Content, context and composition

In the recent debate on the semantic/pragmatic divide, Herman Cappelen and Ernie Lepore (2005) on the one hand, and Fran¸cois Recanati (2004) on the other, occupy almost diametrically opposed positions as regards the role of semantics for communication, while largely agreeing on important features of pragmatics. According to Cappelen and Lepore (CL), semantic context sensitivity of natural language sentences is restricted to what is determined by a particular minimal set of canonically context sensitive expressions. If you try to go beyond that set, as has often been done in recent semantic theories, to reach a position of moderate contextualism, your reasons will force you to the much more extreme position of radical contextualism. That is CL’s instability thesis. They argue for it by means of a number of examples intended to illustrate how you are off on a slippery slope if you admit any context sensitivity beyond the basic one. If radical contextualism is true, systematic semantics is not possible, since, according to CL, there cannot be any systematic theory of speech act content. The one exception is that whatever is said by the utterance of a sentence, its minimally context dependent content is part of it. Precisely this is denied by Recanati. Not only is this “minimal proposition” not part of speech act content. The minimal proposition plays no..
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