Pragmatics and the Language of Belief

Dissertation, University of Southern California (1982)

The analysis of belief ascriptions has been a central problem in philosophy for the past one hundred years. Working within a direct reference framework, the dissertation begins with a look at several of the most influential analyses of belief ascriptions over this period of time. It is argued that they all suffer from a common defect; they ignore important contextual factors which affect how belief ascriptions are interpreted. To repair this defect it is necessary to enter the realm of pragmatics--the study of linguistic acts and the contexts in which they are performed. It is argued that the information conveyed by an utterance may differ significantly from its literal content. "Information conveyed" is a purely pragmatic concept; an utterance may potentially convey different information for every one of its interpreters, even though it has only one literal content. ;Following the development of the literal content/information conveyed distinction, three recent pragmatic theories of belief ascription are examined. Counterexamples are presented to each of these in turn. Finally, a theory of belief ascription is presented which is based on the literal content/information conveyed distinction. This new theory fits all of the examples that gave the other theories trouble
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