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Propositions

A proposition is an assertion that something is the case. We use sentences to express propositions. A sentence may be made of black ink, be on a page, and be four inches long. But the content of the sentence cannot be found on the page. The proposition it expresses appears to be a non-physical entity which can be in the mind.

Examples
The following sentences express the same proposition:
  1. Il pleut.
  2. Esta lloviendo.
  3. It is raining.
  4. Es regnet.
The following sentences express the same proposition:
  1. John loves Mary.
  2. Mary is loved by John.
Comment
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 say it is all three.

About Stephen Downes

Many kudos are owed to Stephen Downes, the logician who originally authored this list of fallacies and made it freely available on the Web. His basic structure remains. A mirror of Downes' original site can be found here.