Toward a sharp semantics/pragmatics distinction

Synthese 197 (1):185–208 (2020)
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The semantics/pragmatics distinction was once considered central to the philosophy of language, but recently the distinction’s viability and importance have been challenged. In opposition to the growing movement away from the distinction, I argue that we really do need it, and that we can draw the distinction sharply if we draw it in terms of the distinction between non-mental and mental phenomena. On my view, semantic facts arise from context-independent meaning, compositional rules, and non-mental elements of context, whereas pragmatic facts are a matter of speakers’ mental states and hearers’ inferences about them. I argue for this treatment of the distinction by comparing it to some other extant treatments (in terms of “what is said,” and in terms of the involvement of context) and then defending it against several challenges. Two of the challenges relate to possible intrusion of mental phenomena into semantics, and the third has to do with possible over-restriction of the domain of pragmatics.



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What is said.Patrick Hawley - 2002 - Journal of Pragmatics 34 (8):969-991.
The Distinction between Semantics and Pragmatics.Zoltan Gendler Szabo - 2006 - In Ernest Lepore & Barry C. Smith (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language. Oxford University Press. pp. 361--389.


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Megan Henricks Stotts
McMaster University