Inherent and probabilistic naturalness

Philosophical Studies 181 (2):369-385 (2024)
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Abstract

Standard accounts hold that regularities of behavior must be arbitrary to constitute a convention. Yet, there is growing consensus that conventionality is a graded phenomenon, and that conventions can be more or less natural. I develop an account of natural conventions that distinguishes two basic dimensions of conventional naturalness: a probabilistic dimension and an inherent one. A convention is probabilistically natural if it is likely to emerge in a population of agents, and inherently natural if its content is a regularity that scores high on relevant measures for naturalness. I motivate the proposal on conceptual grounds and then showcase its descriptive benefits by discussing two case studies in language: the tendency towards word-length optimality and the prevalence of shape opacity in spoken language vocabularies.

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Luca Gasparri
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

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References found in this work

Convention: A Philosophical Study.David Lewis - 1969 - Synthese 26 (1):153-157.
Logic and Conversation.H. Paul Grice - 1989 - In Studies in the Way of Words. Harvard University Press. pp. 22-40.
A Theory of Semiotics.Umberto Eco - 1977 - Philosophy and Rhetoric 10 (3):214-216.
The Problem of Lexical Innovation.Josh Armstrong - 2016 - Linguistics and Philosophy 39 (2):87-118.

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