I offer a novel solution to the problem of counterfactual skepticism: the worry that all contingent counterfactuals without explicit probabilities in the consequent are false. I argue that a specific kind of contextualist semantics and pragmatics for would- and might-counterfactuals can block both central routes to counterfactual skepticism. One, it can explain the clash between would- and might-counterfactuals as in: If you had dropped that vase, it would have broken. and If you had dropped that vase, it might have safely (...) quantum tunneled to China. Two, it can explain why counterfactuals like can be true despite the fact that quantum tunneling worlds are among the most similar worlds. I further argue that this brand of contextualism accounts for the data better than other existing solutions to the problem. (shrink)
The classic Lewis-Stalnaker semantics for counterfactuals captures that Sobel sequences are consistent sequences, for example: a.If Sophie had gone to the parade, she would have seen Pedro dance. b.But if Sophie had gone to the parade and been stuck behind someone tall, she would not have seen Pedro dance. But reverse a sequence like this one and it no longer sounds so good, which is surprising on the classic semantics. This observation motivated Kai von Fintel and Thony Gillies to propose (...) dynamic semantic accounts of counterfactual conditionals. Subsequently, Sarah Moss defended the classic semantics against the charge that it need be abandoned in the face of these order effects, arguing that the infelicity of the reverse sequences is pragmatic. I argue that both accounts are ultimately untenable, but each account has strengths. Seeing what works and what doesn't in each account points the way to the right positive view. With this in mind, I defend a contextualist account of counterfactuals that takes conversational relevance to play a central role. (shrink)
One of the central questions of discourse dynamics is when an anaphoric pronoun is licensed. This paper addresses this question as it pertains to the complex data involving anaphora and negation. It is commonly held that negation blocks anaphoric potential, for example, we cannot say “Bill doesn’t have a car. It is black”. However, there are many exceptions to this generalization. This paper examines a variety of types of discourses in which anaphora on indefinites under the scope of negation is (...) felicitous. These cases are not just of intrinsic interest, but I argue present serious problems for the dynamic semantic framework, which builds the licensing facts into the semantics. I argue in favor of adopting a dynamic pragmatics, a theory that explains context change through general Gricean principles, and combining it with a static, d-type theory of anaphora, in which pronouns go proxy for definite descriptions. (shrink)
I suspect the answer to the question in the title of this paper is no. But the scope of my paper will be considerably more limited: I will be concerned with whether certain types of considerations that are commonly cited in favor of dynamic semantics do in fact push us towards a dynamic semantics. Ultimately, I will argue that the evidence points to a dynamics of discourse that is best treated pragmatically, rather than as part of the semantics.
Both definite descriptions and pronouns are often anaphoric; that is, part of their interpretation in context depends on prior linguistic material in the discourse. For example: A student walked in. The student sat down. A student walked in. She sat down. One popular view of anaphoric pronouns, the d-type view, is that pronouns like ‘she’ go proxy for definite descriptions like ‘the student who walked in’, which are in turn treated in a classical Russellian or Fregean fashion. I argue for (...) a novel version of the d-type view in which anaphoric definites are restricted existential quantifiers that presuppose discourse uniqueness, which is uniqueness of discourse referent in the context, rather than uniqueness of object in the world. In other words, the anaphoric definites ‘the student’ and ‘she’ in and presuppose that there is a single object under discussion that is a student who walked in. I further argue that, by contrast, non-anaphoric definites are restricted existential quantifiers that presuppose worldly uniqueness, that is, that there is a unique object in the world that satisfies the descriptive information. The semantics for anaphoric and non-anaphoric definites accounts for the differences in truth conditions in discourses involving the two different types of definites, improving on existing accounts. It is further supported by crosslinguistic data. The semantics is formally implemented in a static system employing quantifier domain restriction in the style of Stanley and Szabo :219–261, 2000) and extended to account for bridging definites and donkey sentences. (shrink)
Context-sensitivity raises a metasemantic question: what determines the value of a context-sensitive expression in context? Taking gradable adjectives as a case study, this paper argues against various forms of intentionalist metasemantics, i.e. that speaker intentions determine values for context-sensitive expressions in context, including the coordination account recently defended by King :219–237, 2014a; in: Burgess, Sherman Metasemantics: New essays on the foundations of meaning, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 97–118, 2014b). The paper argues that all intentionalist accounts face the speaker authority (...) problem, that speaker intentions are just the wrong sorts of things to determine the standards for gradable adjectives in context. The problem comes to light when we look at cases in which speakers have idiosyncratic, false beliefs that cause their proper communicative intentions to come apart from the non-intentional features of context like the question under discussion, facts about the world, practical goals, and prior linguistic discourse. (shrink)
Discourse dynamics, pragmatics, and indefinites Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-30 DOI 10.1007/s11098-012-9882-y Authors Karen S. Lewis, Department of Philosophy, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA Journal Philosophical Studies Online ISSN 1573-0883 Print ISSN 0031-8116.
ABSTRACT The most common answers to metasemantic questions regarding context-sensitive expressions appeal primarily to speakers' intentions. Having rejected intentionalism in Lewis [.” Erkenntnis 85: 1527–1555.], this paper takes a non-intentionalist perspective in answering the metasemantic question: how does a context determine the value of context-sensitive expressions? It focuses on the case of gradable adjectives, i.e. expressions like ‘tall’, ‘expensive’, and ‘rich’, which require a contextually determined standard in the unmarked positive form, as in ‘Pia is tall’. I argue that this (...) standard is determined by a salient comparison class, which, when embedded in the relevant facts, provides input into statistical reasoning which outputs a standard in accordance with conversational domain goals. (shrink)
This article focuses on foundational issues in dynamic and static semantics, specifically on what is conceptually at stake between the dynamic framework and the truth-conditional framework, and consequently what kinds of evidence support each framework. The article examines two questions. First, it explores the consequences of taking the proposition as central semantic notion as characteristic of static semantics, and argues that this is not as limiting in accounting for discourse dynamics as many think. Specifically, it explores what it means for (...) a static semantics to incorporate the notion of context change potential in a dynamic pragmatics and denies that this conception of static semantics requires that all updates to the context be eliminative and distributive. Second, it argues that the central difference between the two frameworks is whether semantics or pragmatics accounts for dynamics, and explores what this means for the oft-heard claim that dynamic semantics blurs the semantics/pragmatics distinction. (shrink)