Presenting a novel account of singular thought, a systematic application of recent work in the theory of speech acts, and a partial revival of Russell's analysis of singular terms, this book takes an original approach to the perennial problems of reference and singular terms by separating the underlying issues into different levels of analysis.
Confusion in terms inspires confusion in concepts. When a relevant distinction is not clearly marked or not marked at all, it is apt to be blurred or even missed altogether in our thinking. This is true in any area of inquiry, pragmatics in particular. No one disputes that there are various ways in which what is communicated in an utterance can go beyond sentence meaning. The problem is to catalog the ways. It is generally recognized that linguistic meaning underdetermines speaker (...) meaning because of the need for disambiguation and reference assignment and because people can speak figuratively or indirectly. But philosophers and linguists are coming to recognize that these are not the only ways. The situation may be described in Gricean terms: the distinction between what is said and what is implicated is not exhaustive. Charting the middle ground between the two will require attending to specific examples, noting their distinctive features, and articulating the relevant concepts. That is what I aim to do here. The basic idea will be to distinguish not only the implied from the explicit but the implicit from the implied. (shrink)
Grice’s distinction between what is said and what is implicated has greatly clarified our understanding of the boundary between semantics and pragmatics. Although border disputes still arise and there are certain difficulties with the distinction itself (see the end of §1), it is generally understood that what is said falls on the semantic side and what is implicated on the pragmatic side. But this applies only to what is..
This paper offers a smattering of applications of pragmatics to epistemology. In most cases they concern recent epistemological claims that depend for their plausibility on mistaking something pragmatic for something semantic. After giving my formulation of the semantic/pragmatic distinction and explaining how seemingly semantic intuitions can be responsive to pragmatic factors, I take up the following topics: 1. Classic Examples of Confusing Meaning and Use 2. Pragmatic Implications of Hedging or Intensifying an Assertion 3. Belief Attributions 4. Knowledge-wh 5. The (...) Knowledge Rule on Assertion 6. Testimony 7. Asserting and Thinking of Possibilities 8. Concessive Knowledge Attributions 9. “Pragmatic Encroachment” 10. Epistemic Contextualism.. (shrink)
This paper defends a purely semantic notionof what is said against various recent objections. Theobjections each cite some sort of linguistic,psychological, or epistemological fact that issupposed to show that on any viable notion of what aspeaker says in uttering a sentence, there ispragmatic intrusion into what is said. Relying on amodified version of Grice's notion, on which what issaid must be a projection of the syntax of the utteredsentence, I argue that a purely semantic notion isneeded to account for the (...) linguistically determinedinput to the hearer's inference to what, if anything,the speaker intends to be conveying in uttering thesentence. (shrink)
The traditional puzzles about belief reports puzzles rest on a certain seemingly innocuous assumption, that 'that'-clauses specify belief contents. The main theories of belief reports also rest on this "Specification Assumption", that for a belief report of the form 'A believes that p' to be true,' the proposition that p must be among the things A believes. I use Kripke's Paderewski case to call the Specification Assumption into question. Giving up that assumption offers prospects for an intuitively more plausible approach (...) to the semantics of belief reports. But this approach must confront a puzzle of its own: it turns out that every case is a Paderewski case, at least potentially. (shrink)
When I examine contextualism there is much that I can doubt. I can doubt whether it is a cogent theory that I examining, and not a cleverly stated piece of whacks. I can doubt whether there is any real theory there at all. Perhaps what I took to be a theory was really some reflections; perhaps I am even the victim of some cognitive hallucination. One thing however I cannot doubt: that there exists a widely read pitch of a round (...) and somewhat bulgy shape. (shrink)
Once upon a time it was assumed that speaking literally and directly is the norm and that speaking nonliterally or indirectly is the exception. The assumption was that normally what a speaker means can be read off of the meaning of the sentence he utters, and that departures from this, if not uncommon, are at least easily distinguished from normal utterances and explainable along Gricean lines. The departures were thought to be limited to obvious cases like figurative speech and conversational (...) implicature. However, people have come to appreciate that the meaning of a typical sentence, at least one we are at all likely to use, is impoverished, at least relative to what we are likely to mean in uttering it. In other words, what a speaker normally means in uttering a sentence, even without speaking figuratively or obliquely, is an enriched version of what could be predicted from the meaning of the sentence alone. This can be because the sentence expresses a “minimal” (or “skeletal”) proposition or even because it fails to express a complete proposition at all.1 Indeed, it is now a platitude that linguistic meaning generally underdetermines speaker meaning. That is, generally what a speaker means in uttering a sentence, even if the sentence is devoid of ambiguity, vagueness, or indexicality, goes beyond what the sentence means. The question is what to make of this Contextualist Platitude, as I’ll call it. It may be a truism, but does it require a radical revision of the older conception of the relation between what sentences mean and what speakers mean in uttering them? Does it lead to a major modification, or perhaps even outright rejection, of the semantic-pragmatic distinction? I think.. (shrink)
Here's an old question in the philosophy of perception: here I am, looking at this pen [I hold up a pen in my hand]. Presumably I really am seeing this pen. Even so, I could be having an experience just like the one I am having without anything being there. So how can the experience I am having really involve direct awareness of the pen? It seems as though the presence of the pen is inessential to the way the experience (...) is. (shrink)
The distinction between semantics and pragmatics is easier to apply than to explain. Explaining it is complicated by the fact that many conflicting formulations have been proposed over the past sixty years. This might suggest that there is no one way of drawing the distinction and that how to draw it is merely a terminological question, a matter of arbitrary stipulation. In my view, though, these diverse formulations, despite their conflicts, all shed light on the distinction as it is commonly (...) applied, in both linguistics and philosophy. Although it is generally clear what is at issue when people apply the distinction to specific linguistic phenomena, what is less clear, in some cases anyway, is whether a given phenomenon is semantic or pragmatic, or both. Fortunately, there are other phenomena that are uncontroversially semantic or, as the case may be, uncontroversially pragmatic. Their example will help us get clear on what the semantics-pragmatics distinction is. (shrink)
We hardly ever mean exactly what we say. I don’t mean that we generally speak figuratively or that we’re generally insincere. Rather, I mean that we generally speak loosely, omitting words that could have made what we meant more explicit and letting our audience fill in the gaps. Language works far more efficiently when we do that. Literalism can have its virtues, as when we’re drawing up a contract, programming a computer, or writing a philosophy paper, but we generally opt (...) for efficiency over explicitness. In.. (shrink)
Proper names seem simple on the surface. Indeed, anyone unfamiliar with philosophical debates about them might wonder what the fuss could possibly be about. It seems obvious why we need them and what we do with them, and that is to talk about particular persons, places, and things. You don't have to be as smart as Mill to think that proper names are simply tags attached to individuals. But sometimes appearances are deceiving.
Insensitive Semantics is mainly a protracted assault on semantic Contextualism, both moderate and radical. Cappelen and Lepore argue that Moderate Contextualism leads inevitably, like marijuana to heroin or masturbation to blindness, to Radical Contextualism and in turn that Radical Contextualism is misguided. Assuming that the only alternative to Contextualism is their Semantic Minimalism, they think they’ve given an indirect argument for it. But they overlook a third view, one that splits the difference between the other two. Like Contextualism it rejects (...) Propositionalism, the conservative dogma that every indexicalfree declarative sentence expresses a proposition. Unlike Contextualism, it does not invoke context to fill semantic gaps and, indeed, denies that filling those gaps is a semantic matter. In rejecting Propositionalism, it is more radical, indeed, more minimalist than Cappelen and Lepore’s brand of Semantic Minimalism. It does not imagine that sentences that intuitively seem not to express propositions at least express “minimal propositions.” Radical Semantic Minimalism, or simply Radicalism, says that the sentences in question are semantically incomplete – their semantic contents are not propositions but merely “propositional radicals.”. (shrink)
In this chapter, the author offers another explanation of the variation in contents, which is explained by contextualism as being related to a variation in standards. The author’s explanation posits that the contents of knowledge attributions are invariant. The variation lies in what knowledge attributions we are willing to make or accept. Although not easy to acknowledge, what contextualism counts as knowledge varies with the context in which it is attributed. A new rival to contextualism, known as Subject-Sensitive Invariantism, goes (...) so far as to suggest that practical importance to the subject can affect the truth-value of a knowledge attribution. John MacFarlane puts forth another view in which the truth-value of a knowledge attribution is not absolute but relative. These two views raise interesting questions in their own right, but it is only contextualism which implies that the content of a knowledge attribution can vary with facts about the context in which it is made. (shrink)
MARGA REIMER has forcefully challenged David Kaplan's recent claim (, pp. 582-4) that demonstrative gestures, in connnection with uses of demonstrative expressions, are without semantic significance and function merely as 'aids to communication', and that speaker intentions are what determine the demonstratum. Against this Reimer argues that demonstrations can and do play an essential semantic role and that the role of intentions is marginal at best. That is, together with the linguistic meaning of the demonstrative phrase being used, an act (...) of demonstration determines what is said. I will argue that Kaplan's view is borne out if we consider the referential intentions specific to communication. Reimer may be correct about such intentions as she considers, but she overlooks specifically referential ones. When these are taken into account, we find that aalthough demonstrations contribute in a way to what is said, this does not make them semantically significant. (shrink)
Epistemic possibilities are relative to bodies of information, or perspectives. To claim that something is epistemically possible is typically to claim that it is possible relative one’s own current perspective. We generally do this by using bare, unqualified epistemic possibility (EP) sentences, ones that don’t mention our perspective. The fact that epistemic possibilities are relative to perspectives suggests that these bare EP sentences fall short of fully expressing propositions, contrary to what both contextualists and relativists take for granted. Although they (...) rightly reject propositional invariantism, the implausible view that a bare EP sentence expresses the same classical (absolutely true or absolutely false) proposition in any context, they maintain that a change in perspective shifts either the sentence’s propositional content (to a proposition involving a different perspective) or its truth-value (the same perspectivally neutral proposition now evaluated from a different perspective). I deny that the semantic contents of bare EP sentences shift at all. But I also deny that these contents have truth-values. Rather, according to the radical invariantism I defend, these contents are not full-fledged propositions but merely propositional radicals. Only explicitly relativized EP sentences manage fully to express propositions, and these perspective-involving propositions are the only EP propositions there are. Nevertheless, bare EP sentences are perfectly capable of being used to assert EP propositions, because utterances of them implicitly allude to the relevant perspective. Various problem cases challenge radical invariantism to explain pragmatically which perspective is read into the utterance of a given bare EP sentence. Unlike contextualism and relativism, it can do this without having to resort to any semantic bells and whistles.. (shrink)
There are many mean and nasty things to say about mean and nasty talk, but I don't plan on saying any of them. There's a specific problem about slurring words that I want to address. This is a semantic problem. It's not very important compared to the real-world problems presented by bigotry, racism, discrimination, and worse. It's important only to linguistics and the philosophy of language.
Frege's and Russell's views are obviously different, but because of certain superficial similarities in how they handle certain famous puzzles about proper names, they are often assimilated. Where proper names are concerned, both Frege and Russell are often described together as "descriptivists." But their views are fundamentally different. To see that, let's look at the puzzle of names without bearers, as it arises in the context of Mill's purely referential theory of proper names, aka the 'Fido'-Fido theory.
Even though it’s based on a bad argument, there’s something to Strawson’s dictum. He might have likened ‘referring expression’ to phrases like ‘eating utensil’ and ‘dining room’: just as utensils don’t eat and dining rooms don’t dine, so, he might have argued, expressions don’t refer. Actually, that wasn’t his argument, though it does make you wonder. Rather, Strawson exploited the fact that almost any referring expression, whether an indexical, demonstrative, proper name, or definite description, can be used to refer to (...) different things in different contexts. This fact, he argued, is enough to show that what refers are speakers, not expressions. Here he didn’t take seriously the perfectly coherent view that an expression’s reference can vary with context. So, he concluded, what varies from context to context is not what a given expression refers to but what a speaker uses it to refer to. Strawson went on to suggest that there are several dimensions of difference between various sorts of referring expressions: degree of dependence on context, degree of “descriptive meaning,” and being governed by a general convention vs. an expressionspecific one. But despite these differences, he insisted that regardless of kind, referring expressions don’t themselves refer — speakers use them to refer. (shrink)
All sorts of things are context-dependent in one way or another. What it is appropriate to wear, to give, or to reveal depends on the context. Whether or not it is all right to lie, harm, or even kill depends on the context. If you google the phrase ‘depends on the context’, you’ll get several hundred million results. This chapter aims to narrow that down. In this context the topic is context dependence in language and its use. It is commonly (...) observed that the same sentence can be used to convey different things in different contexts. That is why people complain when something they say is ‘taken out of context’ and insist that it be ‘put into context’, because ‘context makes it clear’ what they meant. Indeed, it is practically a platitude that what a speaker means in uttering a certain sentence, as well as how her audience understands her, ‘depends on the context’. But just what does that amount to, and to what extent is it true? (shrink)
Stanley’s insightful new book refines his earlier formulation of intellectualism. Indeed, it does a whole lot more, but leaves open some tough questions. He makes a powerful case for the view that knowing how to do something is to know, of a certain way, that one could do that thing in that way. But he says surprisingly little about what ways are, and how they might differ, depending on the kind of case. And he doesn't exclude the possibility that in (...) some cases what one knows in knowing-how is a way of doing something rather than a fact about a way of doing it. (shrink)
The theory of speech acts is partly taxonomic and partly explanatory. It must systematically classify types of speech acts and the ways in which they can succeed or fail. It must reckon with the fact that the relationship between the words being used and the force of their utterance is often oblique. For example, the sentence 'This is a pig sty' might be used nonliterally to state that a certain room is messy and filthy and, further, to demand indirectly that (...) it be straightened out and cleaned up. Even when this sentence is used literally and directly, say to describe a certain area of a barnyard, the content of its utterance is not fully determined by its linguistic meaning--in particular, the meaning of the word 'this' does not determine which area is being referred to. A major task for the theory of speech acts is to account for how speakers can succeed in what they do despite the various ways in which linguistic meaning underdetermines use. (shrink)
Influenced by the Wittgensteinian slogan “Don’t look for the meaning, look for the use,” ordinary language philosophers aimed to defuse various philosophical problems by analyzing key words in terms of what they are used to do or the conditions for appropriately using them. Although Moore, Grice and Searle exposed this error – mixing pragmatics with semantics – it still gets committed, now to a different end. Nowadays the aim is to reckon with the fact that the meanings of a great (...) many sentences underdetermine what we would normally mean in using them – even if the sentence is free of indexicality, ambiguity, and vagueness. This can be so because the sentence expresses a “minimal” proposition or even because it doesn’t fully express any proposition. Many theorists are led to defend “truth-conditional pragmatics” (or linguistic “contextualism”), to find a hidden indexical in every syntactic nook or semantic cranny, or otherwise to pay undue respect to seemingly semantic intuitions and intentions. This paper identifies various such moves and explains what’s regressive about them. (shrink)
The Millian view that the meaning of a proper name is simply its referent has long been popular among philosophers of language. It might even be deemed the orthodox view, despite its well-known difficulties. Fregean and Russellian alternatives, though widely discussed, are much less popular. The Predicate View has not even been taken seriously, at least until fairly recently, but finally, it is receiving the attention it deserves. It says that a name expresses the property of bearing that name. Despite (...) its apparent shortcomings, it has a distinct virtue: It straightforwardly reckons with the fact that proper names generally have multiple bearers and are sometimes used to ascribe the property of bearing a name rather than to refer to a particular bearer of the name. It holds that proper names are much the same as common nouns, both semantically and syntactically, with only superficial differences. They both can be quantified and modified. The main difference, at least in English, is that when used to refer a proper name, unlike a common noun, is not preceded by the definite article. The Predicate View accounts for manifestly predicative uses, but to be vindicated, it needs to do justice to the fact that the main use of proper names is to refer. (shrink)
Paul Grice warned that ‘the nature of conventional implicature needs to be examined before any free use of it, for explanatory purposes, can be indulged in’ (1978/1989: 46). Christopher Potts heeds this warning, brilliantly and boldly. Starting with a definition drawn from Grice’s few brief remarks on the subject, he distinguishes conventional implicature from other phenomena with which it might be confused, identifies a variety of common but little-studied kinds of expressions that give rise to it, and develops a formal, (...) multidimensional semantic framework for systematically capturing its distinctive character. The book is a virtuosic blend of astute descriptive observations and technically sophisticated formulations. Fortunately for the technically unsophisticated reader, the descriptive observations can be appreciated on their own. (shrink)
In Reference and Reflexivity, John Perry tries to reconcile referentialism with a Fregean concern for cognitive significance. His trick is to supplement referential content with what he calls ‘‘reflexive’’ content. Actually, there are several levels of reflexive content, all to be distinguished from the ‘‘official,’’ referential content of an utterance. Perry is convinced by two arguments for referentialism, the ‘‘counterfactual truth-conditions’’ and the ‘‘same-saying’’ arguments, but he also acknowledges the force of two Fregean arguments against it, arguments that pose the (...) ‘‘coreference’’ and the ‘‘no-reference’’ problems. He sees these as genuine problems for referentialism and does not share Howard Wettstein’s (1986) view that semantics has ‘‘rested on a mistake,’’ the mistake of thinking that semantics is obliged to come to grips with ‘‘cognitive significance’’ and, in particular, to explain the fact that coreferring terms can differ in cognitive significance and that terms lacking in reference can still have cognitive significance. Perry points out that ‘‘there is nothing in [the arguments for referentialism] to show that the official content, rather than the reflexive content, is the key to understanding the cognitive motivation and impact of utterances’’ (Perry 2001, 193).1 In other words, ‘‘a theory of direct reference provides no argument for ignoring reflexive content, and, properly understood, has no motivation for searching for such an argument.’’ Thus Perry uses the notion of reflexive content to complement referentialism with a theory of cognitive significance. Frege drew a fundamental distinction between the reference of a term and the means by which its reference is determined. In his view, however, it is not the references themselves but the means by which they are determined that enter into propositions (‘‘Thoughts’’) expressed by sentences in which the terms occur. So we might call Frege an ‘indirect reference’ theorist. Echoing the introduction to Kaplan’s ‘‘Afterthoughts’’ (1989a), Perry stresses that ‘direct’, as it occurs in ‘direct reference’, does not imply that ‘‘the mechanism of reference is unmediated by the relation of fitting identifying conditions’’ (188). (shrink)
This article makes a number of points about reference, both speaker reference and linguistic (or semantic) reference. The bottom line is simple: reference ain't easy — at least not nearly as easy as commonly supposed. Much of what speakers do that passes for reference is really something else, and much of what passes for linguistic reference is really nothing more than speaker reference. Referring is one of the basic things we do with words, and it would be a good idea (...) to understand what that involves and requires before worrying about the linguistic means by which this is done. (shrink)