A proposition is an assertion that something is the case. We use sentences to express propositions.
  1. The following sentences express the same proposition:
    • Il pleut.
    • Esta llooviendo.
    • It is raining.
    • Es regnet.
  2. The following sentences express the same proposition:
    • John loves Mary.
    • Mary is loved by John.
    It makes sense to think of a proposition as being the meaning of a sentence. The meaning of a sentence has several components:
    • denotation: the state of affairs in the world that the sentence holds to be the case.
    • connotation: the feelings, ideas or emotions evoked in the reader by the sentence.
    • emphasis: the relative importance the writer ascribes to different elements in the sentence.
    For example, in the sentence "The fire raged down the hill" the denotation of the sentence is the assertion that there is a fire buring on a hill and moving down the hill. The connotation is that this is something to be feared (the word "rage" implies anger or danger). The emphasis in this sentence is the fire itself; had we written the same sentence "Down the hill raged the fire" the emphasis would be on the hill.

    Philosophers argue a lot about meaning. Some say that the meaning is the denotation only, some say it is a combination of denotation and connotation only, while others (including myself) say it is all three.

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13 August 1996