Semantics and the place of psychological evidence

In Sarah Sawyer (ed.), New Waves in Philosophy of Language. Palgrave-Macmillan (2009)
Emma Borg
University of Reading
Minimal semantics is sometimes characterised as a ‘neo-Gricean’ approach to meaning. This label seems reasonable since a key claim of minimal semantics is that the minimal contents possessed by sentences (akin to Grice’s technical notion of ‘what is said by a sentence’) need not be (and usually are not) what is communicated by a speaker who utters those sentences. However, given an affinity between the two approaches, we might expect that a well-known challenge for the Gricean – namely that their account fails to fit with the psychological evidence concerning linguistic understanding – could also be levelled at the minimalist, and indeed this seems to be the basis of Recanati’s challenge to minimalism from his ‘availability principle’ (Recanati 2004). This paper aims to explore the relationship between semantics and psychology and show how both Gricean and minimalist approaches can avoid the challenge from psychological evidence. I conclude by suggesting that the way in which minimalism avoids this challenge also helps the account to defuse Clapp’s ‘naturalistic objection’ (Clapp 2007) that there are no grounds for selecting a correct minimal semantic theory
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