Minimal Semantics asks what a theory of literal linguistic meaning is for - if you were to be given a working theory of meaning for a language right now, what would you be able to do with it? Emma Borg sets out to defend a formal approach to semantic theorising from a relatively new type of opponent - advocates of what she call 'dual pragmatics'. According to dual pragmatists, rich pragmatic processes play two distinct roles in linguistic comprehension: as well (...) as operating in a post-semantic capacity to determine the implicatures of an utterance, they also operate prior to the determination of truth-conditional content for a sentence. That is to say, they have an integral role to play within what is usually thought of as the semantic realm. Borg believes dual pragmatic accounts constitute the strongest contemporary challenge to standard formal approaches to semantics since they challenge the formal theorist to show not merely that there is some role for formal processes on route to determination of semantic content, but that such processes are sufficient for determining content. Minimal Semantics provides a detailed examination of this school of thought, introducing readers who are unfamiliar with the topic to key ideas like relevance theory and contextualism, and looking in detail at where these accounts diverge from the formal approach. Borg's defence of formal semantics has two main parts: first, she argues that the formal approach is most naturally compatible with an important and well-grounded psychological theory, namely the Fodorian modular picture of the mind. Then she argues that the main arguments adduced by dual pragmatists against formal semantics - concerning apparent contextual intrusions into semantic content - can in fact be countered by a formal theory. The defence holds, however, only if we are sensitive to the proper conditions of success for a semantic theory. Specifically, we should reject a range of onerous constraints on semantic theorizing (e.g., that it answer epistemic or metaphysical questions, or that it explain our communicative skills) and instead adopt a quite minimal picture of semantics. (shrink)
Emma Borg examines the relation between semantics and pragmatics, and assesses recent answers to fundamental questions of how and where to draw the divide between the two. She argues for a minimal account of the interrelation between them--a 'minimal semantics'--which holds that only rule-governed appeals to context can influence semantic content.
A standard objection to so-called ‘minimal semantics’ is that minimal contents are explanatorily redundant as they play no role in an adequate account of linguistic communication. This paper argues that this standard objection is mistaken. Furthermore, I argue that seeing why the objection is mistaken sheds light both on how we should draw the classic Gricean distinction between saying and implicating, and how we should think about the key philosophical notion of assertion. Specifically, it reveals that these ideas are best (...) understood primarily in socio-linguistic terms. (shrink)
Philosophers often assume that folk hold pain to be a mental state – to be in pain is to have a certain kind of feeling – and they think this state exhibits the classic Cartesian characteristics of privacy, subjectivity, and incorrigibility. However folk also assign pains bodily locations: unlike most other mental states, pains are held to exist in arms, feet, etc. This has led some to talk of the ‘paradox of pain’, whereby the folk notion of pain is inherently (...) conflicted. Recently, several authors have rejected the paradox view, arguing instead that folk hold a univocal, bodily view. This paper presents six objections to the bodily view of the folk concept of pain. We then outline a direction for future research – the ‘polyeidic approach’ – whereby the folk notion of pain is held to encompass various divergent strands and we suggest that certain problems surrounding the treatment and communication of pain might be usefully be viewed through the lens of the polyeidic approach. (shrink)
Mirror neurons are neurons which fire in two distinct conditions: (i) when an agent performs a specific action, like a precision grasp of an object using fingers, and (ii) when an agent observes that action performed by another. Some theorists have suggested that the existence of such neurons may lend support to the simulation approach to mindreading (e.g. Gallese and Goldman, 1998, 'Mirror neurons and the simulation theory of mind reading'). In this note I critically examine this suggestion, in both (...) its original and a revised form (due to Iacoboni et al., 2005, 'Grasping the intentions of others with one's own mirror neuron system'), and argue that the existence of mirror neurons can in fact tell us very little about how intentional attribution actually proceeds. (shrink)
‘Pragmaticist’ positions posit a three-way division within utterance content between: the standing meaning of the sentence, a somewhat pragmatically enhanced meaning which captures what the speaker explicitly conveys, and further indirectly conveyed propositions which the speaker merely implies. Here I re-examine the notion of an explicature, asking how it is defined and what work explicatures are supposed to do. I argue that explicatures get defined in three different ways and that these distinct definitions can and do pull apart. Thus the (...) notion of an explicature turns out to be ill-defined. (shrink)
Some demonstrative expressions, those we might term ‘bare demonstratives’, appear without any appended descriptive content (e.g. occurrences of ‘this’ or ‘that’ simpliciter). However, it seems that the majority of demonstrative occurrences do not follow this model. ‘Complex demonstratives’ is the collective term I shall use for phrases formed by adjoining one or more common nouns to a demonstrative expression (e.g. ‘that cat’, ‘this happy man’) and I will call the combination of predicates immediately concatenated with the demonstrative in such phrases (...) the ‘matrix’ of the expression. The question, then, is how we should construe the logical form of such expressions within a semantic theory for our language; and I wish to suggest that some recent answers to this question are, in fact, mistaken. The structure of the paper is as follows: first, I wish to highlight two (often underlying) assumptions about the nature of noun phrases in general, and suggest that, if they are both adopted, they apparently constrain the possible accounts of the logical form of complex demonstratives to just three options. The second and third parts of the paper will be concerned with expanding these options and arguing that none of them are adequate; thus the major part of the paper is concerned with the negative claim that the most obvious moves to make in this area must actually fail on closer inspection. The fourth and final section will then (very briefly) sketch the positive thesis of the paper: that we can deliver a clear and cohesive account of complex demonstratives, armed simply with elements which we will draw from David Kaplan’s theory of demonstratives, but only at the cost of rejecting (or at least refining) one assumption we recognised initially. (shrink)
In his important recent book, Ethics and the Global Financial Crisis: Why Incompetence is Worse than Greed, Boudewijn de Bruin argues that a key element of the global financial crisis of 2007–2008 was a failure of epistemic virtue. To improve matters, then, de Bruin argues we need to focus on the acquisition and exercise of epistemic virtues, rather than to focus on a more ethical culture for banking per se. Whilst this is an interesting suggestion and it is indeed very (...) plausible that an increased focus on proper knowledge-related behaviour will be part of a solution, we are sceptical both about de Bruin’s overarching theoretical claims and about his practical suggestions for change. Instead we argue that change in this sector is best promoted by reconceiving of the relationship between financial institutions and the societies they serve, and that this is fundamentally not an epistemic but a moral issue. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to explore the proper content of a formal semantic theory in two respects: first, clarifying which uses of expressions a formal theory should seek to accommodate, and, second, how much information the theory should contain. I explore these two questions with respect to occurrences of demonstratives and pronouns – the so- called ‘deferred’ uses – which are often classified as non-standard or figurative. I argue that, contrary to initial impressions, they must be treated as (...) semantically identical to ordinary, perceptual uses of these expression-types, and that this finding has important repercussions for our view of the scope and limits of a semantic theory. (shrink)
In this paper I want to explore the arguments for so-called ‘unarticulated constituents’ (UCs). Unarticulated constituents are supposed to be propositional elements, not presented in the surface form of a sentence, nor explicitly represented at the level of its logical form, yet which must be interpreted in order to grasp the (proper) meaning of that sentence or expression. Thus, for example, we might think that a sentence like ‘It is raining’ must contain a UC picking out the place at which (...) the speaker of the sentence asserts it to be raining. In §1 I will explore the nature of UCs a little further, and, in §2, suggest that we can recognise two different forms of argument for them.. (shrink)
The mirror neuron system is widely held to provide direct access to the motor goals of others. This paper critically investigates this idea, focusing on the so-called ‘intentional worry’. I explore two answers to the intentional worry: first that the worry is premised on too limited an understanding of mirror neuron behaviour, second that the appeal made to mirror neurons can be refined in such a way as to avoid the worry. I argue that the first response requires an account (...) of the mechanism by which small-scale gestures are supposedly mapped to larger chains of actions but that none of the extant accounts of this mechanism are plausible. Section 4 then briefly examines refinements of the mirror neuron-mindreading hypothesis which avoid the intentional worry. I conclude that these refinements may well be plausible but that they undermine many of the claims standardly made for mirror neurons. (shrink)
Both patients and clinicians frequently report problems around communicating and assessing pain. Patients express dissatisfaction with their doctors and doctors often find exchanges with chronic pain patients difficult and frustrating. This chapter thus asks how we could improve pain communication and thereby enhance outcomes for chronic pain patients. We argue that improving matters will require a better appreciation of the complex meaning of pain terms and of the variability and flexibility in how individuals think about pain.We start by examining the (...) various accounts of the meaning of pain terms that have been suggested within philosophy and suggest that, while each of the accounts captures something important about our use of pain terms, none is completely satisfactory. We propose that pain terms should be viewed as communicating complex meanings, which may change across different communicative contexts, and this in turn suggests that we should view our ordinary thought about pain as similarly complex. We then sketch what a view taking seriously this variability in meaning and thought might look like, which we call the “polyeidic” view. According to this view, individuals tacitly occupy divergent stances across a range of different dimensions of pain, with one agent, for instance, thinking of pain in a much more “body-centric” kind of way, while another thinks of pain in a much more “mind-centric” way. The polyeidic view attempts to expand the multidimensionality recognised in, e.g., biopsychosocial models in two directions: first, it holds that the standard triumvirate—dividing sensory/cognitive/affective factors—needs to be enriched in order to capture important distinctions within the social and psychological dimensions. Second, the polyeidic view attempts to explain why modulation of experience by these social and psychological factors is possible in the first place. It does so by arguing that because the folk concept of pain is complex, different weightings of the different parts of the concept can modulate pain experience in a variety of ways. Finally, we argue that adopting a polyeidic approach to the meaning of pain would have a range of measurable clinical outcomes.Clinical Implications: First, by making a subject’s tacit beliefs about pain explicit it will be possible to create a more open, shared space for pain communication and support a move away from purely quantitative measures of pain towards more discursive pain narratives. Secondly, the polyeidic view might provide a mechanism for predicting who will do well or badly from cognitive interventions for pain management, allowing more efficient use of healthcare resources. Finally, the polyeidic approach might also contribute to the creation of more nuanced cognitive interventions by elucidating the pre-conscious beliefs that influence a subject’s experience of pain. (shrink)
Grice's distinction between what is said by a sentence and what is implicated by an utterance of it is both extremely familiar and almost universally accepted. However, in recent literature, the precise account he offered of implicature recovery has been questioned and alternative accounts have emerged. In this paper, I examine three such alternative accounts. My main aim is to show that the two most popular accounts in the current literature still face signifi cant problems. I will then conclude by (...) suggesting that an alternative account, emerging from semantic minimalism, is best placed to accommodate Grice's distinction. (shrink)
In 'Local pragmatics in a Gricean framework', Mandy Simons argues that, contrary to the received view, it is possible to accommodate local pragmatic effects utilising just the mechanisms for pragmatic reasoning provided by Grice. Although I agree with this overarching claim, this paper argues that we need to be careful in our understanding of 'what is said', and the nature of communicated content in general, when deciding between local and global accounts of pragmatic effects.
A common deflationary tendency has emerged recently in both philosophical accounts and comparative animal studies concerned with how subjects understand the actions of others. The suggestion emerging from both arenas is that the default mechanism for understanding action involves only a sensitivity to the observable, behavioural features of a situation. This kind of ‘smart behaviour reading’ thus suggests that, typically, predicting or explaining the behaviour of conspecifics does not require seeing the other through the lens of mental state attribution. This (...) paper aims to explore and assess this deflationary move. In §1 I clarify what might be involved in a smart behaviour reading account via looking at some concrete examples. Then in §2 I critically assess the deflationary move, arguing that, at least in the human case, it would in fact be a mistake to assume that our default method of action understanding proceeds without appeal to mental state attribution. Finally in §3 I consider briefly how the positive view proposed here relates to discussions about standard two-system models of cognition. (shrink)
Minimal semantics is sometimes characterised as a ‘neo-Gricean’ approach to meaning. This label seems reasonable since a key claim of minimal semantics is that the minimal contents possessed by sentences (akin to Grice’s technical notion of ‘what is said by a sentence’) need not be (and usually are not) what is communicated by a speaker who utters those sentences. However, given an affinity between the two approaches, we might expect that a well-known challenge for the Gricean – namely that their (...) account fails to fit with the psychological evidence concerning linguistic understanding – could also be levelled at the minimalist, and indeed this seems to be the basis of Recanati’s challenge to minimalism from his ‘availability principle’ (Recanati 2004). This paper aims to explore the relationship between semantics and psychology and show how both Gricean and minimalist approaches can avoid the challenge from psychological evidence. I conclude by suggesting that the way in which minimalism avoids this challenge also helps the account to defuse Clapp’s ‘naturalistic objection’ (Clapp 2007) that there are no grounds for selecting a correct minimal semantic theory. (shrink)
relevant to the differences between the two speakings, Odile’s words in the first case said what was false, while in the second case they said what was true. Both spoke of the same state of the world, or the same refrigerator in the same condition. So, in the first case, the words said what is false of a refrigerator with but a milk puddle; in the second case they said what is true of such a refrigerator.
This paper examines the claim that mirror neuron activity is the mechanism by which we come to know about the action-related intentions of others, i.e. that they are a mechanism for ‘mindreading’. I agree with recent authors who reject this view but nevertheless I argue that mirror neurons may still have a role to play in the ways in which we understand one another. If we adopt a certain kind of pluralism about social cognition then the mirror neuron system could (...) play a role in social cognition even if it provides no access to the minds of others at all. I argue for this view and consider what the approach might entail for the ontology of the mirror neuron system. (shrink)
There is a sense in which it is trivial to say that one accepts intention- (or convention-) based semantics. For if what is meant by this claim is simply that there is an important respect in which words and sentences have meaning (either at all or the particular meanings that they have in any given natural language) due to the fact that they are used, in the way they are, by intentional agents (i.e. speakers), then it seems no one should (...) disagree. For imagine a possible world where there are physical things which share the shape and form of words of English or Japanese, or the acoustic properties of sentences of Finnish or Arapaho, yet where there are no intentional agents (or where any remaining intentional agents don’t use language). In such a world, it seems clear that these physical objects, which are only superficially language-like, will lack all meaning. Furthermore, it seems that questions of particular meaning are also settled by the conventions of intentional language users: it’s nothing more than convention which makes the concatenation of letters ‘a’^‘p’^‘p’^‘l’^‘e’ mean apple, rather than banana, in English. So, understood as the minimal claim that intentional agents, who have a practice of using certain physical objects (written words, sounds, hand gestures, etc) to communicate certain thoughts, are a prerequisite for linguistic meaning, the idea that semantics is based on both intention and convention seems indisputable. I will label a theory which recognises this preconditional role for speaker intentions an A-style intention-based semantics and we will explore one such account in §1. (shrink)
I aim to show that a semantic minimalist need not also be a semantic internalist. §I introduces minimalism and internalism and argues that there is a prima facie case for a minimalist being an internalist. §II sketches some positive arguments for internalism which, if successful, show that a minimalist must be an internalist. §III goes on to reject these arguments and contends that the prima facie case for uniting minimalism and internalism is also not compelling. §IV returns to an objection (...) from §I and argues for a way to meet it which does not depend on giving up semantic externalism. (shrink)
My aim in this note is to address the question of how a context of utterance can ﬁgure within a formal, speciﬁcally truth-conditional, semantic theory. In particular, I want to explore whether a formal semantic theory could, or should, take the intentional states of a speaker to be relevant in determining the literal meaning of an uttered sentence. The answer I’m going to suggest, contrary to the position of many contemporary formal theorists, is negative. The structure of this note is (...) then as follows: ﬁrst, I’ll very brieﬂy sketch three distinct forms of semantic theory. One, ‘strong formal semantics’, will be seen to be immediately problematic, leaving us with two other options: use-based theories and what I’ll term ‘moderate formal semantics’. If we opt for the latter position, the question arises of what kinds of appeals to a context of utterance are legitimate given a formal outlook. I’ll suggest that this question arises in two distinct ways and explore the moderate formal semanticist’s position in regard to both. However, the conclusion I will reach is that what is characteristic of formal semantics is that it makes only the most minimal semantic concessions to context. (shrink)
Ruth Garrett Millikan is one of the most important thinkers in philosophy of mind and language of the current generation. Across a number of seminal books, and in the company of theorists such as Jerry Fodor and Fred Dretske, she has championed a wholly naturalistic, scientific understanding of content, whether of thought or words. Many think that naturalism about meaning has found its most defensible form in her distinctively “teleological” approach, and in Language: A Biological Model she continues the expansion (...) and defence of her general position, turning her attention to the role of rule-following in language and the ensuing understanding of issues that lie at the boundary of semantics and pragmatics. (shrink)
This chapter explores the extent to which philosophy of language can be considered an applied discipline. I consider, first, ways in which sub-sections of philosophy of language may be considered as applied in terms of their subject matter and/or the kinds of questions being addressed. Then, in the second part of the chapter, I turn to consider a more general conception of philosophy of language as applied, which arises from the methodology adopted and the relationship of the discipline to empirical (...) data. (shrink)
There is a well-established social practice whereby we hold one another responsible for the things that we say. Speakers are held liable for the truth of the contents they express and they can be sanctioned and/or held to be unreliable or devious if it turns out what they say is false. In this paper chapter we argue that a better understanding of this fundamental socio-linguistic practice – of ascribing what we will term (following Borg (2019)) ‘linguistic liability’ – helps to (...) shed light on a core debate in semantics and pragmatics, concerning how and where to draw the line between different kinds of content. We suggest that attributions of linguistic liability form a heterogenous (rather than a homogenous) class and seek to show that different kinds of liability judgements are useful because they track divergent kinds of content – specifically the kinds that have come to prominence in recent theorising theorizing about the semantics/pragmatics divide. (shrink)
The idea that empathy provides an important developmental precursor to moral decision making possesses significant conceptual appeal. However, the idea of a necessary, diachronic relation between empathy and morality has been rejected recently. This paper reassesses the strength of the claim that empathy is developmentally necessary for morality and argues that the position remains a live possibility.
Philosophical questions about how language imparts meaning impact on our understanding of everything from machine translation to legal statutes. This article outlines the key theories and explores why experts still can't agree.
Emma Borg discusses the relationship between linguistic meaning and context, and talks about her own view, called 'Semantic Minimalism', in this Philosophy Bites interview, conducted by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton.
This prestigious collection of papers discusses the relationship between meaning and representation. Illustrates the differences that exist on the question of how formal representations relate to semantic representations. Includes contributions by Tim Crane, Jerry Fodor, Paul Horwich, John Hyman, Ernie Lepore, Gregory McCulloch and Mark Sainsbury.
Across a series of seminal works, Ruth Millikan has produced a compelling and comprehensive naturalised account of content. With respect to linguistic meaning, her ground breaking approach has been to analyse the meaning of a linguistic term via the function it performs which has been responsible for securing the term’s survival. This way of looking at things has significant repercussions for a number of recent debates in philosophy of language. This paper explores these repercussions through the lens of what is (...) known as semantic minimalism, using the tenets of minimalism to draw out some questions for Millikan’s approach to the semantics/pragmatics divide. (shrink)
During the COVID-19 pandemic governments across the globe have provided unparalleled support to private sector firms. As a result, new oversight mechanisms are urgently needed, to enable society to assess and, if necessary, redress, moves by firms which have taken government aid. Many jurisdictions have seen the introduction of ‘piecemeal’ conditionality on different pots of aid. This paper argues that a better response would be to adopt a more unified approach. In particular, the paper explores the social licence framework as (...) a potential way to ‘build back better’. It is argued that the nature of the implicit social contract between society and the private sector provides the normative force underpinning demands for a social purpose for business, and that this purpose in turn can be used to specify the conditions firms must meet to legitimise their operations. The paper then considers three core elements involved in any introduction of a social licence framework, and surveys the potential benefits and challenges that might emerge in moving towards a social licence framework. (shrink)