According to the dominant position among philosophers of language today, we can legitimately ascribe determinate contents to natural language sentences, independently of what the speaker actually means. This view contrasts with that held by ordinary language philosophers fifty years ago: according to them, speech acts, not sentences, are the primary bearers of content. François Recanati argues for the relevance of this controversy to the current debate about semantics and pragmatics. Is 'what is said' determined by linguistic conventions, or is it (...) an aspect of 'speaker's meaning'? Do we need pragmatics to fix truth-conditions? What is 'literal meaning'? To what extent is semantic composition a creative process? How pervasive is context-sensitivity? Recanati provides an original and insightful defence of 'contextualism', and offers an informed survey of the spectrum of positions held by linguists and philosophers working at the semantics/pragmatics interface. (shrink)
This volume puts forward a distinct new theory of direct reference, blending insights from both the Fregean and the Russellian traditions, and fitting the general theory of language understanding used by those working on the pragmatics of natural language.
Over the past fifty years the philosophy of language and mind has been dominated by a nondescriptivist approach to content and reference. This book attempts to recast and systematize that approach by offering an indexical model in terms of mental files. According to Recanati, we refer through mental files, the function of which is to store information derived through certain types of contextual relation the subject bears to objects in his or her environment. The reference of a file is determined (...) relationally, not satisfactionally, so a file is not to be equated to the body of (mis-)information it contains. Mental files are the mental equivalent of singular terms, and the reference of linguistic expressions is inherited from that of the files we associate with them. On this approach, mental files, the vehicles of singular thought, do all the work of so-called 'modes of presentation' in Fregean and neo-Russellian theories. (shrink)
This book argues against the traditional understanding of the semantics/pragmatics divide and puts forward a radical alternative. Through half a dozen case studies, it shows that what an utterance says cannot be neatly separated from what the speaker means. In particular, the speaker's meaning endows words with senses that are tailored to the situation of utterance and depart from the conventional meanings carried by the words in isolation. This phenomenon of ‘pragmatic modulation’ must be taken into account in theorizing about (...) semantic content, for it interacts with the grammar-driven process of semantic composition. Because of that interaction, the book argues, the content of a sentence always depends upon the context in which it is used. This claim defines Contextualism, a view which has attracted considerable attention in recent years, and of which the author of this book is one of the main proponents. (shrink)
In a recent paper (Linguistics and Philosophy 23, 4, June 2000), Jason Stanley argues that there are no `unarticulated constituents', contrary to what advocates of Truth-conditional pragmatics (TCP) have claimed. All truth-conditional effects of context can be traced to logical form, he says. In this paper I maintain that there are unarticulated constituents, and I defend TCP. Stanley's argument exploits the fact that the alleged unarticulated constituents can be `bound', that is, they can be made to vary with the values (...) introduced by operators in the sentence. I show that Stanley's argument rests on a fallacy, and I provide alternative analyses of the data. (shrink)
Our thought and talk are situated. They do not take place in a vacuum but always in a context, and they always concern an external situation relative to which they are to be evaluated. Since that is so, François Recanati argues, our linguistic and mental representations alike must be assigned two layers of content: the explicit content, or lekton, is relative and perspectival, while the complete content, which is absolute, involves contextual factors in addition to what is explicitly represented. Far (...) from reducing to the context-independent meaning of the sentence-type or, in the psychological realm, to the 'narrow' content of mental representations, the lekton is a level intermediate between context-invariant meaning and full propositional content. Recognition of that intermediate level is the key to a proper understanding of context-dependence in language and thought. Going beyond the usual discussions of indexicality and unarticulated constituents in the philosophy of language, Recanati turns to the philosophy of mind for decisive arguments in favour of his approach. He shows, first, that the lekton is the notion of content we need if we are to properly understand the relations between perception, memory, and the imagination, and second, that the psychological 'mode' is what determines the situation the lekton is relative to. In this framework he provides a detailed account of de se thought and the first person point of view. In the last part of the book, Recanati discusses the special freedom we have, in discourse and thought, to shift the situation of evaluation. He traces that freedom to a special mode - the anaphoric mode - which enables us to go beyond the egocentric stage of pre-human thought. (shrink)
Among the entities that can be mentally or linguistically represented are mental and linguistic representations themselves. That is, we can think and talk about speech and thought. This phenomenon is known as metarepresentation. An example is "Authors believe that people read books." -/- In this book François Recanati discusses the structure of metarepresentation from a variety of perspectives. According to him, metarepresentations have a dual structure: their content includes the content of the object-representation (people reading books) as well as the (...) "meta" part (the authors' belief). Rejecting the view that the object representation is mentioned rather than used, Recanati claims that since metarepresentations carry the content of the object representation, they must be about whatever the object representation is about. Metarepresentations are fundamentally transparent because they work by simulating the representation they are about. -/- Topics covered in this wide-ranging work include the analysis of belief reports and talk about fiction, world shifting, opacity and substitutivity, quotation, the relation between direct and indirect discourse, context shifting, semantic pretense, and deference in language and thought. (shrink)
My responses to seven critical reviews of my book *Mental Files* (OUP 2012) published in a special issue of the journal Disputatio, edited by F. Salis. The reviewers are: Keith Hall, David Papineau, Annalisa Coliva and Delia Belleri, Peter Pagin, Thea Goodsell, Krista Lawlor and Manuel Garcia-Carpintero.
This paper is about the Descriptivism/Singularism debate, which has loomed large in 20-century philosophy of language and mind. My aim is to defend Singularism by showing, first, that it is a better and more promising view than even the most sophisticated versions of Descriptivism, and second, that the recent objections to Singularism (based on a dismissal of the acquaintance constraint on singular thought) miss their target.
Peter Hanks and Scott Soames both defend pragmatic solutions to the problem of the unity of the proposition. According to them, what ties together Tim and baldness in the singular proposition expressed by ‘Tim is bald’ is an act of the speaker : the act of predicating baldness of Tim. But Soames construes that act as force neutral and noncommittal while, for Hanks, it is inherently assertive and committal. Hanks answers the Frege–Geach challenge by arguing that, in complex sentences, the (...) force inherent in the content of an embedded sentence is cancelled. Indrek Reiland has recently objected to Hanks’s proposal that it faces a dilemma: either force cancellation dissolves the unity of the proposition secured by the cancelled act of assertion, or Hanks’s proposal reduces to Soames’s. In this paper, I respond to Reiland by offering an analysis of force cancellation which gets rid of the alleged dilemma. The proposal is based on a set of distinctions from speech act theory : between two senses of ’force’, two types of act, and two types of context. The role of simulation in force cancellation is emphasized, and connections drawn to broader issues such as the evolution of complex language. (shrink)
Conversational implicatures do not normally fall within the scope of operators because they arise at the speech act level, not at the level of sub-locutionary constituents. Yet in some cases they do, or so it seems. My aim in this paper is to compare different approaches to the problem raised by what I call 'embedded implicatures': seeming implicatures that arise locally, at a sub-locutionary level, without resulting from an inference in the narrow sense.
It is often claimed that, because of semantic underdetermination, one can determine the content of an utterance only by appealing to pragmatic considerations concerning what the speaker means, what his intentions are. This supports ‘inferentialism' : the view that, in contrast to perceptual content, communicational content is accessed indirectly, via an inference. As against this view, I argue that primary pragmatic processes (the pragmatic processes that are involved in the determination of truth-conditional content) need not involve an inference from premisses (...) concerning what the speaker can possibly intend by his utterance. Indeed, they need not involve any inference at all : communication, I argue, is as direct as perception. (shrink)
I argue that immunity to error through misidentification primarily characterizes thoughts that are 'implicitly' de se, as opposed to thoughts that involve an explicit self-identification. Thoughts that are implicitly de se involve no reference to the self at the level of content: what makes them de se is simply the fact that the content of the thought is evaluated with respect to the thinking subject. Or, to put it in familiar terms : the content of the thought is a property (...) which the thinking subject self-ascribes (as in the Loar/Lewis/Chisholm analysis). After answering an objection (to the effect that immunity can affect explicit de se thoughts), I extend the analysis to demonstrative thoughts, which also exhibit the property of immunity to error through misidentification. (shrink)
The issues addressed in philosophical papers on quotation generally concern only a particular type of quotation, which I call ‘closed quotation’. The other main type, ‘open quotation’, is ignored, and this neglect leads to bad theorizing. Not only is a general theory of quotation out of reach: the specific phenomenon of closed quotation itself cannot be properly understood if it is not appropriately situated within the kind to which it belongs. Once the distinction between open and closed quotation has been (...) drawn and properly appreciated, it is tempting to consider that only closed quotation is relevant to semantics. Open quotation is more a matter of pragmatics: it is a matter of what people do with words, rather than a matter of content and truth-conditions. In this way one can provide the beginning of a justification for the neglect of open quotation in current semantic theorizing. There is some truth in this view, yet the phenomenon of ‘mixed quotation’, investigated at length in this paper, is interesting precisely because it shows that things are not so simple. Important issues concerning the interface between semantics and pragmatics will thus be raised. (shrink)
This paper is about the Descriptivism/Singularism debate, which has loomed large in 20-century philosophy of language and mind. My aim is to defend Singularism by showing, first, that it is a better and more promising view than even the most sophisticated versions of Descriptivism, and second, that the recent objections to Singularism miss their target.
The received view about meteorological predicates like ‘rain’ is that they carry an argument slot for a location which can be filled explicitly or implicitly. The view assumes that ‘rain’, in the absence of an explicit location, demands that the context provide a specific location. In an earlier article in this journal, I provided a counter-example, viz. a context in which ‘it is raining’ receives a location-indefinite interpretation. On the basis of that example, I argued that when there is tacit (...) references to a location, it takes place for pragmatic reasons and casts no light on the semantics of meteorological predicates. Since then, several authors have reanalysed the counter-example, so as to make it compatible with the standard view. I discuss those attempts and argue that my account is superior. (shrink)
For Perry and many authors, de se thoughts are a species of de re thought. In this paper, I argue that de se thoughts come in two varieties: explicit and implicit. While explicit de se thoughts can be construed as a variety of de re thought, implicit de se thoughts cannot: their content is thetic, while the content of de re thoughts is categoric. The notion of an implicit de se thought is claimed to play a central role in accounting (...) for the phenomenon of immunity to error through misidentification. Lewis has attempted to unify de re and de se in the opposite direction: by reducing de re to de se . This, however, works only if we internalize the acquaintance relations. I criticize Lewis's internalization strategy on the grounds that it rests on Egocentrism (the view that every occurrent thought is ultimately about the thinker at the time of thinking). In the conclusion, I suggest another way of unifying de re and de se , by extending the implicit/explicit distinction to de re thoughts themselves. (shrink)
According to a widespread picture due to Kaplan, there are two levels of semantic value: character and content. Character is determined by the grammar, and it determines content with respect to context. In this chapter Recanati criticizes that picture on several grounds. He shows that we need more than two levels, and rejects the determination thesis: that linguistic meaning as determined by grammar determines content. Grammatical meaning does not determine assertoric content, he argues, but merely constrains it — speaker’s meaning (...) necessarily comes into play. On the alternative picture he offers, there are four basic levels, only one of which is determined by the grammar. Pragmatics is what enables the transition from each level to the next. (shrink)
I argue that immunity to error through misidentification primarily characterizes thoughts that are 'implicitly' de se, as opposed to thoughts that involve an explicit self-identification. Thoughts that are implicitly de se involve no reference to the self at the level of content: what makes them de se is simply the fact that the content of the thought is evaluated with respect to the thinking subject. Or, to put it in familiar terms : the content of the thought is a property (...) which the thinking subject self-ascribes. After answering an objection, I extend the analysis to demonstrative thoughts, which also exhibit the property of immunity to error through misidentification. (shrink)
Professor Recanati's book is a major new contribution to the philosophy of language. Its point of departure is a refutation of two views central to the work of speech-act theorists such as Austin & Searle: that speech acts are essentially conventional, & that the force of an utterance can be made fully explicit at the level of sentence-meaning & is in principle a matter of linguistic decoding. The author argues that no utterance can be fully understood simply in terms of (...) its linguistic meaning, but that only a contextual inference can provide an adequate framework. In pursuit of this argument, he deals with the major issues of pragmatics & speech-act theory: conversational implicatives & indirect speech acts, the classification of illocutionary forces, the performative/constative distinction, delocutivity, locutionary meaning, non-literal uses of languages, the principle of expressibilty, & the difference between institutional & communicative illocutionary acts. (shrink)
It has often been observed that the meaning of a word may be affected by the other words which occur in the same sentence. How are we to account for this phenomenon of 'semantic flexibility'? It is argued that semantic flexibility reduces to context-sensitivity and does not raise unsurmountable problems for standard compositional accounts. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to assume too simple a view of context-sensitivity. Two basic forms of context-sensitivity are distinguished in the paper. (...) The second form — sense modulation — shows that, in a sense, there is more in the meaning of the whole than can be derived from the meanings of the parts. (shrink)
In this collection of newly commissioned essays, the contributors present a variety of approaches to it, engaging with historical and empirical aspects of the subject as well as contemporary philosophical work.
In the first part of this paper I present a defence of the Austinian semantic approach to incomplete quantifiers and similar phenomena (section 2-4). It is part of my defence of Austinian semantics that it incorporates a cognitive dimension (section 4). This cognitive dimension makes it possible to connect Austinian semantics to various cognitive theories of discourse interpretation. In the second part of the paper (sections 5-7), I establish connections between Austinian semantics and four particular theories: • the theory of (...) reference and modes of presentation in terms of information files (see e.g. Perry 1993), • the theory of discourse interpretation as involving a process of context selection (see Sperber and Wilson 1986), • the theory of informational structure (for a survey, see Lambrecht 1994), • the theory of mental spaces (Fauconnier 1985). (shrink)
My responses to seven critical reviews of my book *Mental Files* published in a special issue of the journal Disputatio, edited by F. Salis. The reviewers are: Keith Hall, David Papineau, Annalisa Coliva and Delia Belleri, Peter Pagin, Thea Goodsell, Krista Lawlor and Manuel Garcia-Carpintero.
Francois Recanati presents the basic features of the *indexical model* of mental files, and defends it against several interrelated objections. According to this model, mental files refer to objects in a way that is analogous to that of indexicals in language: a file refers to an object in virtue of a contextual relation between them. For instance, perception and attention provide the basis for demonstrative files. Several objections, some of them from David Papineau, concern the possibility of files to preserve (...) and add information about objects across contexts. How is it possible to think about the same object when the subject no longer is in the original context? How is it possible to think of a perceived object as already known? Can this be done without an explicit identity judgment? Recanati answers these questions by invoking mental files of non-basic kinds and by describing the cognitive dynamics in which they take part. (shrink)
In this paper I argue against a widely accepted model of utterance interpretation, namely the LS model, according to which the literal interpretation of an utterance (the proposition literally expressed by that utterance) must be computed before non-literal interpretations can be entertained. Alleged arguments in favor of this model are shown to be fallacious, counterexamples are provided, and alternative models are sketched.
In a series of papers, Sperber provides the following analysis of the phenomenon of ill-understood belief (or 'quasi-belief', as I call it): (i) the quasi-believer has a validating meta-belief, to the effect that a certain representation is true; yet (ii) that representation does not give rise to a plain belief, because it is 'semi-propositional'. In this paper I discuss several aspects of this treatment. In particular, I deny that the representation accepted by the quasi-believer is semantically indeterminate, and I reject (...) Sperber's claim that quasi-belief is a credal attitude distinct from plain belief. (shrink)
In this survey paper, I start from two classical theses of speech act theory: that speech act content is uniformly propositional and that sentence mood encodes illocutionary force. These theses have been questioned in recent work, both in philosophy and linguistics. The force/content distinction itself – a cornerstone of 20‐century philosophy of language – has come to be rejected by some theorists, unmoved by the famous ‘Frege–Geach’ argument. The paper reviews some of these debates.
In recent years Fodor has repeatedly argued that nothing epistemic can be essential to, or constitutive of, any concept. This holds in virtue of a constraint which Fodor dubs the Compositionality Constraint. I show that Fodor's argument is fallacious because it rests on an ambiguity.
Following Panaccio, 'John believes that p' is analysed as 'For some x such that x is true if and only if p, John believes x'. On this view the complement clause 'that p' acts as a restricted existential quantifier ('For some x such that x is true if and only if p') and it contributes a higher-order property.
A number of distinct (though related) issues are raised in the debate over Contextualism in the philosophy of language. My aim in this chapter for the Cambridge Handbook of Pragmatics is to disentangle them, so as to get a clearer view of the positions available (where a 'position' consists of a particular take on each of the relevant issues simultaneously).
It is argued there is nothing special or deviant about the use of 'now' to refer to a time in the past (or about the use of 'here' to refer to a distant place) — no need to appeal to pragmatic mechanisms such as context-shifting to account for such uses. Such uses are puzzling only if one (mistakenly) maintains that 'here' and 'now' are pure indexicals. In the paper it is claimed that they are more similar to demonstratives than to (...) pure indexicals. Updated material on this can be found in *Truth-Conditional Pragmatics*, Chapter 6, 2010. (shrink)
I distinguish, and discuss the relations between, five types of context-shift involving indexicals. For 'intentional' indexicals - indexicals whose value depends upon the speaker's intention - we can shift the context more or less 'at will', by manifesting one's intention to do so. For other indexicals we can shift the context through pretense. Following a number of authors, I distinguish two types of context-shifting pretense, corresponding to two sets of linguistic phenomena. The fourth type of case is that of expressions (...) which are not really indexical, but perspectival, and for which we do not need to appeal to the notion of context-shift in order to account for their shifty behaviour. The fifth category I introduce and discuss is that of 'shiftable indexicals'. Do we need it, given that we already have the other four categories? My answer is a qualified 'yes'. (shrink)
For Perry and many authors, de se thoughts are a species of de re thought ; for Lewis, it is the other way round. To a large extent, the conflict between the two positions is merely apparent: it is due to insufficient appreciation of the crucial distinction between two types of de se thought. In view of this distinction, we can maintain both that de se thought is a special case of de re thought, and that de re thought is (...) a special case of de se thought. Still, I argue, Lewis's position can be criticized on the grounds that it internalizes acquaintance relations. (shrink)
Both Literalism and Contextualism come in many varieties. There are radical, and less radical, versions of both Literalism and Contextualism. Some intermediate positions are mixtures of Literalism and Contextualism. In this paper I describe several literalist positions, several contextualist positions, and a couple of intermediate positions. My aim is to convince the reader that the Literalism/Contextualism controversy is far from being settled. In the first section, I look at the historical development of Literalism. This development reveals a gradual weakening. The (...) question that naturally arises is: How far can we go in this direction? Where will this tendency ultimately lead us? And the obvious answer is: to Contextualism. In the second section I describe the steps which, from a critique of the currently dominant literalist position (Minimalism), can lead to Contextualism. In the last three sections I describe various contextualist positions, and I discuss possible literalist replies to the contextualist challenge. (shrink)