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Profile: Dan Sperber (Institut Jean Nicod)
  1.  337 DLs
    Dan Sperber (1985). On Anthropological Knowledge. Cambridge University Press.
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  2.  163 DLs
    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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  3.  152 DLs
    Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (2004). Relevance Theory. In L. Horn & G. Ward (eds.), The Handbook of Pragmatics. Blackwell 607-632.
  4.  124 DLs
    Dan Sperber (1994). Understanding Verbal Understanding. In Jean Khalfa (ed.), What is Intelligence? Cambridge University Press
  5.  113 DLs
    Dan Sperber (2005). 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.
  6.  101 DLs
    Dan Sperber, An Objection to the Memetic Approach to Culture.
    Memetics is one possible evolutionary approach to the study of culture. Boyd and Richerson’s models (1985, Boyd this volume), or my epidemiology of representations (1985, 1996), are among other possible evolutionary approaches inspired in various ways by Darwin. Memetics however, is, by its very simplicity, particularly attractive.
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  7.  85 DLs
    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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  8.  74 DLs
    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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  9.  66 DLs
    Dan Sperber, Why a Deep Understanding of Cultural Evolution is Incompatible with Shallow Psychology.
    Human, cognition, interaction, and culture are thoroughly intertwined. Without cognition and interaction, there would be no culture. Without culture, cognition and interaction would be very different affairs, as they are among other social species. The effect of culture on mental life has always been a main concern of the social sciences and, after a long period of almost total neglect, it is more and more taken into consideration in cognitive psychology. The effect of cognition, and in particular of the ability (...)
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  10.  61 DLs
    Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (2002). Truthfulness and Relevance. Mind 111 (443):632583-.
    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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  11.  59 DLs
    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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  12.  58 DLs
    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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  13.  51 DLs
    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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  14.  51 DLs
    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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  15.  50 DLs
    Dan Sperber & Lawrence A. Hirschfeld (2004). The Cognitive Foundations of Cultural Stability and Diversity. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 8 (1):40-46.
  16.  49 DLs
    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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  17.  48 DLs
    Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1986). Loose Talk. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 86:153--171.
  18.  47 DLs
    Dan Sperber & Nicolas Claidière (2008). Defining and Explaining Culture (Comments on Richerson and Boyd, Not by Genes Alone). Biology and Philosophy 23 (2):283-292.
    Key words: Boyd, cognition, cultural evolution, culture, Richerson. Abstract: We argue that there is a continuum of cases without any demarcation between more individual and more cultural information, and that therefore “culture” should be viewed as a property that human mental representations and practices exhibit to a varying degree rather than as a type or a subclass of these representations and practices (or of “information”). We discuss the relative role of preservative and constructive processes in transmission. We suggest a revision (...)
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  19.  45 DLs
    Dan Sperber (2002). Truthfulness and Relevance in Telling The Time. Mind and Language 17 (5):457-466.
    Someone asked ‘What time is it?' when her watch reads 3:08 is likely to answer ‘It is 3:10.' We argue that a fundamental factor that explains such rounding is a psychological disposition to give an answer that, while not necessarily strictly truthful or accurate, is an optimally relevant one (in the sense of relevance theory) i.e. an answer from which hearers can derive the consequences they care about with minimal effort. A rounded answer is easier to process and may carry (...)
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  20.  41 DLs
    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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  21.  40 DLs
    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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  22.  39 DLs
    Dan Sperber, Reasoning as a Social Competence.
    Groups do better at reasoning tasks than individuals, and, in some cases, do even better than any of their individual members. Here is an illustration. In the standard version of Wason selection task (Wason, 1966), the most commonly studied problem in the psychology of reasoning, only about 10% of participants give the correct solution, even though it can be arrived at by elementary deductive reasoning.1 Such poor performance begs for an explanation, and a great many have been offered. What makes (...)
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  23.  38 DLs
    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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  24.  36 DLs
    Dan Sperber, Perspectives.
    Experimental evidence on reasoning and decision making has been used to argue both that human rationality is adequate and that it is defective. The idea that reasoning involves not one but two mental systems (see Evans and Over, 1996; Sloman, 1996; Stanovich, 2004 for reasoning, and Kahneman and Frederick, 2005 for decision making) makes better sense of this evidence. ‘System 1’ reasoning is fast, automatic, and mostly unconscious; it relies on ‘fast and frugal’ heuristics (to use Gigerenzer’s expression (Gigerenzer et (...)
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  25.  35 DLs
    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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  26.  33 DLs
    Dan Sperber (2002). Use or Misuse of the Selection Task? Rejoinder to Fiddick, Cosmides, and Tooby. Cognition 85 (3):277-290.
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  27.  28 DLs
    Dan Sperber, The Why and How of Experimental Pragmatics: The Case of 'Scalar Inferences'.
    Although a few pioneers in psycholinguistics had, for more than twenty years, approached various pragmatic issues experimentally, it is only in the past few years that investigators have begun employing the experimental method in testing pragmatic hypotheses (see Noveck & Sperber 2004). We see this emergence of a proper experimental pragmatics as an important advance with a great potential for further development. In this chapter we want to illustrate what can be done with experimental approaches to pragmatic (...)
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  28.  27 DLs
    Gloria Origgi & Dan Sperber (2000). Evolution, Communication and the Proper Function of Language. In Peter Carruthers & A. Chamberlain (eds.), [Book Chapter] (in Press). Cambridge University Press 140--169.
    Language is both a biological and a cultural phenomenon. Our aim here is to discuss, in an evolutionary perspective, the articulation of these two aspects of language. For this, we draw on the general conceptual framework developed by Ruth Millikan (1984) while at the same time dissociating ourselves from her view of language.
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  29.  27 DLs
    Dan Sperber (2004). Agency, Religion, and Magic. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27 (6):750-751.
    Atran & Norenzayan (A&N) ask: “Why do agent concepts predominate in religion?” This question presupposes that we have a notion of religion that is (1) well enough defined, and (2) characterized independently of that of supernatural agents. I question these two presuppositions. I argue that “religion” is a family resemblance notion built around the idea of supernatural agency.
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  30.  26 DLs
    Maurice Bloch & Dan Sperber, Kinship and Evolved Psychological Dispositions.
    This article revisits the old controversy concerning the relation of the mother’s brother and sister’s son in patrilineal societies in the light both of anthropological criticisms of the very notion of kinship and of evolutionary and epidemiological approaches to culture. It argues that the ritualized patterns of behavior discussed by Radcliffe-Brown, Goody, and others are to be explained in terms of the interaction of a variety of factors, some local and historical, others pertaining to general human dispositions. In particular, an (...)
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  31.  25 DLs
    Dan Sperber, Conceptual Tools for a Natural Science of Society and Culture.
    This is the text of the Radcliffe-Brown Lecture in Social Anthopology 1999 (To appear in the Proceedings of the British Academy). In it, I argue that to approach society and culture in a naturalistic way, the domain of the social sciences must be reconceptualised by recognising only entities and processes of which we have a naturalistic understanding. These are mental representations and public productions, the processes that causally link them, the causal chains that bond these links, and the complex webs (...)
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  32.  24 DLs
    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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  33.  24 DLs
    Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1990). Rhetoric and Relevance. In J. Bender & D. Wellbery (eds.), The Ends of Rhetoric: History, Theory, Practice. Stanford University Press 140-56.
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  34.  23 DLs
    Dan Sperber, How Do We Communicate?
    Communicate. We humans do it all the time, and most of the time we do it as a matter of course, without thinking about it. We talk, we listen, we write, we read - as you are doing now - or we draw, we mimic, we nod, we point, we shrug, and, somehow, we manage to make our thoughts known to one another. Of course, there are times when we view communication as something difficult or even impossible to achieve. Yet, (...)
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  35.  23 DLs
    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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  36.  22 DLs
    Dan Sperber (2001). An Evolutionary Perspective on Testimony and Argumentation. Philosophical Topics 29 (1/2):401-413.
  37.  21 DLs
    Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (1986). The Self-Appointment of Seuren as Censor a Reply to Pieter Seuren. Journal of Semantics 5 (2):145-162.
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  38.  20 DLs
    Dan Sperber, Imitation Explains the Propagation, Not the Stability of Animal Culture.
    For acquired behaviour to count as cultural, two conditions must be met: it must propagate in a social group, and it must remain stable across generations in the process of propagation. It is commonly assumed that imitation is the mechanism that explains both the spread of animal culture and its stability. We review the literature on transmission chain studies in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and other animals, and we use a formal model to argue that imitation, which may well play a (...)
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  39.  20 DLs
    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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  40.  20 DLs
    Dan Sperber & Stefania Caldi, Attribution of Beliefs by 13-Month-Old Infants.
    In two experiments, we investigated whether 13-month-old infants expect agents to behave in a way consistent with information to which they have been exposed. Infants watched animations in which an animal was either provided information or prevented from gathering information about the actual location of an object. The animal then searched successfully or failed to retrieve it. Infants’ looking times suggest that they expected searches to be effective when—and only when—the agent had had access to the relevant information. This result (...)
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  41.  19 DLs
    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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  42.  19 DLs
    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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  43.  18 DLs
    Dan Sperber (unknown). Speakers Are Honest Because Hearers Are Vigilant. Episteme 10:1.
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  44.  18 DLs
    Dan Sperber (2009). The Moral, Epistemic, and Mindreading Components of Children's Vigilance Towards Deception. Cognition 112 (3):367-380.
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  45.  17 DLs
    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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  46.  15 DLs
    Dan Sperber (2010). Weird People, Yes, but Also Weird Experiments. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33 (2-3):84 - 85.
    Henrich et al.’s article fleshes out in a very useful and timely manner comments often heard but rarely published about the extraordinary cultural imbalance in the recruitment of participants in psychology experiments and the doubt this casts on generalization of findings from these “weird” samples to humans in general. The authors mention that one of the concerns they have met in defending their views has been of a methodological nature: “the observed variation across populations may be due to various methodological (...)
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  47.  14 DLs
    Dan Sperber & Nicolas Claidière (2006). Why Modeling Cultural Evolution Is Still Such a Challenge. Biological Theory 1 (1):20-22.
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  48.  14 DLs
    Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (2013). 10. Precis of Relevance: Communication and Cognition. In Maite Ezcurdia & Robert J. Stainton (eds.), The Semantics-Pragmatics Boundary in Philosophy. Broadview Press 220.
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