in sentences containing “that”-clauses e.g., “Joe believes that the ball is red.” – the “that”-clause is most naturally taken to be a singular term that is a referring expression. Prima facie, then, there is something to which “that”-clauses refer. But the most plausible candidates for such referents are mind-independent, abstract objects. 

The second argument is that the robust theoretical utility of FPR confers justification on the view. For example, it explains how (a) “the same semantic content can be expressed by different people uttering different sentence-tokens in different languages”; (b) “how the same semantic content can be believed by different people”; (c) “how mental states gain their representational content”; and (d) “makes intuitive sense of our ascriptions of truth and falsity”; etc.

Given that FPR is a well-motivated view and that it entails that propositions are essentially intentional entities and yet mind-independent, P4 is undercut.


“Against Mind-Dependence”, Philo 17:1 (2014):92-98.


In this paper, Ruloff evaluates Gould’s argument that propositions are caused by/grounded in a (divine) mind:
1. Propositions bear intrinsic intentionality.
2. X is intentional only if x is mental.
3. Therefore, propositions are mental (mental entities or mental states).
4. If propositions are mental, then they are thoughts.
5. Therefore, propositions are thoughts.
6. If propositions are thoughts, then they are effects of some mind.
7. Therefore, propositions are the effects of some mind.
Ruloff’s core claim is that (3) is subject to a reductio, entailing four assumptions that are widely rejected on grounds of implausibility: (i) had there never been any mental states, then there would be no true or false propositions; (ii) the total number of true and false propositions must equal the total number of mental states; (iii) it’s impossible for two people to believe the same proposition or share the same thought; and (iv) some propositions will fail to have contradictories. But if so, then there are grounds for rejecting (1) or (2) (or both).

(i) is implausible because it’s a prima facie false counterfactual or counterpossible: propositions would be true or false even if no one entertained them. (cf. McGrath (2012), Soames (1999), Jubien (1997), Swartz & Dowden (2004), etc.). The following counterfactual/counterpossible is even more salient: If there were no beings capable of mental states, “There are no beings capable of mental states” would’ve still been true ; (ii) is implausible because prima facie, there are many – infinitely many – more propositions than mental states; (iii) is implausible because propositions can be entertained by -- be “in” -- more than one mind at once, while mental states are concrete particulars, located in discrete regions of space and time, and no concrete particular can be in more than one region of space and time at once (cf. Frege); and (iv) is implausible because there seem to be propositions that at most one person has ever thought of. But if so, then if propositions are mental states, then no one will have thought of the contradictories of such propositions. But it’s absurd to think that some propositions don’t have contradictories. Therefore, propositions can’t be mental states. Until Gould addresses these implausibilities, his theistic conceptualism has undefeated defeaters.


“On Propositional Platonism, Representation, and Divine Conceptualism”, EJPR 8:4 (Winter 2016): 195-212.


In this paper, Ruloff critiques Gould & Davis’ critique of propositional platonism in favor of theistic conceptualism. In particular, Ruloff argues that their argument relies upon at least five implausible assumptions: (i) propositions must be representational in order to be the bearers of truth-values; (ii) propositions are abstract entities whose constituent components are properties, relations, and concrete individuals (i.e., that propositions are to be given a Russellian analysis); (iii) propositions are structured abstract entities; (iv) a proposition’s truth-conditions must be explained solely in terms of the representational properties of its constituent components; and (v) if the propositional platonist isn’t able to explain the representational properties of a proposition in terms of its constituents, a wholesale rejection of propositional platonism is justified. 

Against (i): Jeff Speaks’ account of propositions analyzes them in terms of properties. On Speaks’ account, “The ball is red” is true just in case the property being such that the ball is red is instantiated. But if so, then propositions can be bearers of truth-values without being inherently representational entities. Absent a successful critique of Speaks' account, (i) is undercut.

Against (ii): (a) Fregean accounts of propositions take the constituents to be structured senses, or modes of presentation, and not properties, relations, and individuals; and (b) Moorean accounts of propositions take them to be structured concepts/open sentences plus gap-filling expressions. Absent a successful critique of these accounts, (ii) is undercut.

Against (iii): (a) George Bealer has a well-developed and defended account of whole propositions as unstructured, metaphysically simple, ontologically primitive, sui generis abstracta. These simple entities are associated with a decomposition tree, and thus structure can be attributed to propositions in this derivative way; (b) Robert Stalnaker has a well-developed and defended account of propositions as sets of possible worlds, or functions from possible worlds to truth-values. Example: the proposition expressed by “Jen is a philosopher” is the set of worlds in which the referent of 'Jen'   is a member of the set of things that are philosophers. Equivalently, it’s the function f that maps a possible worlds w to the value True just in case Jen is a philosopher in w; (c) Keller & Keller have recently argued that the principle of compositionality is false, as it admits of counterexamples or rests on several very controversial assumptions. Absent a successful critique of these accounts and K & K's apparent counterexamples, (iii) is undercut.

Against (iv):  we've seen above that (a) Jeff Speaks has a well-developed and defended account of propositions as properties that entails that propositions are not representational at all, in which case they lack representational components; (b) Bealer’s and Stalnaker’s accounts of propositions entail that their truth-conditions don’t depend on simpler and structured parts; and (c) Keller & Keller’s arguments provide an undercutting defeater for the claim that propositions have internal components as constituents (cf. their arguments against the principle of compositionality). Absent a successful critique of these, (iv) is undercut.

Against (v): Even if the propositional platonist can’t explain how an abstract proposition can get its representational features from its constituents, propositional platonism would still be rationally justified. This is because of the widely endorsed theoretical utility argument for propositional platonism. According to the argument, because the view “elegantly and powerfully simplifies, unifies, and systematizes our thinking about language and communication, a commitment to propositional platonism is warranted.” (p. 209). For example, it explains (a) how the same semantic content can be expressed by different people uttering the different sentence tokens of different languages; (b) how the same semantic content can be believed by different people; (c) how mental states gain their representational content; (d) alethic modality (possibility, necessity, contingency, etc.); and (e) our ascriptions of truth and falsity. As Michael Jubien argues, given the impressively strong theoretical utility argument, we should “try to get used to the mystery” of how propositions can be intrinsically representational entities (Jubien 1997, p. 103). She is therefore warranted in taking the representational properties of propositions to be a theoretical primitive. Absent a successful critique of this argument, (v) is undercut.