AskDefine | Define proposition

Dictionary Definition



1 (logic) a statement that affirms or denies something and is either true or false
2 a proposal offered for acceptance or rejection; "it was a suggestion we couldn't refuse" [syn: suggestion, proffer]
3 an offer for a private bargain (especially a request for sexual favors)
4 the act of making a proposal; "they listened to her proposal" [syn: proposal]
5 a task to be dealt with; "securing adequate funding is a time-consuming proposition" v : suggest sex to; "She was propositioned by a stranger at the party"

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. The act of offering (an idea) for consideration.
  2. An idea or a plan offered.
  3. (in business settings) The terms of a transaction offered.
  4. The content of an assertion that may be taken as being true or false and is considered abstractly without reference to the linguistic sentence that constitutes the assertion.
  5. In some states of the US, a proposed statute or constitutional amendment to be voted on by the electorate.
  6. In mathematics, a proposition is an assertion formulated in such a way that it may be proved true or false.


uncountable: act of offering for consideration
idea or plan offered
terms of a transaction offered
in logic
in the US: proposed statute or constitutional amendment


  1. To propose a plan to.
  2. To propose some illicit behaviour to, often sexual in nature

Related terms




Extensive Definition

In philosophy and logic, a proposition is a string of sounds or symbols that have a unified meaning. In philosophy, there is no general agreement as to whether propositions are always either true or false, or for that matter whether the word truth has a meaning. In mathematical logic, however, a proposition is usually a statement and is therefore necessarily either true or false. In the absence of qualifying remarks, in mathematics the word "proposition" is usually used to mean "true proposition", or as a synonym for theorem.
The subject of this article is the philosophical use of the word, and the relationship between the use in philosophy, mathematics, and common English. For an introductory article on the mathematical use, see Statement (logic).
The relationship between symbols and their meaning has always been controversial, and there are many sentences which some philosophers accept as propositions and others reject as meaningless noise.

Common usage contrasted with philosophical usage

In common usage, different sentences express the same proposition when they have the same meaning. For example, "Snow is white" (in English) and "Schnee ist weiß" (in German) are different sentences, but they say the same thing, so they express the same proposition. Another way to express this proposition is , "Tiny crystals of frozen water are white." In common usage, this proposition is true.
Philosophical usage often makes more subtle judgments. A philosopher might observe that "snow" is a softer word than the German "schnee", and therefore produces a different reaction in the person who hears the word, while "tiny crystals of frosen water" suggests an entirely different context, and therefore a subtly different meaning. In fact, some philosophers have observed that meaning occurs in the mind of the person hearing or reading the statement, and therefore changes from person to person, and in the same person from time to time.
Further, a philosopher might observe that snow reflecting the setting sun appears red, that snow at night may appear blue, and remind the reader of the common advice, "Never eat yellow snow." This philosopher might conclude that the proposition "Snow is white," has no universally agreed upon truth value, and some would go so far as to say that no proposition has a universally agreed upon truth value.

Historical usage

Usage in Aristotle

Aristotelian logic identifies a proposition as a sentence which affirms or denies the predicate of a subject. An Aristotelian proposition may take the form "All men are mortal" or "Socrates is a man." In the first example, which a mathematicial logician would call a quantified predicate (note the difference in usage), the subject is "men" and the predicate "all are mortal". In the second example, which a mathematicial logician would call a statement, the subject is "Socrates" and the predicate is "is a man". The second example is an atomic element in Propositional logic, the first example is a statement in predicate logic. The compound proposition, "All men are mortal and Socrates is a man," combines two atomic propositions, and is considered true if and only if both parts are true.

Usage by the Logical Positivists

Often propositions are related to closed sentences, to distinguish them from what is expressed by an open sentence, or predicate. In this sense, propositions are statements that are either true or false. This conception of a proposition was supported by the philosophical school of logical positivism.
Some philosophers, such as John Searle, hold that other kinds of speech or actions also assert propositions. Yes-no questions are an inquiry into a proposition's truth value. Traffic signs express propositions without using speech or written language. It is also possible to use a declarative sentence to express a proposition without asserting it, as when a teacher asks a student to comment on a quote; the quote is a proposition (that is, it has a meaning) but the teacher is not asserting it. "Snow is white" expresses the proposition that snow is white without asserting it (i.e. claiming snow is white).
Propositions are also spoken of as the content of beliefs and similar intentional attitudes such as desires, preferences, and hopes. For example, "I desire that I have a new car," or "I wonder whether it will snow" (or, whether it is the case "that it will snow"). Desire, belief, and so on, are thus called propositional attitudes when they take this sort of content.

Usage by Russell

Bertrand Russell held that propositions were structured entities with objects and properties as constituents. Others have held that a proposition is the set of possible worlds/states of affairs in which it is true. One important difference between these views is that on the Russellian account, two propositions that are true in all the same states of affairs can still be differentiated. For instance, the proposition that two plus two equals four is distinct on a Russellian account from three plus three equals six. If propositions are sets of possible worlds, however, then all mathematical truths are the same set (the set of all possible worlds).

Relation to the mind

In relation to the mind, propositions are discussed primarily as they fit into propositional attitudes. Propositional attitudes are simply attitudes characteristic of folk psychology (belief, desire, etc.) that one can take toward a proposition (e.g. 'it is raining', 'snow is white', etc.). In English, propositions usually follow folk psychological attitudes by a "that clause" (e.g. "Jane believes that it is raining"). In philosophy of mind and psychology, mental states are often taken to primarily consist in propositional attitudes. The propositions are usually said to be the "mental content" of the attitude. For example, if Jane has a mental state of believing that it is raining, her mental content is the proposition 'it is raining'. Furthermore, since such mental states are about something (namely propositions), they are said to be intentional mental states. Philosophical debates surrounding propositions as they relate to propositional attitudes have also recently centered on whether they are internal or external to the agent or whether they are mind-dependent or mind-independent entities (see the entry on internalism and externalism in philosophy of mind).

Treatment in logic

As noted above, in Aristotelian logic a proposition is a particular kind of sentence, one which affirms or denies a predicate of a subject. Aristotelian propositions take forms like "All men are mortal" and "Socrates is a man."
In mathematical logic, propositions, also called "propositional formulas" or "statement forms", are statements that do not contain quantifiers. They are composed of well-formed formulas consisting entirely of atomic formulas, the five logical connective, and symbols of grouping. propositional logic is one of the few areas of mathematics that is totally solved, in the sense that it has been proven internally consistent, every theorem is true, and every true statement can be proved. (From this fact, and Gödel's Theorem, it is easy to see that propositional logic is not sufficient to construct the set of integers.) The most common extension of predicate logic is called propositional logic, which adds variables and quantifiers.

Objections to propositions

A number of philosophers and linguists claim that the philosophical definition of a proposition is too vague to be useful. For them, it is just a misleading concept that should be removed from philosophy and semantics. W.V. Quine maintained that the indeterminacy of translation prevented any meaningful discussion of propositions, and that they should be discarded in favor of sentences.

External links

portalpar Logic
proposition in Arabic: افتراض
proposition in Catalan: Proposició
proposition in Czech: Výrok (logika)
proposition in Danish: Udsagn
proposition in German: Logische Aussage
proposition in Estonian: Propositsioon
proposition in Spanish: Proposición (lógica)
proposition in Galician: Proposición
proposition in Ido: Propoziciono
proposition in Indonesian: Proposisi
proposition in Italian: Proposizione (logica)
proposition in Hebrew: טענה (לוגיקה)
proposition in Dutch: Propositie
proposition in Japanese: 命題
proposition in Norwegian Nynorsk: Proposisjon
proposition in Portuguese: Proposição
proposition in Russian: Суждение
proposition in Slovak: Výrok (logika)
proposition in Finnish: Propositio
proposition in Swedish: Påstående
proposition in Chinese: 命题

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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