Compositionality and context

In Gerhard Preyer & Georg Peter (eds.), Contextualism in Philosophy: Knowledge, Meaning, and Truth. Oxford University Press. pp. 303-348 (2005)

Peter Pagin
Stockholm University
This paper contains a discussion of how the concept of compositionality is to be extended from context invariant to context dependent meaning, and of how the compositionality of natural language might conflict with context dependence. Several new distinctions are needed, including a distinction between a weaker (e-) and a stronger (ec-) concept of compositionality for context dependent meaning. The relations between the various notions are investigated. A claim by Jerry Fodor that there is a general conflict between context dependence and compositionality is considered. There is in fact a possible conflict betwee ec-compositionality and context dependence, but not of the kind Fodor suggests. It turns on the presence of so-called unarticulated constituents, in John Perry’s sense. Because of this phenomenon, on some semantic accounts there might be a variation in the meaning of a complex expression between contexts without any corresponding variation in any of the syntactic parts of that complex. The conflict can be resolved in several ways. One way is to make the unarticulated context dependence explicit only in the meta-language, which makes it into an unarticulated constituent account. A recent argument by Jason Stanley against such accounts is discussed. According to Stanley, certain readings of English sentences involving binding of contextual variables, are unavailable in these theories. After considering a reply to Stanley by François Recanati, I present an outline of a fully compositional theory, of the unarticulated constituent variety, which does deliver these readings. Concluding remarks on, inter alia, the semantics/pragmatics distinction.
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