Particularistic Insults (PIs) are expressions that denigrate individuals based on their personal attributes, including but not limited to behavioral patterns, personality traits, and physical appearance. The content of PIs exhibits variation concerning several factors, namely, (i) their degree of descriptiveness, (ii) the intensity of their emotional impact, (iii) the potential for their use in positive or negative contexts, and (iv) their syntactic function. This diversity has yet to be satisfactorily explained by extant theories. To solve this issue, I posit that (...) PIs are indexically linked to emotional qualities such as ‘negative valence, high arousal, neutral dominance’ instead of discrete emotional categories such as ‘contempt’ or ‘anger’. Then, I operationalize this hypothesis through a probabilistic model of emotional signaling. In this new model, called ‘Affective Meaning Games’, PIs are associated with indexical fields that encode the affective qualities they tend to co-occur with, but are ultimately interpreted against background assumptions about the speaker’s emotions towards the target. Using this framework, I further elaborate on the role of indexical fields in distinguishing PIs from slurs. Specifically, I argue that PIs and slurs don’t differ in terms of their specific targets (i.e., individuals vs. groups), but rather in the degree of dominance they signal. (shrink)
Empirical investigation of the conditions under which people prefer, or disprefer, causal explanation, has suggested to many that our judgements about what causally explains what are context sensitive in a number of ways. This has led many to suppose that whether or not a causal explanation obtains depends on various contextual factors, and that said explanations can obtain in one context, and not in another: they are both subjective and agent-relative. Surprisingly, most accounts of metaphysical explanation suppose there to be (...) no psychological, epistemic, or more broadly contextual, aspect to metaphysical explanation. Recently this approach has come under fire from those who argue that since metaphysical explanations are explanations, we should expect them to be both subjective and agent-relative. To date, however, there is no evidence about the conditions under which we make judgements about what metaphysically explains what. In what follows we remedy this. We find that judgements about what metaphysically explains what are indeed context sensitive. We then reflect on the implications of this discovery for extant accounts of metaphysical explanation. (shrink)
What is the relationship between the claim that generics articulate psychologically primitive generalizations and the claim that they exhibit a unique form of context sensitivity? This paper maintains that the two claims are compatible. It develops and defends an overlooked form of contextualism grounded in the idiosyncrasies of System 1 thought.
Counterfactual skepticism says that most ordinary counterfactuals are false. While few endorse counterfactual skepticism, the precise costs of the view are disputed and not generally well-understood. I have two aims in this paper. My first and primary aim is to establish, on grounds acceptable to all parties, that counterfactual skepticism is not benign. I argue it leads to significant skepticism about the future: if counterfactual skepticism is true, then we can have only very limited knowledge about the future. I give (...) three arguments to this conclusion, taking as premises principles connecting knowledge of indicative conditionals to knowledge of disjunctions; and principles linking knowledge of indicative conditionals to knowledge of counterfactual conditionals. -/- My second aim is to examine the consequences for non-skeptical theories. My arguments indicate that not only are many ordinary counterfactuals true, but that we also know them. How can this be reconciled with the very real tension between counterfactuals and chance? I consider two popular solutions, one purely epistemic and one contextualist. Together they suggest something like contextualism about knowledge is required to fully resolve the skeptical threat. (shrink)
The Cartesian thinking self may seem indisputably real. But if it is real, then so thinking, which would undercut mental fictionalism. Thus, in defense of mental fictionalism, this paper argues for fictionalism about the thinking self. In short form, the argument is: (1) If I exist outside of fiction, then I am identical to (some part of/) this biomass [= my body]. (2) If I die at t, I cease to exist at t. (3) If I die at t, no (...) part of this biomass ceases to exist at t. (4) Therefore, no part of this biomass is identical to me. [From (2), (3)] (5) Therefore, I do not exist outside of fiction. [From (4), (1)] One reply to the argument is that the self is an aggregate of electricity in the brain which disperses upon death. The rejoinder is that this, at best, describes the thoughts realized in the brain, and not the subject who thinks the thoughts. A second objection stresses the undeniable sense that the thinking self has a location. In reply, the extended thought-experiment from Dennett’s “Where Am I?” is used to show that the sense of self-location may well be illusory. (shrink)
This chapter develops an account of the meaning and use of various types of legal claims, and uses this account to inform debates about the nature and normativity of law. The account draws on a general framework for implementing a contextualist theory, called 'Discourse Contextualism' (Silk 2016). The aim of Discourse Contextualism is to derive the apparent normativity of claims of law from a particular contextualist interpretation of a standard semantics for modals, along with general principles of interpretation and conversation. (...) Though the semantics is descriptivist, it avoids Dworkin’s influential criticism of so-called “semantic theories of law,” and elucidates the nature of “theoretical disagreements” about the criteria of legal validity. The account sheds light on the social, interpersonal function of normative uses of language in legal discourse. It also gives precise expression to Hart’s and Raz’s intuitive distinctions among types of legal claims (internal/external, committed/detached), while giving them a uniform type of analysis. The proposed semantics and pragmatics of legal claims provides a fruitful framework for further theorizing about the nature and metaphysics of law, the relation between law and morality, and the apparent practical character of legal language and judgment. Discourse Contextualism provides a solid linguistic basis for a broader account of legal discourse and practice. (shrink)
Generic generalisations like ‘Opioids are highly addictive’ are very useful in scientific communication, but they can often be interpreted in many different ways. Although this is not a problem when all interpretations provide the same answer to the question under discussion, a problem arises when a generic generalisation is used to answer a question other than that originally intended. In such cases, some interpretations of the generalisation might answer the question in a way that the original speaker would not endorse. (...) Rather than excising generic generalisations from scientific communication, I recommend that scientific communicators carefully consider the kinds of questions their words might be taken to answer and try to avoid phrasing that might be taken to provide unintended answers. (shrink)
Maximilian de Gaynesford has argued against the standard view that the reference of the first-person pronoun ‘I’ is determined by a rule linking the referent to some feature of the context of use. In this paper, we argue that de Gaynesford's arguments are inconclusive. Our main aim, however, is to formulate a novel version of the reference rule for ‘I’. We argue that this version can deal with several problematic cases. Our strategy involves analysing the so-called agent of the context (...) as the person responsible for a particular speech act. From this analysis, we exclude a particular class of uses of ‘I’, uses that we believe are best understood as demonstrative. (shrink)
This work addresses the critical discussion featured in the contemporary literature about two well-known paradoxes belonging to different philosophical traditions, namely Frege’s puzzling claim that “the concept horse is not a concept” and Gongsun Long’s “white horse is not horse”. We first present the source of Frege’s paradox and its different interpretations, which span from plain rejection to critical analysis, to conclude with a more general view of the role of philosophy as a fight against the misunderstandings that come from (...) the different uses of language (a point later developed by the “second” Wittgenstein). We then provide an overview of the ongoing discussions related to the Bai Ma Lun paradox, and we show that its major interpretations include—as in the case of Frege’s paradox—dismissive accounts that regard it as either useless or wrong, as well as attempts to interpret and repair the argument. Resting on our reading of Frege’s paradox as an example of the inescapability of language misunderstandings, we advance a similar line of interpretation for the paradox in the Bai Ma Lun: both the paradoxes, we suggest, can be regarded as different manifestations of similar concerns about language, and specifically about the difficulty of referring to concepts via language. (shrink)
Some generic generalizations have both a descriptive and a normative reading. The generic sentence “Philosophers care about the truth”, for instance, can be read as describing what philosophers in fact care about, but can also be read as prescribing philosophers to care about the truth. On Leslie’s account, this generic sentence has two readings due to the polysemy of the kind term “philosopher”. In this paper, I first argue against this polysemy account of descriptive/normative generics. In response, a contextualist semantic (...) theory for generic sentences is introduced. Based on this theory, I argue that descriptive/normative generics are contextually underspecified. (shrink)
I compare Stalnaker’s early take on assertoric content with the one expressed in his recent book (2014). I discern in the latter some striking implications about the semantics of proper names and assertoric content’s relation to semantics.
This paper studies a sender-receiver game in which both players want the receiver to choose the state-optimal action. Before observing the state, the sender observes a “contextual signal,” a payoff-irrelevant signal that correlates with states and is imperfectly shared with the receiver. Once the sender observes the state, the sender sends a message to the receiver, incurring a small messaging cost. It is shown that there is no miscommunication in any efficient equilibrium if the messaging cost is uniform or contextual (...) information is poorly shared between players. However, if the messaging costs are different between some messages, and contextual information can affect the probability ranking of states and is shared reasonably well, any efficient equilibrium that favors the sender exhibits miscommunication. Furthermore, the messages that cause miscommunication can be coarse or ambiguous, depending on how well players share contextual information. (shrink)
Scale-based models of weighing reasons face challenges concerning the context sensitivity of weight, the aggregation of weight, and the methodology for determining what the weights of reasons are. I resolve these challenges.
The paper aims to add contextual dependence to the new directival theory of meaning, a functional role semantics based on Kazimierz Ajdukiewicz’s directival theory of meaning. We show that the original formulation of the theory does not have a straight answer on how the meaning of indexicals and demonstratives is established. We illustrate it in the example of some problematic axiomatic and inferential directives containing indexicals. We show that the main reason why developing the new directival theory of meaning in (...) this direction is difficult is that the theory focuses on the notion of a sentence (and not the notion of an utterance). To add the latter notion to the theory, we introduce the idea of admissible contextual distribution being an interpretation of the hybrid expression view on indexicals and demonstratives. We argue that this idea introduces a small but important modification to the concept of language matrix and gives way to define two distinct concepts of meaning: for an expression type and for a use of an expression type. (shrink)
This paper develops an account of the meaning of `ought', and the distinction between weak necessity modals (`ought', `should') and strong necessity modals (`must', `have to'). I argue that there is nothing specially ``strong'' about strong necessity modals per se: uses of `Must p' predicate the (deontic/epistemic/etc.) necessity of the prejacent p of the actual world (evaluation world). The apparent ``weakness'' of weak necessity modals derives from their bracketing whether the necessity of the prejacent is verified in the actual world. (...) `Ought p' can be accepted without needing to settle that the relevant considerations (norms, expectations, etc.) that actually apply verify the necessity of p. I call the basic account a modal-past approach to the weak/strong necessity modal distinction (for reasons that become evident). Several ways of implementing the approach in the formal semantics/pragmatics are critically examined. The account systematizes a wide range of linguistic phenomena: it generalizes across flavors of modality; it elucidates a special role that weak necessity modals play in discourse and planning; it captures contrasting logical, expressive, and illocutionary properties of weak and strong necessity modals; and it sheds light on how a notion of `ought' is often expressed in other languages. These phenomena have resisted systematic explanation. In closing I briefly consider how linguistic inquiry into differences among necessity modals may improve theorizing on broader philosophical issues. (shrink)
The standard approach to model how human beings understand natural languages is the symbolic, compositional approach according to which the meaning of a complex expression is a function of the meanings of its constituents. In other words, meaning plays a fundamental role in the model. In this work, because of the polysemous, flexible, dynamic, and contextual structure of natural languages, this approach is rejected. Instead, a connectionist model which eliminates the concept of meaning is proposed.
ABSTRACT Copredication, as exhibited by sentences such as ‘That book is heavy but informative,’ is commonly seen as a phenomenon that is tied to sentences featuring polysemous expressions. David Liebesman and Ofra Magidor have recently attacked this view by arguing that ‘book’ has a single context-sensitive sense. The first aim of the present paper is to show that Liebesman and Magidor are wrong to claim that ‘book’ is univocal, but that they may nonetheless be right to question that copredication requires (...) polysemy. Its second aim is to consider implications of this result for the debates on copredication and on semantic variability. (shrink)
The purpose of this paper is to present and discuss a puzzle involving accommodation. The puzzle is based on three assumptions. The first assumption is that accommodation takes place after an utterance. The second assumption is that accommodation can make a difference to the truth-value of an utterance even if the utterance is not about the future. The third assumption is that something that takes place after an utterance cannot make a difference to the truth-value of the utterance unless the (...) utterance is about the future. Since these assumptions are jointly inconsistent, one of them must be false. The question is which one we ought to reject. The majority of the discussion is devoted to discussing each of the options, and the tentative conclusion is that the most plausible strategy is to reject the third thesis. That amounts to saying that something that takes place after an utterance can make a difference to the truth-value of the utterance even if the utterance is not about the future. (shrink)
The article presents two concepts of indexicality. The first, more standard and narrow, identifies indexicality with systematic (meaning controlled) context-sensitivity. The second, broader (derived from the work of Jerzy Pelc), conceives indexicality in terms of the potential variability of the general semiotic characteristics expressions (with respect to the context of use). The text introduces the concept of a pragmatic matrix that serves for a schematic representation of contextual variation. I also recapitulate briefly the views of Jerzy Pelc on the meaning (...) (manner of use) and use of expressions, and briefly indicate its relationship approaches with contemporary debates around contextualism and status of non-sentential speech acts. Finally, the relationship between the broader notion of indexicality and the directival theory of meaning is analyzed. (shrink)
ABSTRACT It has become standard to conceive of metalinguistic disagreement as motivated by a form of negotiation, aimed at reaching consensus because of the practical consequences of using a word with one content rather than another. This paper presents an alternative motive for expressing and pursuing metalinguistic disagreement. In using words with given criteria, we betray our location amongst social categories or groups. Because of this, metalinguistic disagreement can be used as a stage upon which to perform a social identity. (...) The ways in which metalinguistic disagreements motivated in this way diverge in character from metalinguistic negotiations are described, as are several consequences of the existence of metalinguistic disagreements motivated in this way. (shrink)
We may suppose that the truth predicate that we utilize in our semantic metalanguage is a two-place predicate relating sentences to contexts, the truth-in-context-X predicate. Seeming paradoxes pertaining to the truth-in-context-X predicate can be blocked by placing restrictions on the structure of contexts. While contexts must specify a domain of contexts, and what a context constant denotes relative to a context must be a context in the context domain of that context, no context may belong to its own context domain. (...) A generalization of that restriction appears to block all of the paradoxes of truth-in-context-X. This restriction entails that, in a certain sense, we cannot talk about the context we are in. This result will be defended, up to a point, on broadly ontological grounds. It will also be conjectured that our semantic metalanguage can be regarded as semantically closed. (shrink)
It is widely accepted that when ‘might’ expresses certain kinds of relative modality, the sentence ‘p and it might not be the case that p’ is in some sense inconsistent. It has proven difficult to define a formal semantics that explicates this inconsistency while meeting certain other desiderata, in particular, that p does not imply ‘Must p’. This paper presents such a semantics. The key idea is that background contexts have to have multiple levels, including an inner set consisting of (...) worlds that represent what might be true and an outer set of worlds such that a sentence must be true only if it is true in all of them. This is an open access publication. (shrink)
I argue that assertoric content functions as a means for us to track the responsibilities undertaken by communicators, and that distinctively assertoric commitments are distinguished by being generated directly in virtue of the words the speaker uses. This raises two questions: (a) Why are speakers responsible for the content thus generated? (b) Why is it important for us to distinguish between commitments in terms of their manner of generation? I answer the first question by developing a novel responsibility based metasemantics. (...) I answer the second by reference to the conflicting pressures governing the resources we have available for appraising speech. (shrink)
This chapter provides a general overview of the issues surrounding so-called semantic monsters. In section 1, I outline the basics of Kaplan’s framework and spell out how and why the topic of “monsters” arises within that framework. In Section 2, I distinguish four notions of a monster that are discussed in the literature, and show why, although they can pull apart in different frameworks or with different assumptions, they all coincide within Kaplan’s framework. In Section 3, I discuss one notion (...) that has spun off into the linguistics literature, namely “indexical shift”. In Section 4, I emphasize the connection between monsters and the compositionality of asserted content in Kaplan’s original discussion. Section 5 discusses monsters and the more general idea of re-interpretation or meaning-shift. Section 6 closes with a brief survey of where monsters may dwell, and pointers to avenues for future research. (shrink)
This book combines insights from philosophy and linguistics to develop a novel framework for theorizing about linguistic meaning and the role of context in interpretation. A key innovation is to introduce explicit representations of context — assignment variables — in the syntax and semantics of natural language. The proposed theory systematizes a spectrum of “shifting” phenomena in which the context relevant for interpreting certain expressions depends on features of the linguistic environment. Central applications include local and nonlocal contextual dependencies with (...) quantifiers, attitude ascriptions, conditionals, questions, and relativization. The result is an innovative, philosophically informed compositional semantics compatible with the truth-conditional paradigm. (shrink)
This essay is an opinionated exploration of the constraints that modal discourse imposes on the theory of assertion. Primary focus is on the question whether modal discourse challenges the traditional view that all assertions have propositional content. This question is tackled largely with reference to discourse involving epistemic modals, although connections with other flavors of modality are noted along the way.
The popular interpretation of token‐reflexivism states that at the level of logical form, indexicals and demonstratives are disguised descriptions that employ complex demonstratives or special quotation‐mark names involving particular tokens of the appropriate expression‐types. In this article I first demonstrate that this interpretation of token‐reflexivism is only one of many, and that it is better to think of token‐reflexivism as denoting a family of distinct theoretical frameworks. Second, I contrast two interpretations of the idea of the token‐reflexive paraphrase of an (...) indexical sentence. The utterance approach claims that token‐reflexive paraphrases involve tokens of entire utterances. The sub‐utterance approach maintains that token‐reflexive paraphrases involve tokens of the particular indexical words used in the utterance. Next, I pose a problem that shows that neither of the two approaches is correct. The problem shows that the only viable version of the token‐reflexive proposition must somehow take into account the referential intentions of the speaker of the context. Therefore I conclude the article by sketching the framework of restricted intentional token‐reflexivism. I argue that it is an attractive semantic theory of distributed utterances that, among other things, enables automatic and intentional indexicals to be distinguished. (shrink)
We examine an objection to analysing the epistemic ‘might’ and ‘may’ as existential quantifiers over possibilities. Some claims that a proposition “might” be the case appear felicitous although, according to the quantifier analysis, they are necessarily false, since there are no possibilities in which the proposition is true. We explain such cases pragmatically, relying on the fact that ‘might’-sentences are standardly used to convey that the speaker takes a proposition as a serious option in reasoning. Our account explains why it (...) makes sense to utter these sentences despite their being literally false and why their falsity is easily missed. (shrink)
Definite articles and demonstratives share many features in common including a related etymology and a number of parallel communicative functions. The following paper is concerned with developing a novel proposal on how to distinguish the two types of expression. First, crosslinguistic evidence is presented to argue that demonstratives contain locational markers that are employed in deictic uses to force contrastive focus and accentuate an intended referent against a contextual background. Conversely, definite articles lack such markers. Demonstratives are thus more likely (...) to force referential interpretations, whereas definite descriptions are more open to attributive ones. Second, an analysis of determiner phrases is provided to illustrate that certain syntactic projections capture deictic differences between the two expressions. Semantic correlates of the proposal are then considered before it is situated with respect to contemporary work distinguishing the two categories on the basis of a non‐redundancy condition (that the overt noun phrase complement of a demonstrative may not denote a singleton set), which I suggest is derivative on the presence of contrastive deictic markers in demonstratives. (shrink)
Context-sensitivity raises a metasemantic question: what determines the value of a context-sensitive expression in context? Taking gradable adjectives as a case study, this paper argues against various forms of intentionalist metasemantics, i.e. that speaker intentions determine values for context-sensitive expressions in context, including the coordination account recently defended by King :219–237, 2014a; in: Burgess, Sherman Metasemantics: New essays on the foundations of meaning, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 97–118, 2014b). The paper argues that all intentionalist accounts face the speaker authority (...) problem, that speaker intentions are just the wrong sorts of things to determine the standards for gradable adjectives in context. The problem comes to light when we look at cases in which speakers have idiosyncratic, false beliefs that cause their proper communicative intentions to come apart from the non-intentional features of context like the question under discussion, facts about the world, practical goals, and prior linguistic discourse. (shrink)
This paper examines distinctive discourse properties of preposed negative 'yes/no' questions (NPQs), such as 'Isn’t Jane coming too?'. Unlike with other 'yes/no' questions, using an NPQ '∼p?' invariably conveys a bias toward a particular answer, where the polarity of the bias is opposite of the polarity of the question: using the negative question '∼p?' invariably expresses that the speaker previously expected the positive answer p to be correct. A prominent approach—what I call the context-management approach, developed most extensively by Romero (...) and Han (2004)—attempts to capture speaker expectation biases by treating NPQs fundamentally as epistemic questions about the proper discourse status of a proposition. I raise challenges for existing context-managing accounts to provide more adequate formalizations of the posited context-managing content, its implementation in the compositional semantics and discourse dynamics, and its role in generating the observed biases. New data regarding discourse differences between NPQs and associated epistemic modal questions are introduced. I argue that we can capture the roles of NPQs in expressing speakers’ states of mind and managing the discourse common ground without positing special context-managing operators or treating NPQs as questions directly about the context. I suggest that we treat the operator introduced with preposed negation as having an ordinary semantics of epistemic necessity, though lexically associated with a general kind of endorsing use observed with modal expressions. The expressive and context-managing roles of NPQs are explained in terms of a general kind of discourse-oriented use of context-sensitive language. The distinctive expectation biases and discourse properties observed with NPQs are derived from the proposed semantics and a general principle of Discourse Relevance. (shrink)
Claramente nem eu nem ninguém jamais leremos qualquer parte substancial desta enorme tomada, então discutirei o único artigo que mais me interessa e que acho que fornece o quadro necessário para entender todos os outros. Estou falando de Ludwig Wittgenstein 'W. Mesmo que eu tentasse discutir os outros, eu não passaria a primeira página, pois todos os problemas aqui surgem imediatamente em qualquer discussão de comportamento. Diferenciação de pragmáticos e semântica não faz sentido em grande parte. É defensável que este (...) trabalho "Desenvolvimentos do contextualismo de Wittgenstein" possa ser legendado, mas é claro que este termo foi inevitavelmente corrompido pelos filósofos. Pode-se então dizer que pragmáticos e semânticas são partes ou coextensivo com epistemologia e ontologia e psicologia descritiva do pensamento de alta ordem (Estrutura Lógica da Racionalidade de Searle) ou que descrevem como usamos ruídos em contextos específicos para lhes dar significado - ou seja, uso verdadeiro ou falso (proposicional). A adição do trabalho de Wittgenstein/Searle à pesquisa de pensamento moderno fornece uma estrutura para pragmáticos, semânticas e todos os outros comportamentos humanos. Aqueles que querem uma estrutura completa até o momento para o comportamento humano do ponto de vista moderno de dois sistemas podem consultar meus livros Talking Monkeys 3rd ed (2019), Estrutura Lógica da Filosofia, Psicologia, Mente e Linguagem em Ludwig Wittgenstein e John Searle 2a ed (2019), Suicide Pela Democracy 4ª ed (2020), The Logical Structure of Human Behavior (2019), The Logical Structure of Consciousness (2019, Understanding the Connections Between Science, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion, Politics and Economics (2020), Illusaos Utopias Suicidas no século 21 6ª ed (2020), Observações sobre Impossibilidade, Incompletude, Paraconsistência, Indecidabilidade, Aleatoriedade, Computação, Paradoxo e Incerteza em Chaitin, Wittgenstein, Hofstadter, Wolpert, Doria, da Costa, Godel, Searle, Rodych Berto, Floyd, Moyal-Sharrock e Yanofsky (2019) e outros. (shrink)
Since sending explicit messages can be costly, people often utilize “what is not said,” i.e., informative silence, to economize communication. This paper studies the efficient communication rule, which is fully informative while minimizing the use of explicit messages, in cooperative environments. It is shown that when the notion of context is defined as the finest mutually self-evident event that contains the current state, the efficient use of informative silence exhibits the defining property of indexicals in natural languages. While the efficient (...) use of silence could be complex, it is also found that the efficient use of silence can be as “simple” as the use of indexicals in natural languages if and only if the information structure satisfies some centrality and dominance properties. (shrink)
In searching for life in extraterrestrial space, it is essential to act based on an unequivocal definition of life. In the twentieth century, life was defined as cells that self-replicate, metabolize, and are open for mutations, without which genetic information would remain unchangeable, and evolution would be impossible. Current definitions of life derive from statistical mechanics, physics, and chemistry of the twentieth century in which life is considered to function machine like, ignoring a central role of communication. Recent observations show (...) that context-dependent meaningful communication and network formation (and control) are central to all life forms. Evolutionary relevant new nucleotide sequences now appear to have originated from social agents such as viruses, their parasitic relatives, and related RNA networks, not from errors. By applying the known features of natural languages and communication, a new twenty-first century definition of life can be reached in which communicative interactions are central to all processes of life. A new definition of life must integrate the current empirical knowledge about interactions between cells, viruses, and RNA networks to provide a better explanatory power than the twentieth century narrative. (shrink)
Epistemologists typically assume that the acquisition of knowledge from testimony is not threatened at the stage at which audiences interpret what proposition a speaker has asserted. Attention is instead typically paid to the epistemic status of a belief formed on the basis of testimony that it is assumed has the same content as the speaker’s assertion. Andrew Peet has pioneered an account of how linguistic context sensitivity can threaten the assumption. His account locates the threat in contexts in which an (...) audience’s evidence under-determines which proposition a speaker is asserting. I argue that Peet’s epistemic uncertainty account of the threat is mistaken and I propose an alternative. The alternative locates the threat in contexts that provide factors that give audiences a mistaken psychological certainty or confidence that a speaker has asserted a proposition she has not. (shrink)
This paper presents experimental evidence in support of the existence of metalinguistic moral encroachment: the influence of the moral consequences of using a word with a given content upon the content of that word. The evidence collected implies that the effect of moral factors upon content is weak. For instance, by changing the moral consequences of the sentence's truth, it was possible to shift judgements about the truth of the sentence "that's a lot of cake", when used to describe two (...) sponge cakes. Similarly, by changing the moral consequences of the sentence's truth, it was possible to shift judgements about the truth of the sentence "the children's hospital is old", when used to describe a 40 year old hospital. The implications of this for Esa Díaz-León’s recent attempt to show how Jennifer Saul can legitimately reject an empirical semantic hypothesis on political grounds are described. Directions for future research are also described. (shrink)
According to the perceptual view of language comprehension, listeners typically recover high-level linguistic properties such as utterance meaning without inferential work. The perceptual view is subject to the Objection from Context: since utterance meaning is massively context-sensitive, and context-sensitivity requires cognitive inference, the perceptual view is false. In recent work, Berit Brogaard provides a challenging reply to this objection. She argues that in language comprehension context-sensitivity is typically exercised not through inferences, but rather through top-down perceptual modulations or perceptual learning. (...) This paper provides a complete formulation of the Objection from Context and evaluates Brogaards reply to it. Drawing on conceptual considerations and empirical examples, we argue that the exercise of context-sensitivity in language comprehension does, in fact, typically involve inference. (shrink)
This paper presents reasons against semantic relativism. Semantic relativism is motivated by intuitions that are presumed to raise problems for traditional or contextualist semantics in contested domains of discourse. Intuition-based arguments are those based on competent speakers’ putative intuitions about seeming faultless disagreement, eavesdropper, and retraction cases. I will organize the discussion in three parts. First, I shall provide a brief introduction to the intuition-based arguments offered in favor of semantic relativism. Second, I shall indicate that there are ways for (...) contextualism to explain the (appearance of) intuitions that support semantic relativism. Third, I shall review some experimental results and independent arguments that put into question the appeal of semantic relativism. (shrink)
Intentionalism about demonstratives is the view that the referent of a demonstrative is determined solely by the speaker's intentions. Intentionalists can disagree about the nature of these intentions, but are united in rejecting the relevance of other factors, such as the speaker's gestures, her gaze, and any facts about the addressee or the audience. In this paper, I formulate a particular version of this view, and I defend it against six objections, old and new.
The purpose of this paper is to draw out a little noticed, but correct and important, consequence of David Lewis’s theory of how the values of contextual parameters are determined. According to Lewis, these values are often determined at least in part by accommodation; to a first approximation, the idea is that contextual parameters tend to take on the values they need to have in order for our utterances to be true. The little-noticed consequence of Lewis’s way of developing these (...) ideas is that what we say is determined in part by the way the conversation unfolds after our utterance. That is, Lewisian accommodation entails a non-standard form of externalism, according to which what we say is determined not only by factors internal to us at the time of our utterance, nor even by truths about our physical or social environment at the time of utterance or by our history, but also by truths about our future—truths about times after the time of our utterance. Seeing this consequence clearly lets us refine and improve upon Lewis’s account of when accommodation can occur. (shrink)
Recording devices are generally taken to present problems for the standard Kaplanian semantics for indexicals. In this paper, I argue that the remote utterance view offers the best way for the Kaplanian semantics to handle the recalcitrant data that comes from the use of recording devices. Following Sidelle I argue that recording devices allow agents to perform utterances at a distance. Using the essential, but widely ignored, distinction between tokens and utterances, I develop the view beyond the initial sketch given (...) by Sidelle, and I answer the main objections raised against the view. The paper is structured as follows. Section 1 gives a succinct presentation of Kaplanian semantics and of the problem raised by the use recording devices, Section 2 presents the remote utterance view and Section 3 answers the objections put forward against the view and further develops it. I conclude that the remote utterance view can handle the data that comes from the use of recording devices with only modest modifications of the Kaplanian semantics. (shrink)
My modest aim in this paper is to prove certain relations between some type of hyper-intensional operators, namely context shifting operators, and compositionality in natural languages. Various authors (e.g. von Fintel & Matthewson 2008; Stalnaker 2014) have argued that context-shifting operators are incompatible with compositionality. In fact, some of them understand Kaplan’s (1989) famous ban on context-shifting operators as a constraint on compositionality. Others, (e.g. Rabern 2013) take contextshifting operators to be compatible with compositionality but, unfortunately, do not provide a (...) proof, or an argument in favor of their position. The aim of this paper is to do precisely that. Additionally, I provide a new proof that compositionality for propositional content (intension) is a proper generalization of compositionality for character (hyper-intensions). (shrink)
Infallibilism is commonly rejected because it is apparently subject to easy counter-examples. I describe a strategy that infallibilists can use to resist this objection. Because the sentences used in the counter-examples to express evidence and belief are context-sensitive, the infallibilist can insist that such counter-examples trade on a vacillation between different readings of these sentences. I describe what difficulties await those who try to produce counter-examples against which the proposed strategy is ineffective.
Odd and memorable examples are a distinctive feature of Charles Travis's work: cases involving squash balls, soot-covered kettles, walls that emit poison gas, faces turning puce, ties made of freshly cooked linguine, and people grunting when punched in the solar plexus all figure in his arguments. One of Travis's examples, involving a pair of situations in which the leaves of a Japanese maple tree are painted green, has even spawned its own literature consisting of attempts to explain the context sensitivity (...) of color adjectives ("green", e.g.). For Travis, these examples play a central role in his arguments for occasion-sensitivity, which he takes to be a pervasive feature of how we understand natural language. But how, exactly, do these examples work? My aims in this paper are to put Travis’s examples under the microscope, using recent experimental studies of Travis-style cases to raise worries about aspects of the way Travis's cases are informally presented, but then show how his examples can be redesigned to respond to these doubts. (shrink)
What makes it the case that an utterance constitutes an illocutionary act of a given kind? This is the central question of speech-act theory. Answers to it—i.e., theories of speech acts—have proliferated. Our main goal in this chapter is to clarify the logical space into which these different theories fit. -/- We begin, in Section 1, by dividing theories of speech acts into five families, each distinguished from the others by its account of the key ingredients in illocutionary acts. Are (...) speech acts fundamentally a matter of convention or intention? Or should we instead think of them in terms of the psychological states they express, in terms of the effects that it is their function to produce, or in terms of the norms that govern them? In Section 2, we take up the highly influential idea that speech acts can be understood in terms of their effects on a conversation’s context or “score”. Part of why this idea has been so useful is that it allows speech-act theorists from the five families to engage at a level of abstraction that elides their foundational disagreements. In Section 3, we investigate some of the motivations for the traditional distinction between propositional content and illocutionary force, and some of the ways in which this distinction has been undermined by recent work. In Section 4, we survey some of the ways in which speech-act theory has been applied to issues outside semantics and pragmatics, narrowly construed. (shrink)
Linguistic meaning underdetermines what is said. This has consequences for philosophical accounts of meaning, communication, and propositional attitude reports. I argue that the consequence we should endorse is that utterances typically express many propositions, that these are what speakers mean, and that the correct semantics for attitude reports will handle this fact while being relational and propositional.