The proposition expressed by a sentence is relative to a context. But what determines the content of the context? Many theorists would include among these determinants aspects of the speaker’s intention in speaking. My thesis is that, on the contrary, the determinants of the context never include the speaker’s intention. My argument for this thesis turns on a consideration of the role that the concept of proposition expressed in context is supposed to play in a theory of linguistic communication. To (...) illustrate an alternative approach, I present an original theory of the reference of demonstratives according to which the referent of a demonstrative is the object that adequately and best satisfies certain accessibility criteria. Although I call my thesis zero tolerance for pragmatics, it is not an expression of intolerance for everything that might be called “pragmatics.”. (shrink)
At least since Locke, philosophers and psychologists have usually held that concepts arise out of sensory perceptions, thoughts are built from concepts, and language enables speakers to convey their thoughts to hearers. Christopher Gauker holds that this tradition is mistaken about both concepts and language. The mind cannot abstract the building blocks of thoughts from perceptual representations. More generally, we have no account of the origin of concepts that grants them the requisite independence from language. Gauker's alternative is to show (...) that much of cognition consists in thinking by means of mental imagery, without the help of concepts, and that language is a tool by which interlocutors coordinate their actions in pursuit of shared goals. Imagistic cognition supports the acquisition and use of this tool, and when the use of this tool is internalized, it becomes the very medium of conceptual thought. (shrink)
This paper develops the hypothesis that languages may be learned by means of a kind of cause-effect analysis. This hypothesis is developed through an examination of E. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh's research on the abilities of chimpanzees to learn to use symbols. Savage-Rumbaugh herself tends to conceive of her work as aiming to demonstrate that chimpanzees are able to learn the "referential function" of symbols. Thus the paper begins with a critique of this way of viewing the chimpanzee's achievements. The hypothesis that (...) Savage-Rumbaugh's chimpanzees learn to use symbols by means of cause-effect analysis is then supported through a detailed examination of the tasks they have learned to perform. Next, it is explained how language-learning in humans might be conceptualized along similar lines. The final section attempts to explain how the pertinent cause-effect analysis ought to be conceived. (This paper was published with a reply by Savage-Rumbaugh. See the same issue, pp. 55-76.). (shrink)
For many purposes in pragmatics one needs to appeal to a context of utterance conceived as a set of sentences or propositions. The context of utterance in this sense is often defined as the set of assumptions that the speaker supposes he or she shares with the hearer. I argue by stages that this is a mistake. First, if contexts must be defined in terms of shared assumptions, then it would be preferable to define the context as the set of (...) assumptionsthat the interlocutors really do share. Second, not all shared assumptions belong to the context, because not all are relevant. Third, hearers need not accept every member of the context, because some presuppositions are informative. Finally, presupposition coordination problems show that contexts may have contents that even the speaker does not accept. Contexts, we may conclude, are mind-transcendent. In one sense of the term a "presupposition" is an interlocutor's take on this mind-transcendent context. (shrink)
A number of philosophers have argued that the key to understanding the semantic paradoxes is to recognize that truth is essentially relative to context. All of these philosophers have been motivated by the idea that once a liar sentence has been uttered we can 'step back' and, from the point of view of a different context, judge that the liar sentence is true. This paper argues that this 'stepping back' idea is a mistake that results from failing to relativize truth (...) to context in the first place. Moreover, context-relative liar sentences, such as 'This sentence is not true in any context' present a paradox even after truth has been relativized to context. Nonetheless, the relativization of truth to context may offer us the means to avoid paradox, if we can justifiably deny that a sentence about a context can be true in the very context it is about. (shrink)
The proposition expressed by an utterance of a quantified sentence depends on a domain of discourse somehow determined by the context. How does the context of utterance determine the content of the domain of discourse? Many philosophers would approach this question from the point of view of an expressive theory of linguistic communication, according to which the primary function of language is to enable speakers to convey the propositional contents of their thoughts to hearers. This paper argues that from this (...) point of view there is no persuasive treatment of the determinants of the domain of discourse. The argument focuses on an abnormal case in which the domain the speaker has in mind is not evident to the hearer. In this way the question concerning the determinants of the domain of discourse is used to challenge the expressive theory of communication. (shrink)
This paper presents a precise semantics for incomplete predicates such as “ready”. Incomplete predicates have distinctive logical properties that a semantic theory needs to accommodate. For instance, “Tipper is ready” logically implies “Tipper is ready for something”, but “Tipper is ready for something” does not imply “Tipper is ready”. It is shown that several approaches to the semantics of incomplete predicates fail to accommodate these logical properties. The account offered here defines contexts as structures containing an element called a proposition (...) set, which contains atomic propositions and negations of atomic propositions. The condition under which “Tipper is ready” is true in a context is defined in terms of the contents of the proposition set for the context. On this account, the content of the context pertinent to a conversation must be determined not by what speakers have in mind but by relations of objective relevance. (shrink)
As Grice defined it, a speaker conversationally implicates that p only if the speaker expects the hearer to recognize that the speaker thinks that p. This paper argues that in the sorts of cases that Grice took as paradigmatic examples of conversational implicature there is in fact no need for the hearer to consider what the speaker might thus have in mind. Instead, the hearer might simply make an inference from what the speaker literally says and the situation in which (...) the utterance takes place. In addition, a number of sources of the illusion of conversational implicatures in Grice's sense are identified and diagnosed. (shrink)
Many philosophers hold that for various reasons there must be psychological laws governing beliefs and desires. One of the few serious examples that they offer is the _belief-desire law_, which states, roughly, that _ceteris paribus_ people do what they believe will satisfy their desires. This paper argues that, in fact, there is no such law. In particular, decision theory does not support the contention that there is such a law.
In order to capture our intuitions about the logical consistency of sentences and the logical validity of arguments, a semantics for a natural language has to allow for the fact that different occurrences of a single bare demonstrative, such as “this”, may refer to different objects. But it is not obvious how to formulate a semantic theory in order to achieve this result. This paper first criticizes several proposals: that we should formulate our semantics as a semantics for tokens, not (...) expressions, Kaplan’s idea that syntax associates a demonstration with each occurrence of a demonstrative, Braun’s idea that a context may specify shifts in context across the evaluation of the expressions in a sentence; and Predelli’s idea that we should countenance different classes of contexts. Finally, a solution is proposed that allows that a natural language persists across the addition of basic lexical items but defines logical properties in terms of language stages. A surprising result is that we do not need to think of demonstratives as taking different referents in different situations. (shrink)
This paper criticizes the dominant approaches to presupposition projection and proposes an alternative. Both the update semantics of Heim and the discourse representation theory of van der Sandt have problems in explicating the presuppositions of disjunctions. Moreover, Heim's approach is committed to a conception of accommodation that founders on the problem of informative presuppositions, and van der Sandt's approach is committed to a conception of accommodation that generates over-interpretations of utterances. The present approach borrows Karttunen's idea that instead of associating (...) presuppositions with sentences, we should define the conditions that contexts must meet in order to satisfy-the-presuppositions-of a sentence. However, in place of Karttunen's conception of contexts in terms of common ground, the present theory substitutes a conception of contexts as objective entities that are independent of the attitudes of the interlocutors. Contexts, so conceived, may be defined as containing sets of relevant possibilities. This allows us to define the conditions under which a context satisfies-the-presuppositions-of a disjunction. (shrink)
An Essay on the Relation Between Thought and Language Christopher Gauker. things possible? How, having once perceived the herds by the lake, does the agent remember this for later use? My answer is that one way he may do it is ...
The question whether semantics is a normative discipline can be formulated as a question about the meaning of the word “means”. If I assert, “The word ‘gatto’ in Italian means cat,” what have I done? The naturalist about meaning claims that I have asserted that a certain natural relation obtains between Italian speakers’ tokens of “gatto” and cats. Or at least, I have asserted something about the way Italian speakers use the word “gatto”, which way presumably has something to do (...) with cats. The normativist claims, on the contrary, that what I have said is that in speaking Italian one ought to use the word “gatto” in a certain way, which way has something to do with cats. What I have done is endorse a certain proposal about how to use the word, which, if accepted, will have normative force. (shrink)
This document presents a Gentzen-style deductive calculus and proves that it is complete with respect to a 3-valued semantics for a language with quantifiers. The semantics resembles the strong Kleene semantics with respect to conjunction, disjunction and negation. The completeness proof for the sentential fragment fills in the details of a proof sketched in Arnon Avron (2003). The extension to quantifiers is original but uses standard techniques.
Jason Stanley has argued that in order to obtain the desired readings of certain sentences, such as “In most of John’s classes, he fails exactly three Frenchmen”, we must suppose that each common noun is associated with a hidden indexical that may be either bound by a higher quantifier phrase or interpreted by the context. This paper shows that the desired readings can be obtained as well by interpreting nouns as expressing relations and without supposing that nouns are associated with (...) hidden indexicals. Stanley’s theory and the present alternative are not equivalent, however. They differ over the status of sentences such as “Every student is happy and some student is not happy”. On Stanley’s theory, this sentence will be true in some contexts, while on the present alternative it will be true in no context. Considerations in favor of the present theory’s verdict on such sentences are presented. The broader question at issue is the correct way to incorporate context-relativity into formal semantics. (shrink)
Semantics deals with the literal meaning of sentences. Pragmatics deals with what speakers mean by their utterances of sentences over and above what those sentences literally mean. However, it is not always clear where to draw the line. Natural languages contain many expressions that may be thought of both as contributing to literal meaning and as devices by which speakers signal what they mean. After characterizing the aims of semantics and pragmatics, this chapter will set out the issues concerning such (...) devices and will propose a way of dividing the labor between semantics and pragmatics. To semantics belongs the job of defining the conditions under which a sentence is true relative to a context. To pragmatics belongs the job of explicating the conditions under which a given context pertains to a given conversation. (shrink)
According to the expressive theory of communication, the primary function of language is to enable speakers to convey the content of their thoughts to hearers. According to Tyler Burge's social externalism, the content of a person's thought is relative to the way words are used in his or her surrounding linguistic community. This paper argues that Burge's social externalism refutes the expressive theory of communication.
I define T-schema deflationism as the thesis that a theory of truth for our language can simply take the form of certain instances of Tarski's schema (T). I show that any effective enumeration of these instances will yield as a dividend an effective enumeration of all truths of our language. But that contradicts Gödel's First Incompleteness Theorem. So the instances of (T) constituting the T-Schema deflationist's theory of truth are not effectively enumerable, which casts doubt on the idea that the (...) T-schema deflationist in any sense has a theory of truth. (The argument in section 2 of "Semantics for Deflationists" supercedes this paper.). (shrink)
This is not a research paper. It is just a handout that I prepared for a course some years ago. It is a presentation of Kripke's theory of truth that I intend to be understandable even to people who have had only a first course in logic. Although elementary, it is completely precise. All the terms are defined and all the proofs (except one trivial induction) are given in detail. I am putting this on the web because I think there (...) are probably a lot of people who want to think about truth and who recognize that they need to know something about Kripke's theory but who are not sure whether they have the necessary background to follow the precise presentations that have been published. (shrink)
A lot of us have given up on the idea that there will be a naturalistic account of the relation of semantic reference and so have resolved to formulate our theories of semantics and communication without appeal to semantic reference. Still, there is a resilient intuition to the effect that I know the extensions of the terms of my language. This paper explicates that intuition without yielding to it. The key idea is to give a “skeptical” account of what it (...) is to “know the meaning” of a word, by which I mean an account of the status that is granted to a person in saying that he or she “knows the meaning” of a word. (shrink)
Language acquisition is often said to be a process of mapping words into pre-existing concepts. If that is right, then we ought to be able to obtain experimental evidence for the existence of concepts in prelinguistic children. One line of research that attempts to provide such evidence is the work of Paul Quinn, who claims that looking-time results show that four--month old infants form “category representations”. This paper argues that Quinn’s results have an alternative explanation. A distinction is drawn between (...) conceptual thought and the perception of comparative similarity relations, and it is argued that Quinn’s results can be explained in terms of the latter rather than the former. (shrink)
Carruthers labels as “too strong” the thesis that language is necessary for all conceptual thought. Languageless creatures certainly do think, but when we get clear about what is meant by “conceptual thought,” it appears doubtful that conceptual thought is possible without language.
In recent years, many philosophers have supposed that perceptual representations have propositional content. A prominent rationale for this supposition is the assumption that perceptions may justify beliefs, but this rationale can be doubted. This rationale may be doubted on the grounds that there do not seem to be any viable characterizations of the belief-justifying propositional contents of perceptions. An alternative is to model perceptual representations as marks in a perceptual similarity space. A mapping can be defined between points in perceptual (...) similarity space and points in an objective quality space. The correctness of perceptual representation can then be defined as a kind of accuracy of mapping rather than as the truth of a proposition. The phenomenon of seeing-as can be accounted for as a matter of the location of marks in perceptual similarity space relative to other marks in perceptual similarity space. Perceptual representations, on this account, will not justify beliefs, but they may nonetheless guide judgment. (shrink)
It is obvious that there are kinds of cognition -- mental problem solving -- that do not require spoken language. But it should not be obvious that peculiarly conceptual thought is independent of spoken language. This paper is a critical survey of arguments concluding that conceptual thought must be independent of language. The special emphasis is on arguments that John Searle has put forward, but others are considered as well. These include the claim that only the intentionality of thought is (...) "intrinsic", arguments from the nature of speech acts, appeals to the fact that animals and babies think, and the computational theory of mind (this last not being one of Searle's arguments). Finally, there is an argument from a certain conception of linguistic communication. (shrink)
[Written in 1999. Still relevant, but references are not up-to-date.] If one asks about the relation between thought and language, people expect the issue to concern such matters as whether we think in language, whether creatures without language can "think", and the way language shapes our concepts. In my opinion, there is a much deeper question, which concerns the nature of linguistic communication. Philosophers and linguists standardly conceive of language as basically a means by which speakers convey the content of (...) their thoughts to others. The question is whether that is a correct picture of linguistic communication. This is a question about the relation between thought and language because this standard picture of communication gives propositional thought a certain priority over language. If, as I intend to show, there are reasons to doubt the standard picture, then we cannot expect to make much progress with the more superficial questions without thinking about the nature of linguistic communication. (shrink)
Jill de Villiers has argued that children's mastery of sentential complements plays a crucial role in enabling them to succeed at false-belief tasks. Josef Perner has disputed that and has argued that mastery of false-belief tasks requires an understanding of the multiplicity of perspectives. This paper attempts to resolve the debate by explicating attributions of desires and beliefs as extensions of the linguistic practices of making commands and assertions, respectively. In terms of these linguistic practices one can explain why desire-talk (...) will precede belief-talk and why even older children will have difficulty attributing incompatible desires. (shrink)
This is a free book, 165 pages. It is for anyone who has had a solid introductory logic course and wants more. Topics covered include soundness and completeness for first-order logic, Tarski's theorem on the undefinability of truth, Gödel's incompleteness theorems, the undecidability of first-order logic, a smattering of second-order logic, and modal logic (both propositional and quantificational). I wrote it for use in my own course, because I thought I could present the most important results and concepts more clearly (...) than the available textbooks. (shrink)
Recent philosophical literature has debated the question of how much context-relativity needs to be countenanced in precise semantic theories for natural languages and has displayed different conceptions of the way in which it might be accommodated. This article presents reasons to think that context-relativity is a phenomenon that semantic theory must accommodate and identifies some of the issues concerning how it ought to be accommodated.
The Lockean theory of communication is here defined as the theory that communication takes place when a hearer grasps some sort of mental object, distinct from the speaker's words, that the speaker's words express. This theory contrasts with the view that spoken languages are the very medium of a kind of thought of which overt speech is the most basic form. This article is a critique of some of the most common motives for adopting a Lockean theory of communication. It (...) is not enough that words in some sense express thoughts. It is not enough that animals and prelinguistic infants in some sense think. It is not enough that speakers mean something by what they say or that hearers must understand a speaker's presuppositions. On the contrary, any explanation of how children can learn to communicate in the way the Lockean imagines will presuppose that words can instill beliefs in some way more fundamental than the Lockean theory itself can explain. (shrink)
It is often assumed that, though we may speak in sentences that express propositions only inexplicitly, our thoughts must express their propositional contents explicitly. This paper argues that, on the contrary, thoughts too may be inexplicit. Inexplicit thoughts may effectively drive behavior inasmuch as they rest on a foundation of imagistic cognition. The paper also sketches an approach to semantic theory that accommodates inexplicitness in mental representations as well as in spoken sentences.
Language acquisition is often said to be a process of mapping words into pre-existing concepts. Some researchers regard this theory as an immediate corollary of the assumption that all problem-solving involves the application of concepts. But in light of basic philosophical objections to the theory of language acquisition, that kind of rationale cannot be very persuasive. To have a reason to accept the theory of language acquisition despite the philosophical objections, we ought to have experimental evidence for the existence of (...) concepts in prelinguistic children. One of the few lines of research that attempts to provide such evidence is the work of Paul Quinn, who claims that looking-time results show that four-month old infants form "category representations". This paper argues that Quinn's results have an alternative explanation. A distinction is drawn between conceptual thought and the perception of comparative similarity relations, and it is argued that Quinn's results can be explained in terms of the latter rather than the former. (shrink)
The key to an adequate account of presupposition projection is to accommodate the fact that the presuppositions of a sentence cannot always be read off the sentence but can often be identified only on the basis of prior utterances in the conversation in which the sentence is uttered. In addition, an account of presupposition requires a three-valued semantics of assertibility and deniability in a context. Presuppositions can be explicated as sentences that belong to the conversation and the assertibility of which (...) ensures that the remaining assertibility and deniability conditions of the presupposition-bearing sentence are dual to one another. The prevailing approach to presuppositions, grounded in Heim’s context-change semantics, can be criticized both on philosophical grounds and for failing to accommodate the phenomena. (shrink)
A theory of reference may be either an analysis of reference or merely an account of the correct use of the verb "refer". If we define the validity of arguments in the standard way, in terms of assignments of individuals and sets to the nonlogical vocabulary of the language, then we will be committed to seeking an analysis of reference. Those who prefer a metalinguistic account, therefore, will desire an alternative to standard semantics. One alternative is the Quinean conception of (...) logical validity as essentially a matter of logical form. Another alternative is Leblanc's truth-value semantics. But these prove to be either inadequate for purposes of metatheory or philosophically unsatisfactory. This paper shows how validity (i.e., semantic consequence) may be defined in a way that avoid the problems facing these other alternatives to standard semantics and also permits a metalinguistic account of reference. The validity of arguments is treated as a matter of logical form, but validity for forms is defined on analogy with the definition of semantic consequence in truth-value semantics. (A more radical kind of semantics without reference is the context logical approach represented in several of my other publications.). (shrink)
A similarity space is a hyperspace in which the dimensions represent various dimensions on which objects may differ. The similarity space theory of concepts is the thesis that concepts are regions of similarity spaces that are somehow realized in the brain. Proponents of such a theory of concepts include Paul Churchland and Peter Gärdenfors. This paper argues that the similarity space theory of concepts is mistaken because regions of similarity spaces cannot serve as the components of judgments. It emerges that (...) although similarity spaces cannot model concepts, they may model a kind of nonconceptual representation. (shrink)
Abstract In their book, Holism: A Shopper's Guide, Jerry Fodor and Ernest Lepore fail to distinguish between two kinds of holism. One of these is holism about meaning, which is indeed problematic. The other is holism about translation, which is not so clearly problematic. Moreover, the problem with the first sort is that it renders communication unintelligible, not that it rules out psychological laws. Further, Fodor and Lepore's criticisms of various contemporary holists are based on serious misreadings. In particular, Quine (...) need not accept the conception of statements that they force on him, and Davidson and Dennett do not argue for the principle of charity in the ways Fodor and Lepore suppose. But Fodor and Lepore's question about the provenance of the principle of charity is a good one and deserves an answer. (shrink)
Recanati takes for granted the conveyance conception of linguistic communica- tion, although it is not very clear exactly where he lies on the spectrum of possible variations. Even if we disavow all such conceptions of linguistic communication, there will be a place for semantic theory in articulating normative concepts such as logical consistency and logical validity. An approach to semantics focused on such normative concepts is illustrated using the example of “It’s raining”. It is argued that Recanati’s conception of semantics (...) as involving the pragmatics of saturation and modulation cannot account for the logical properties of “It’s raining. (shrink)
[Note 2015: Much of the content of these remarks has now been published in my paper "Presuppositions as Anaphoric Duality Enablers", Topoi.] This is the text of my comments on the project of dynamic semantics for the session on that topic at the Central Division APA meeting on April 21, 2007. The other speakers were Jeroen Groenendijk, Frank Veltman and Thony Gillies. I question the philosophical basis for dynamic semantics. My doubts have to do with the nature of information states (...) and the norms of semantics. I also question the data that inspire the project. In particular, I question the data concerning presupposition and the data concerning modal operators and conditionals. (shrink)
Some expressions, such as “all” and “might”, must be interpreted differently, relative to a single context, when embedded under “says that” than when unembedded. Egan, Hawthorne and Weatherson have appealed to that fact to argue that utterance-truth is relative to point of evaluation. This paper shows that the phenomena do not warrant this relativistic response. Instead, contexts may be defined as entities that assign other contexts to contextually relevant people, and context-relative truth conditions for indirect discourse sentences can be satisfactorily (...) formulated in terms of such contexts. (shrink)
"If you turn left at the next corner, you will see a blue house at the end of the street." That sentence -- a conditional -- might be true even though it is possible that you will not see a blue house at the end of the street when you turn left at the next corner. A moving van may block your view; the house may have been painted pink; a crow might swoop down and peck out your eyes. Still, (...) in some contexts, we might ignore these possibilities and correctly assert the conditional. In this book, Christopher Gauker argues that such context-relativity is the key to understanding the semantics of conditionals. Contexts are defined as objective features of the situation in which a conversation takes place, and the semantic properties of sentences -- conditionals included -- are defined in terms of assertibility in a context. One of the primary goals of a theory of conditionals has to be to distinguish correctly between valid and invalid arguments containing conditionals. According to Gauker, an argument is valid if the conclusion is assertible in every context in which the premises are assertible. This runs counter to what Gauker sees as a systematic misreading of the data by other authors, who judge arguments to be invalid if they can think of a context in which the premises are judged true and some other context in which the conclusion is judged false. Different schools of thought on conditionals reflect fundamentally different approaches to semantics. Gauker offers his theory as a motive and test case for a distinctive kind of semantics that dispenses with reference relations and possible worlds. (shrink)
Kripke's puzzle about rule-following is a form of the traditional problem of the nature of linguistic meaning. A skeptical solution explains not what meaning is but the role that talk of meaning plays in the linguistic community. Contrary to what some have claimed, the skeptical approach is not self-refuting. However, Kripke's own skeptical solution is inadequate. He has not adequately explained the conditions under which we are justified in attributing meanings or the utility of the practice of attributing meanings. An (...) alternative skeptical solution may be founded on a nonepistemic conception of assertibility. Roughly, a sentence is assertible if it facilitates cooperation. The function of meaning-talk is to resolve certain sorts of conflicts in assertion. Attributions of meaning to persons outside the community may be a proper expression of a practice whose reason for being lies entirely within the community. -/- . (shrink)
The rule of universal instantiation appears to be subject to counterexamples, although the rule of existential generalization is not subject to the same doubts. This paper is a survey of ways of responding to this problem, both conservative and revisionist. The conclusion drawn is that logical validity should be defined in terms of assertibility in a context rather than in terms of truth on an interpretation. Contexts are here defined, not in terms of the attitudes of the interlocutors, but in (...) terms of the goals of conversation, and assertibility is explained in terms of cooperation. (shrink)