Crosslinguistically, questions frequently make crucial use of morphosyntactic elements which also occur outside of questions. Chief among these are focus, disjunctions, and wh-words with indefinite semantics. This paper provides a compositional account of the semantics of wh-, alternative, and polar questions in Yucatec Maya (YM), which are composed primarily of these elements. Key to the account is a theory of disjunctions and indefinites (extending work by others) which recognizes the inherently inquisitive nature of these elements. While disjunctions and indefinites are (...) inquisitive, they differ from questions since they are also truth-conditionally informative. Compositionally, then, the role of focus in YM questions is to presuppose the informative component of an indefinite wh-word or disjunction, rendering the inquisitive component the question’s only new contribution to the discourse. In addition to deriving question denotations compositionally, the account also captures a potentially surprising fact: focused disjunctions in YM can function as either questions or assertions, depending solely on the discourse context. (shrink)
To determine what the speaker in a cooperative dialog meant with his assertion, on top of what he explicitly said, it is crucial that we assume that the assertion he gave was optimal. In determining optimal assertions we assume that dialogs are embedded in decision problems (van Rooij 2003) and use backwards induction for calculating them (Benz 2006). In this paper, we show that in terms of our framework we can account for several types of implicatures in a uniform way, (...) suggesting that there is no need for an independent linguistic theory of generalized implicatures. In the final section, we show how we can embed our theory in the framework of signaling games, and how it relates with other game theoretic analyses of implicatures. (shrink)
The overall strategy of Lycan’s paper is to distinguish three kinds of conditional assertion theories, and then to show, in order, how they are variously afflicted by a set of problems. The three kinds of theory were the Quine-Rhinelander theory (or the Simple Illocutionary theory), The Semanticized Quine-Rhinelander, and the No Truth Value theory (or NTV). This strategy offers considerable clarity, but it comes at a cost, for what I take to be the best version of a conditional assertion theory (...) contains core parts of all three theories. In what follows, I will suggest that many of the objections offered by Lycan can be dealt when all the pieces are taken into consideration at the same time. But I will also suggest that a refined version of what Lycan called the Immediate Implausibility objection does show us that the conditional assertion theory is false. (shrink)
The view defended in this paper - I call it the No-Assertion view - rejects the assumption that it is theoretically useful to single out a subset of sayings as assertions: (v) Sayings are governed by variable norms, come with variable commitments and have variable causes and effects. What philosophers have tried to capture by the term 'assertion' is largely a philosophers' invention. It fails to pick out an act-type that we engage in and it is not a category we (...) need in order to explain any significant component of our linguistic practice. Timothy Williamson (2000) defends a theory of type (i). He says that a theory of assertion has as its goal "[…] that of articulating for the first time the rules of a traditional game that we play" (p. 240). Among those who think we play the game of assertion, there's disagreement about what the rules are. Some think it's a single rule and disagree about what that rule is. Others think the rules change across contexts. According to the No-Assertion view we don’t play the assertion game. The game might exist as an abstract object, but it is not a game you need to learn and play to become a speaker of a natural language. (shrink)
A contextualist account of modal assertions is sketched that makes their truth sensitive to the presuppositions of the conversation. Support for the account is mustered by considering its application to the context-sensitivity of assertions of subjunctive conditional sentences, explanation sentences, and knowledge sentences.
Utterances within the context of telling fictional tales that appear to be assertions are nevertheless not to be taken at face value. The present paper attempts to explain exactly what such 'pseudo-assertions' are, and how they behave. Many pseudo-assertions can take on multiple roles, both within fictions and in what I call 'participatory criticism' of a fiction, especially when they occur discourse-initially. This fact, taken together with problems for replacement accounts of pseudo-assertion based on the implicit prefixing of an 'in (...) the fiction' operator, suggest that pseudo-assertion is best understood as a kind of make-believe. This proposal is elaborated and defended, and some applications to fictionalism are tentatively explored. (shrink)
According to Scott Soames, proper names have no descriptive meaning. Nonetheless, Soames maintains that proper names are typically used to make descriptive assertions. In this paper, I challenge Soames’ division between meaning and what is asserted, first by arguing that competent speakers always make descriptive assertions with name-containing sentences, and then by defending an account of proper name meaning that accommodates this fact.
The main goal in this paper is to outline and defend a form of Relativism, under which truth is absolute but assertibility is not. I dub such a view Norm-Relativism in contrast to the more familiar forms of Truth-Relativism. The key feature of this view is that just what norm of assertion, belief, and action is in play in some context is itself relative to a perspective. In slogan form: there is no fixed, single norm for assertion, belief, and action. (...) Upshot: 'knows' is neither context-sensitive nor perspectival. (shrink)
A new solution to the liar paradox is developed using the insight that it is illegitimate to even suppose (let alone assert) that a liar sentence has a truth-status (true or not) on the grounds that supposing this sentence to be true/not-true essentially defeats the telos of supposition in a readily identifiable way. On that basis, the paradox is blocked by restricting the Rule of Assumptions in Gentzen-style presentations of the sequent-calculus. The lesson of the liar is that not all (...) assumptions are for free. One merit of this proposal is that it is free from the revenge problem. (shrink)
This innovative collection addresses such themes as: the relation between the concept of truth and the success conditions of assertions and kindred speech acts the linguistic devices of expressing the truth of a proposition the relation ...
In Hawthorne and Magidor 2009, we presented an argument against Stalnaker’s meta-semantic framework. In this paper we address two critical responses to our paper: Stalnaker 2009, and Almotahari and Glick 2010. Sections 1–4 are devoted to addressing Stalnaker’s response and sections 5–8 to addressing Almotahari and Glick’s. We pay special attention (Sect. 2) to an interesting argument that Stalnaker offers to bolster the transparency of presupposition (an argument that, if successful, could also form the basis of a defence of the (...) KK principle). (shrink)
This paper will appeal a recent argument for the indeterminacy of translation to show not that meaning is indeterminate, but rather that assertion cannot be explained in terms of an independent grasp of the concept of truth. In particular, it will argue that if we try to explain assertion in terms of truth rather than vice versa, we ultimately will not be able to make sense of the difference between assertion and denial. This problem with such 'semantic' accounts of assertion (...) then illustrates why we need not worry about the purported argument for indeterminacy. (shrink)
I defend the view that the truth conditions of the ordinary indicative conditional are those of the material conditional. This is done via a discussion of assertability and by appeal to conventional implicature rather than conversational implicature.
This paper begins by exploring a subspecies of assertion. Under some circumstances an utterance intuitively counts as an assertion, even though it is Cynical: that is, it is insincere, and made without the reasonable expectation of even appearing sincere to its audience. The paper explores the contextual and cognitive workings of Cynical assertion – directly, in part, but also by comparison with superficially similar but non-assertoric utterances, namely, those made under duress. Finally, the paper examines the broader relevance of Cynical (...) assertion, by considering two philosophical applications of the notion: first, in support of Michael Dummett’s conventionalist account of assertion; and second, in illuminating an aspect of Moore’s paradox. (shrink)
Abstract: A psychologically plausible analysis of the way we assign illocutionary forces to utterances is formulated using a 'contextualist' analysis of what is said. The account offered makes use of J. L. Austin's distinction between phatic acts (sentence meaning), locutionary acts (contextually determined what is said), illocutionary acts, and perolocutionary acts. In order to avoid the conflation between illocutionary and perlocutionary levels, assertive, directive and commissive illocutionary forces are defined in terms of inferential potential with respect to the common ground. (...) Illocutionary forces are conceived as automatic but optional components of the process of interpretation. (shrink)
John Searle’s philosophy of language contains a notorious tension between a literalist view on the relationship between sentences and their meanings, and what—at the first glance—appears to be a virulent defence of contextualism. Appearances notwithstanding, Searle’s views on background and meaning are closer to literalism than to contextualism. Searle defines assertion in terms of the commitment to the truth of the propositional content. In absence of an independent criterion to delimit the asserted content, such a definition overgenerates—hence Searle’s commitment to (...) literalism. His position is untenable—and this is the general lesson of the paper—, because sentence meaning cannot be used to determine the asserted content. (shrink)
The Tractatus rejects the sign of assertion as "logically meaningless", but the rejection of the sign did not lead Wittgenstein to reject the corresponding notion. I show the presence and the importance in the early Wittgenstein of a notion keenly similar to Fregean and Russellian logical assertion. I propose to call this notion "affirmation." The preparatory writings and the TLP present different theories about affirmation. The correct understanding of the nature and purpose of affirmation proves critical in order to confront (...) another issue about the Tractatus: the only partial similarity between the theory of pictures and the theory of propositions. (shrink)
No semantic theory is complete without an account of context sensitivity. But there is little agreement over its scope and limits even though everyone invokes intuition about an expression's behavior in context to determine its context sensitivity. Minimalists like Cappelen and Lepore identify a range of tests which isolate clear cases of context sensitive expressions, such as ‘I’, ‘here’, and ‘now’, to the exclusion of all others. Contextualists try to discredit the tests and supplant them with ones friendlier to their (...) positions. In this paper we will explore and evaluate Cappelen and Hawthorne's recent attempts to discredit Cappelen and Lepore's tests and replace them with others. We will argue they have failed to provide sufficient reason to abandon minimalism. If we are right, minimalism about context sensitivity is still viable. (shrink)
To assert something is to perform a certain kind of act. This act is different in kind both from other speech acts, like questions, requests, commands, promises, and apologies, and from acts that are not speech acts, like toast buttering and inarticulate yodeling. My question, then is this: what features of an act qualify it as an assertion, and not one of these other kinds of act? To focus on a particular example: in uttering “Bill will close the window,” one (...) might be practicing English pronunciation, asserting that Bill will close the window, or requesting that Bill close the window. What makes it the case that one is doing one of these and not another? (shrink)
An account of assertoric force is a theory that says what it consists in for an utterance to have assertoric force, i.e. to be an assertion. This is not exactly the same as being a theory which says under what conditions an utterance is an assertion, for there are different kinds of conditions, and only some of these matter to what we should call an “account”. Let’s distinguish between surface properties and deep properties of utterances. I count observational properties as (...) surface properties, and that includes e.g. prosodic properties such as stress and pitch. I also count as surface properties surface grammatical properties: word segmentation, word order, and surface morphology such as inflection markers. Among the “deep” properties are the mental state of the speaker, and contextual features like what norms or conventions are in force, and what the conversational setting is. We can use this distinction to classify theories about assertion. Let’s call a theory “superficial” if it just lists surface properties. Such a theory is correct if all and.. (shrink)
In 1956 J. L. Austin presented his famous distinction between performative and constative.1 Roughly, whereas in a constative utterance you report an already obtaining state of affairs—you say something—in a performative utterance you create something new: you do something.2 Paradigm examples of performatives were utterances by means of which actions such as baptizing, congratulating and greeting are performed.
An assertion is a speech act in which something is claimed to hold, e.g. that there are inﬁnitely many prime numbers, or, with respect to some time t, that there is a traﬃc congestion on Brooklyn Bridge at t, or, of some person x with respect to some time t, that x has a tooth ache at t. The concept of assertion has often occupied a central place in the philosophy of language, since it is often thought that making assertions (...) is the use of language most crucial to linguistic meaning, and since assertions are the natural expressions of cognitive attitudes, and hence of importance for theories of knowledge and belief. (shrink)
The paper argues that Wittgenstein's criticisms of Frege and Russell's assertion sign are, a bottom, criticisms of a common flaw in these philosophers' early conceptions of the proposition. Each philosopher offers an account of the proposition that *seems* to suggest that a sentence cannot get so far as to say something without the addition of the assertion sign. This leads to the mistaken idea that there is a coherent notion of "logical assertion.".
Dialectical foundationalists, including Adler, Brandom, Leite, and Williams, claim that some asserted propositions do not require defense just because an interlocutor challenges them. By asserting such a proposition, the speaker shifts the burden of proof to her interlocutor. Dialectical egalitarians claim that all asserted propositions require defense when challenged. I elucidate the dispute between dialectical foundationalists and egalitarians, and I defend a broadly egalitarian stance against several prominent objections.
Suppose Alice asserts p, and the Caterpillar wants to disagree. If the Caterpillar accepts classical logic, he has an easy way to indicate this disagreement: he can simply assert ¬p. Sometimes, though, things are not so easy. For example, suppose the Cheshire Cat is a paracompletist who thinks that p ∨ ¬p fails (in familiar (if possibly misleading) language, the Cheshire Cat thinks p is a gap). Then he surely disagrees with Alice's assertion of p, but should himself be unwilling (...) to assert ¬p. So he cannot simply use the classical solution. Dually, suppose the Mad Hatter is a dialetheist who thinks that p ∧ ¬p holds (that is, he thinks p is a glut). Then he may assert ¬p, but it should not be taken to indicate that he disagrees with Alice; he doesn't. So he too can't use the classical solution. The Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter, then, have a common problem, and philosophers with opinions like theirs have adopted a common solution to this problem: appeal to denial. Denial, these philosophers suppose, is a speech act like assertion, but it is not to be understood as in any way reducing to assertion. Importantly, denial is something different from the assertion of a negation; this is what allows it to work even in cases where assertion of negation does not. Just as importantly, denial must express disagreement, since this is the job it's being enlisted to do. (shrink)
Taking Per Martin-Löf’s constructive type theory as a starting-point a theory of assertion is developed, which is able to account for the epistemic aspects of the speech act of assertion, and in which it is shown that assertion is not a wide genus. From a constructivist point of view, one is entitled to assert, for example, that a proposition A is true, only if one has constructed a proof object a for A in an act of demonstration. One thereby has (...) grounded the assertion by an act of demonstration, and a grounding account of assertion therefore suits constructive type theory. Because the act of demonstration in which such a proof object is constructed results in knowledge that A is true, the constructivist account of assertion has to ward off some of the criticism directed against knowledge accounts of assertion. It is especially the internal relation between a judgement being grounded and its being known that makes it possible to do so. The grounding account of assertion can be considered as a justification account of assertion, but it also differs from justification accounts recently proposed, namely in the treatment of selfless assertions, that is, assertions which are grounded, but are not accompanied by belief. (shrink)
In this paper Timothy Williamson’s argument that the knowledge norm of assertion is the best explanation of the unassertability of Morrean sentences is challenged and an alternative account of the norm of assertion is defended.
In this paper, I take up an argument advanced by Keith DeRose (Philosophical Review, 111:167–203, 2002) that suggests that the knowledge account of assertion provides the basis of an argument in favor of contextualism. I discuss the knowledge account as the conjunction of two theses—a thesis claiming that knowledge is sufficient to license assertion KA and one claiming that knowledge is necessary to license assertion AK. Adducing evidence from Stalnaker’s account of assertion, from conversational practice, and from arguments often raised (...) in favor of the knowledge account, I suggest that neither the AK nor the KA theses are plausible. That is, I argue that the knowledge account of assertion to which DeRose appeals is in fact not suitable as an account of assertion. Given that DeRose’s argument stands and falls with the knowledge account, I claim that the argument therefore fails. (shrink)
This paper uses recent research in developmental psychology regarding the acquisition of the concept of belief in young children to explore the contrast between a disposition-based account of the principles underlying linguistic communication and the representative and highly influential intention-based accounts of assertional practice advanced by David Lewis and Donald Davidson. Indeed, evidence from recent work in developmental psychology would seem to suggest that disposition-based accounts are not only possible accounts of the acquisition of competence in assertional practice, but are (...) in fact better than their rivals in explaining the way such competence is actually acquired. (shrink)
The origins of these essays -- Introduction -- Presupposition -- A projection problem for speaker presupposition -- Language and linguistic competence -- Linguistics and psychology -- Semantics and psychology -- Semantics and semantic competence -- The necessity argument -- Truth, meaning, and understanding -- Truth and meaning in perspective -- Semantics and pragmatics -- Naming and asserting -- The gap between meaning and assertion : why what we literally say often differs from what our words literally mean -- Drawing the (...) line between meaning and implicaturem and relating both to assertion -- Descriptions -- Incomplete definite descriptions -- Donnellan's referential/attributive distinction -- Why incomplete descriptions don't refute Russell's theory of descriptions -- Meaning and use : lessons for legal interpretation -- Interpreting legal texts : what is and what is not special about the law. (shrink)
Paul Grice’s theory of Conversational Implicature is, by all accounts, one of the great achievements of the past fifty years -- both of analytic philosophy and of the empirical study of language. Its guiding idea is that constraints on the use of sentences, and information conveyed by utterances of them, arise not only from their conventional meanings (the information they semantically encode) but also from the communicative uses to which they are put. In his view, the overriding goal of most (...) forms of communication is the cooperative exchange of information -- the pursuit of which generates norms for its rational and efficient achievement. Among them are Grice’s conversational maxims. (shrink)
In "Assertion," Geach identified failure to attend to the distinction between meaning and speech act as a source of philosophical errors. I argue that failure to attend to this distinction, along with the parallel distinction between attitude and content, has been behind the idea that meaning and content are, in some sense, normative. By an argument parallel to Geach's argument against performative analyses of "good" we can show that the phenomena identified by theorists of the normativity of content are properties (...) in the first instance of speech act and propositional attitude types, rather than content as such. (shrink)
In what follows, I introduce a pragmatics-oriented approach to non-sentential speech, and defend it against two recent attacks. Among other things, I will rehearse and elaborate a defense against the idea that much, or even all, of such speech is actually syntactically elliptical—and hence should be treated semantically, rather than pragmatically. The chapter is structured as follows. In Section 1 I introduce the phenomenon, contrast semantic versus pragmatic approaches to it, and explain some of what hinges on which approach is (...) taken. In Section 2 I present Jason Stanley’s objections to the pragmatics-oriented approach, and his counterproposal that all truth-conditional effects of context on what is asserted can be traced to elements of underlying structure. In Section 3 I canvass numerous varieties of ellipsis. The focus in Section 3 will be on what kind of “ellipsis” is required if the pragmatics-oriented approach is actually to be rejected rather than being recast in other terms. In Section 4 I respond to.. (shrink)
This paper concerns the applications of two-dimensional modal semantics to the explanation of the contents of speech and thought. Different interpretations and applications of the apparatus are contrasted. First, it is argued that David Kaplan's two-dimensional semantics for indexical expressions is different from the use that I made of a formally similar framework to represent the role of contingent information in the determination of what is said. But the two applications are complementary rather than conflicting. Second, my interpretation of the (...) apparatus is contrasted with that of David Chalmers, Frank Jackson, and David Lewis. It is argued that this difference reflects a contrast between internalist and externalist approaches to the problem of intentionality. (shrink)
It has been long known (Perry (1977, 1979), Lewis (1981)) that de se attitudes, such as beliefs and desires that one has about oneself, call for a special treatment in theories of attitudinal content. The aim of this paper is to raise similar concerns for theories of asserted content. The received view, inherited from Kaplan (1989), has it that if Alma says "I am hungry," the asserted content, or what is said, is the proposition that Alma is hungry (at a (...) given time). I argue that the received view has difficulties handing de se assertion, i.e. contents that one expresses using the first person pronoun, to assert something about oneself. I start from the observation that when two speakers say "I am hungry," one may truly report them as having said the same thing. It has often been held that the possibility of such reports comes from the fact that the two speakers are, after all, uttering the same words, and are in this sense "saying the same thing". I argue that this approach fails, and that it is neither necessary nor sufficient to use the same words, or words endowed with the same meaning, in order to be truly reported as same-saying. I also argue that reports of same-saying in the case of de se assertion differ significantly from such reports in the case of two speakers merely implicating the same thing. Finally, I outline a new account of the content of assertion, similar to Lewis's account of de se attitudes. The proposal is, roughly, when Alma says "I am hungry", the asserted content just the property of being hungry, and it is a property that Alma asserts of herself. I then propose to generalize the account to the other cases in a way that departs from Lewis's account, and I close by showing how my proposal handles the cases discussed in the first part of the paper. (shrink)