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Profile: Dan Sperber (Institut Jean Nicod)
  1. Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1986). Relevance Communication and Cognition.
     
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  2.  53
    Dan Sperber (1996). Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
    The book is full of novel and thought provoking ideas and is a pleasure to read.
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  3.  83
    Dan Sperber, Fabrice Clément, Christophe Heintz, Olivier Mascaro, Hugo Mercier, Gloria Origgi & Deirdre Wilson (2010). Epistemic Vigilance. Mind and Language 25 (4):359-393.
    Humans massively depend on communication with others, but this leaves them open to the risk of being accidentally or intentionally misinformed. To ensure that, despite this risk, communication remains advantageous, humans have, we claim, a suite of cognitive mechanisms for epistemic vigilance. Here we outline this claim and consider some of the ways in which epistemic vigilance works in mental and social life by surveying issues, research and theories in different domains of philosophy, linguistics, cognitive psychology and the social sciences.
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  4.  40
    Nicolas Baumard, Jean-Baptiste André & Dan Sperber (2013). A Mutualistic Approach to Morality: The Evolution of Fairness by Partner Choice. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 36 (1):59-122.
    What makes humans moral beings? This question can be understood either as a proximate question or as an ultimate question. The question is about the mental and social mechanisms that produce moral judgments and interactions, and has been investigated by psychologists and social scientists. The question is about the fitness consequences that explain why humans have morality, and has been discussed by evolutionary biologists in the context of the evolution of cooperation. Our goal here is to contribute to a fruitful (...)
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  5.  84
    Dan Sperber (2011). Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 34 (2):57.
    Short abstract (98 words). Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Reasoning so conceived is adaptive given humans’ exceptional dependence on communication and vulnerability to misinformation. A wide range of (...)
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  6.  23
    Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (2012). Meaning and Relevance. Cambridge University Press.
    When people speak, their words never fully encode what they mean, and the context is always compatible with a variety of interpretations. How can comprehension ever be achieved? Wilson and Sperber argue that comprehension is an inference process guided by precise expectations of relevance. What are the relations between the linguistically encoded meanings studied in semantics and the thoughts that humans are capable of entertaining and conveying? How should we analyse literal meaning, approximations, metaphors and ironies? Is the ability to (...)
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  7.  64
    Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (2002). Pragmatics, Modularity and Mind-Reading. Mind and Language 17 (1&2):3-23.
    The central problem for pragmatics is that sentence meaning vastly underdetermines speaker’s meaning. The goal of pragmatics is to explain how the gap between sentence meaning and speaker’s meaning is bridged. This paper defends the broadly Gricean view that pragmatic interpretation is ultimately an exercise in mind-reading, involving the inferential attribution of intentions. We argue, however, that the interpretation process does not simply consist in applying general mind-reading abilities to a particular (communicative) domain. Rather, it involves a dedicated comprehension module, (...)
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  8. Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (2002). Relevance Theory. In L. Horn & G. Ward (eds.), The Handbook of Pragmatics. Blackwell 607-632.
  9.  88
    Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (2002). Pragmatics, Modularity and Mind-Reading. Mind and Language 17 (1&2):3–23.
    The central problem for pragmatics is that sentence meaning vastly underdetermines speaker’s meaning. The goal of pragmatics is to explain how the gap between sentence meaning and speaker’s meaning is bridged. This paper defends the broadly Gricean view that pragmatic interpretation is ultimately an exercise in mind-reading, involving the inferential attribution of intentions. We argue, however, that the interpretation process does not simply consist in applying general mind-reading abilities to a particular (communicative) domain. Rather, it involves a dedicated comprehension module, (...)
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  10.  6
    Dan Sperber (ed.) (2000). Metarepresentations. Oxford University Press.
    This volume in the Vancouver Studies in Cognitive Science series concerns metarepresentation: the construction and use of representations that represent other ...
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  11.  91
    Dan Sperber & Lawrence A. Hirschfeld (2004). The Cognitive Foundations of Cultural Stability and Diversity. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 8 (1):40-46.
  12.  30
    Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1987). Précis of Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 10 (4):697.
  13.  32
    Dan Sperber (2001). An Evolutionary Perspective on Testimony and Argumentation. Philosophical Topics 29 (1/2):401-413.
  14.  22
    Hugo Mercier & Dan Sperber (2009). Intuitive and Reflective Inferences. In Keith Frankish & Jonathan St B. T. Evans (eds.), In Two Minds: Dual Processes and Beyond. Oxford University Press 149--170.
  15.  11
    Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson, Beyond Speaker’s Meaning.
    Our main aim in this paper is to show that constructing an adequate theory of communication involves going beyond Grice’s notion of speaker’s meaning. After considering some of the difficulties raised by Grice’s three-clause definition of speaker’s meaning, we argue that the characterisation of ostensive communication introduced in relevance theory can provide a conceptually unifi ed explanation of a much wider range of communicative acts than Grice was concerned with, including cases of both ‘showing that’ and ‘telling that’, and with (...)
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  16.  84
    Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (2002). Truthfulness and Relevance. Mind 111 (443):583-632.
    This paper questions the widespread view that verbal communication is governed by a maxim, norm or convention of truthfulness which applies at the level of what is literally meant, or what is said. Pragmatic frameworks based on this view must explain the frequent occurrence and acceptability of loose and figurative uses of language. We argue against existing explanations of these phenomena and provide an alternative account, based on the assumption that verbal communication is governed not by expectations of truthfulness but (...)
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  17.  98
    Dan Sperber (1997). Intuitive and Reflective Beliefs. Mind and Language 12 (1):67-83.
    Humans have two kinds of beliefs, intuitive beliefs and reflective beliefs. Intuitive beliefs are a most fundamental category of cognition, defined in the architecture of the mind. They are formulated in an intuitive mental lexicon. Humans are also capable of entertaining an indefinite variety of higher-order or "reflective" propositional attitudes, many of which are of a credal sort. Reasons to hold "reflective beliefs" are provided by other beliefs that describe the source of the reflective belief as reliable, or that provide (...)
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  18.  21
    Dan Sperber & Nicolas Baumard (2012). Moral Reputation: An Evolutionary and Cognitive Perspective. Mind and Language 27 (5):495-518.
    From an evolutionary point of view, the function of moral behaviour may be to secure a good reputation as a co-operator. The best way to do so may be to obey genuine moral motivations. Still, one's moral reputation maybe something too important to be entrusted just to one's moral sense. A robust concern for one's reputation is likely to have evolved too. Here we explore some of the complex relationships between morality and reputation both from an evolutionary and a cognitive (...)
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  19. Dan Sperber (1985). On Anthropological Knowledge. Cambridge University Press.
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  20.  38
    Dan Sperber (2009). The Moral, Epistemic, and Mindreading Components of Children's Vigilance Towards Deception. Cognition 112 (3):367-380.
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  21.  53
    Dan Sperber (2007). Seedless Grapes: Nature and Culture. In Eric Margolis & Stephen Laurence (eds.), Creations of the Mind: Theories of Artifacts and Their Representation. Oxford University Press 124--137.
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  22. Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson, A Deflationary Account of Metaphor.
    On the relevance-theoretic approach outlined in this paper, linguistic metaphors are not a natural kind, and ―metaphor‖ is not a theoretically important notion in the study of verbal communication. Metaphorical interpretations are arrived at in exactly the same way as literal, loose and hyperbolic interpretations: there is no mechanism specific to metaphors, and no interesting generalisation that applies only to them. In this paper, we defend this approach in detail by showing how the same inferential procedure applies to utterances at (...)
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  23.  68
    Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1986). Loose Talk. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 86:153--171.
  24.  64
    Dan Sperber (2000). Metarepresentations in an Evolutionary Perspective. In [Book Chapter] (in Press). Oxford University Press
    Humans are expert users of metarepresentations. How has this human metarepresentational capacity evolved? In order to contribute to the ongoing debate on this question, the chapter focuses on three more specific issues: i. How do humans metarepresent representations? ii. What came first: language, or metarepresentations? iii. Do humans have more than one metarepresentational ability?
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  25.  25
    Dan Sperber & Nicolas Claidière (2006). Why Modeling Cultural Evolution Is Still Such a Challenge. Biological Theory 1 (1):20-22.
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  26.  2
    Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1981). Pragmatics. Cognition 10 (1-3):281-286.
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  27. Dan Sperber (2004). Modularity and Relevance: How Can a Massively Modular Mind Be Flexible and Context-Sensitive. In Peter Carruthers, Stephen Laurence & Stephen Stich (eds.), The Innate Mind: Structure and Content. OUP 53.
    The claim that the human cognitive system tends to allocate resources to the processing of available inputs according to their expected relevance is at the basis of relevance theory. The main thesis of this chapter is that this allocation can be achieved without computing expected relevance. When an input meets the input condition of a given modular procedure, it gives this procedure some initial level of activation. Input-activated procedures are in competition for the energy resources that would allow them to (...)
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  28.  11
    Dan Sperber (2013). Speakers Are Honest Because Hearers Are Vigilant Reply to Kourken Michaelian. Episteme 10 (1):61-71.
    In Kourken Michaelian questions the basic tenets of our article (Sperber et al. 2010). Here I defend against Michaelian's criticisms the view that epistemic vigilance plays a major role in explaining the evolutionary stability of communication and that the honesty of speakers and the reliability of their testimony are, to a large extent, an effect of hearers' vigilance.
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  29.  5
    Vittorio Girotto, Markus Kemmelmeier, Dan Sperber & Jean-Baptiste van der Henst (2001). Inept Reasoners or Pragmatic Virtuosos? Relevance and the Deontic Selection Task. Cognition 81 (2):B69-B76.
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  30. Dan Sperber & Alice L. Morton (1977). Rethinking Symbolism. Philosophy and Rhetoric 10 (4):281-282.
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  31. Leda Cosmides, John Tooby & Dan Sperber (2000). Metarepresentation. In Dan Sperber (ed.), Metarepresentations. Oxford University Press 53.
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  32.  11
    Hugo Mercier & Dan Sperber (2011). Argumentation: Its Adaptiveness and Efficacy. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 34 (2):94-111.
    Having defended the usefulness of our definition of reasoning, we stress that reasoning is not only for convincing but also for evaluating arguments, and that as such it has an epistemic function. We defend the evidence supporting the theory against several challenges: People are good informal arguers, they reason better in groups, and they have a confirmation bias. Finally, we consider possible extensions, first in terms of process-level theories of reasoning, and second in the effects of reasoning outside the lab.
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  33. Dan Sperber, David Premack & Ann James Premack (eds.) (1996). Causal Cognition: A Multidisciplinary Debate. Oxford University Press Uk.
    An understanding of cause--effect relationships is fundamental to the study of cognition. In this book, outstanding specialists from comparative psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, anthropology, and philosophy present the newest developments in the study of causal cognition and discuss their different perspectives. They reflect on the role and forms of causal knowledge, both in animal and human cognition, on the development of human causal cognition from infancy, and on the relationship between individual and cultural aspects of causal understanding. The result (...)
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  34.  70
    Dan Sperber (2010). The Guru Effect. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1 (4):583-592.
    Obscurity of expression is considered a flaw. Not so, however, in the speech or writing of intellectual gurus. All too often, what readers do is judge profound what they have failed to grasp. Here I try to explain this guru effect by looking at the psychology of trust and interpretation, at the role of authority and argumentation, and at the effects of these dispositions and processes when they operate at a population level where, I argue, a runaway phenomenon of overappreciation (...)
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  35. Dan Sperber (2002). In Defense of Massive Modularity. In Emmanuel Dupoux (ed.), Language, Brain and Cognitive Development: Essays in Honor of Jacques Mehler. MIT Press
     
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  36.  29
    Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (1988). Mood and the Analysis of Non-Declarative Sentences. In J. Dancy, J. M. E. Moravcsik & C. C. W. Taylor (eds.), Human Agency: Language, Duty, and Value. Stanford University Press 77--101.
    How are non-declarative sentences understood? How do they differ semantically from their declarative counterparts? Answers to these questions once made direct appeal to the notion of illocutionary force. When they proved unsatisfactory, the fault was diagnosed as a failure to distinguish properly between mood and force. For some years now, efforts have been under way to develop a satisfactory account of the semantics of mood. In this paper, we consider the current achievements and future prospects of the mood-based semantic programme.
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  37. Dan Sperber (1994). Understanding Verbal Understanding. In Jean Khalfa (ed.), What is Intelligence? Cambridge University Press
  38. Dan Sperber & Deirder Wilson (2005). Pragmatics. In Frank Jackson & Michael Smith (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy. Oxford University Press
     
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  39. Dan Sperber (2012). An Objection to the Memetic Approach to Culture. Darwinizing Culture.
    This chapter determines a major empirical hurdle for any future discipline of memetics. It mainly shows that one can find very similar copies of some cultural item, link these copies through a causal chain of events which faithfully reproduced those items, and nevertheless not have an example of memetic inheritance. In addition, the stability of cultural patterns is proof that fidelity in copying is high despite individual variations. It is also believed that what is offered as an explanation is precisely (...)
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  40.  36
    Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (1993). Linguistic Form and Relevance. Lingua 90:1-25.
    Our book Relevance (Sperber and Wilson 1986) treats utterance interpretation as a two-phase process: a modular decoding phase is seen as providing input to a central inferential phase in which a linguistically encoded logical form is contextually enriched and used to construct a hypothesis about the speaker's informative intention. Relevance was mainly concerned with the inferential phase of comprehension: we had to answer Fodor's challenge that while decoding processes are quite well understood, inferential processes are not only not understood, but (...)
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  41.  11
    Nicolas Baumard & Dan Sperber (2010). Weird People, Yes, but Also Weird Experiments. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33 (2-3):84-85.
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  42. Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1996). Fodor's Frame Problem and Relevance Theory (Reply to Chiappe & Kukla). Behavioral and Brain Sciences 19 (3):530-532.
    Chiappe and Kukla argue that relevance theory fails to solve the frame problem as defined by Fodor. They are right. They are wrong, however, to take Fodor’s frame problem too seriously. Fodor’s concerns, on the other hand, even though they are wrongly framed, are worth addressing. We argue that Relevance thoery helps address them.
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  43.  52
    Dan Sperber (2002). Use or Misuse of the Selection Task? Rejoinder to Fiddick, Cosmides, and Tooby. Cognition 85 (3):277-290.
  44. Dan Sperber (1982). Apparently Irrational Beliefs. In Martin Hollis & Steven Lukes (eds.), Rationality and Relativism. MIT Press 149--180.
     
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  45.  32
    Dan Sperber & Lawrence Hirschfeld (2006). Culture and Modularity. In Peter Carruthers, Stephen Laurence & Stephen P. Stich (eds.), The Innate Mind: Culture and Cognition.
    Members of a human group are bound with one another by multiple flows of information. (Here we use “information” in a broad sense that includes not only the content of people’s knowledge, but also that of their beliefs, assumptions, fictions, rules, norms, skills, maps, images, and so on.) This information is materially realized in the mental representations of the people, and in their public productions, that is, their cognitively guided behaviors and the enduring material traces of these behaviors. Mentally represented (...)
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  46.  72
    Dan Sperber, Does the Selection Task Detect Cheater-Detection?
    Evolutionary psychology—in its ambitious version well formulated by Cosmides and Tooby (e.g., Cosmides & Tooby 1987, Tooby & Cosmides 1992) —will succeed to the extent that it causes cognitive psychologists to rethink central aspects of human cognition in an evolutionary perspective, to the extent, that is, that psychology in general becomes evolutionary. The human species is exceptional by its massive investment in cognition, and in forms of cognitive activity—language, metarepresentation, abstract thinking—that are as unique to humans as echolocation is unique (...)
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  47.  57
    Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1998). The Mapping Between the Mental and the Public Lexicon. In Peter Carruthers & Jill Boucher (eds.), [Book Chapter]. Cambridge University Press 184-200.
    We argue that the presence of a word in an utterance serves as starting point for a relevance guided inferential process that results in the construction of a contextually appropriate sense. The linguistically encoded sense of a word does not serve as its default interpretation. The cases where the contextually appropriate sense happens to be identical to this linguistic sense have no particular theoretical significance. We explore some of the consequences of this view. One of these consequences is that there (...)
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  48.  22
    Dan Sperber, Ryan T. McKay & Daniel C. Dennett (2009). Culturally Transmitted Misbeliefs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32 (6):534.
    Most human beliefs are acquired through communication, and so are most misbeliefs. Just like the misbeliefs discussed by McKay & Dennett (M&D), culturally transmitted misbeliefs tend to result from limitations rather than malfunctions of the mechanisms that produce them, and few if any can be argued to be adaptations. However, the mechanisms involved, the contents, and the hypothetical adaptive value tend to be specific to the cultural case.
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  49.  36
    Dan Sperber, Why Are Perfect Animals, Hybrids, and Monsters Food for Symbolic Thought?
    not only anomalous animals, but also exemplary animals often take on a symbolic value, thus raising a second problem. A solution to both problems is suggested, based on an examination of the cognitive..
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  50.  42
    Dan Sperber & Nicolas Claidière, The Natural Selection of Fidelity in Social Learning.
    Social learning mechanisms are usually assumed to explain both the spread and the persistence of cultural behaviour. In a recent article, we showed that the fidelity of social learning commonly found in transmission chain experiments is not high enough to explain cultural stability. Here we want to both enrich and qualify this conclusion by looking at the case of song transmission in song birds, which can be faithful to the point of being true replication. We argue that this high fidelity (...)
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