The boundary between semantics and pragmatics has been important since the early twentieth century, but in the last twenty-five years it has become the central issue in the philosophy of language. This anthology collects classic philosophical papers on the topic, along with recent key contributions. It stresses not only the nature of the boundary, but also its importance for philosophy generally.
This article has two aims. The ﬁrst is to introduce some novel data that highlight rather surprising pragmatic abilities in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The second is to consider a possible implication of these data for an emerging empirical methodology in philosophy of language and mind. In pursuing the ﬁrst aim, we expect our main audience to be clinicians and linguists interested in pragmatics. It is when we turn to methodological issues that we hope to pique the interest of philosophers. (...) Still, the methodological issue becomes pressing precisely because of the empirical ﬁnding—thus the ﬁrst part is important for the philosophical readers as well. The game plan is as follows. Given our intended dual audience, we begin with background on autism and pragmatics. Some of this material will be familiar to some of our readership, but few will know all of it. (Those who do are invited to skip these sections.) We then present some results from our pilot study on a corpus of speech by people with ASD. The heart of our ﬁnding is that certain speakers with ASD, who have severe trouble with familiar pragmatic phenomena such as metaphor and conversational implicature, exhibit surprising abilities with respect to what is often called “pragmatic determinants of what is said.” We turn next to a possible implication of this ﬁnding: It seems to suggest that hitherto seemingly promising evidence from ASD about the semantics/pragmatics boundary is.. (shrink)
We revisit a debate initiated some 15 years ago by Ray Elugardo and Robert Stainton about the domain of arguments. Our main result is that arguments are not exclusively sets of linguistic expressions. Instead, as we put it, some non-linguistic items have ‘logical form’. The crucial examples are arguments, both deductive and inductive, made with unembedded words and phrases. … subsentential expressions such as singular terms and predicates… cannot serve as premises or conclusions in inferences.
What distinguishes full-on stating a proposition from merely communicating it? For instance, what distinguishes claiming/asserting/saying that one has never smoked crack cocaine from merely implying/conveying/hinting this? The enormous literature on ‘assertion’ provides many approaches to distinguishing stating from, say, asking and commanding: only the former aims at truth; only the former expresses one's belief; etc. But this leaves my question unanswered, since in merely communicating a proposition one also aims at truth, expresses a belief, etc. My aim is not to (...) criticize extant accounts of the state-versus-merely-convey contrast, but rather to draw on clues from Dummett, functional linguistics and moral theory, to offer a novel one. The main idea is that full-on stating is distinctively conventionalized in a way that conversationally implicating, hinting, giving to understand, etc., are not. Specifically, full-on stating is constitutively tied to a particular conventional, linguistic, function-bearing device, the declarative sentence. To full-on state that p is to hit that ‘target speech act’ which owes its existence to that special-purpose device. It is therefore also to make one's action lie-prone. Nonetheless, once that sui generis target is there to be aimed for, a person may reach it without using the special-purpose tool—e.g. one may full-on state using a mere word or phrase, or coded hand signals, or semaphore. I end by considering several philosophical implications of this means of capturing the contrast. (shrink)
This article introduces three arguments that share a single conclusion: that a comprehensive science of language cannot describe relations of semantic reference, i.e. word–world relations. Spelling this out, if there is to be a genuine science of linguistic meaning, then a theory of meaning cannot involve assigning external, real-world, objects to names, nor sets of external objects to predicates, nor truth values to sentences. Most of the article tries to explain and defend this broad conclusion. The article also presents, in (...) a very limited way, a positive alternative to external-referent semantics for expressions. This alternative has two parts: first, that the meanings of words and sentences are mental instructions, not external things; second, that it is people who refer by using words and sentences, and word/sentence meanings play but a partial role in allowing speakers to talk about the world. (shrink)
The restricted semantic ellipsis hypothesis, we have argued, is committed to an enormous number of multiply ambiguous expressions, the introduction of which gains us no extra explanatory power. We should, therefore, reject it. We should also spurn the original version since: (a) it entails the restricted version and (b) it incorrectly declares that, whenever a speaker makes an assertion by uttering an unembedded word or phrase, the expression uttered has illocutionary force.Once rejected, the semantic ellipsis hypothesis cannot account for the (...) many exceptions to the syntactic ellipsis hypothesis. So, we can safely infer that the Claim is true.(1)The Claim: Speakers can make assertions by uttering ordinary, unembedded, words and phrases.To the degree that the Claim reallyis in tension with the primacy of sentences (i.e., the view that (a) only sentences can be used to make assertions and (b) only sentences are meaningful in isolation) this doctrine must also be rejected. (shrink)
Vernacularism is the view that logical forms are fundamentally assigned to natural language expressions, and are only derivatively assigned to anything else, e.g., propositions, mental representations, expressions of symbolic logic, etc. In this paper, we argue that Vernacularism is not as plausible as it first appears because of non-sentential speech. More specifically, there are argument-premises, meant by speakers of non-sentences, for which no natural language paraphrase is readily available in the language used by the speaker and the hearer. The speaker (...) can intend this proposition and the hearer can recover it (and its logical form). Since they cannot, by hypothesis, be doing this by using a sentence of their shared language, the proposition-meant has its logical form non-derivatively, which falsifies Vernacularism. We conclude the paper with a brief review of the debate on incomplete definite descriptions in which Vernacularism is assumed as a suppressed premise. (shrink)
My modest aim in this note is to sketch three interrelated critiques of public languages, and to respond to them. All are broadly Chomskyan, and all support the same conclusion: that, insofar as they even exist, the study of public languages is not a viable scientific project. (Related critiques of semantics, understood as involving word–world relations, will be touched on as well).
It has become something of a truism that people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have difficulties with pragmatics. Granting this, however, it is important to keep in mind that there are numerous kinds of pragmatic ability. One very important divide lies between those pragmatic competences which pertain to non-literal contents – as in, for instance, metaphor, irony and Gricean conversational implicatures – and those which pertain to the literal contents of speech acts. It is against this backdrop that our question (...) arises: Are certain pragmatic tasks more difficult than others for people with ASD? (shrink)
It seems to me that the argument has a certain initial plausibility, especially when ‘sentence’, ‘used in isolation’ and ‘meaning in isolation’ are explicated in a certain way. ~For instance, one must take sentences to include elliptical sentences; and one must take ‘use in isolation’ to entail use in the performance of a genuine speech act.! It also seems to me that the argument is important. For one thing, the Conclusion can be recruited in reasoning to the effect that, because..
Our first aim in this paper is to respond to four novel objections in Jason Stanley's 'Context and Logical Form'. Taken together, those objections attempt to debunk our prior claims that one can perform a genuine speech act by using a subsentential expression—where by 'subsentential expression' we mean an ordinary word or phrase, not embedded in any larger syntactic structure. Our second aim is to make it plausible that, pace Stanley, there really are pragmatic determinants of the literal truthconditional content (...) of speech acts. We hope to achieve this second aim precisely by defending the genuineness of subsentential speech acts. Given our two aims, it is necessary to highlight briefly their connection—which we do in the first part of the Introduction. Following that, we introduce Stanley's novel objections. This is the role of the second part of the Introduction. We offer our rebuttals in Section 2 (against 'shorthand') and Section 3 (against syntactic ellipsis, among other things). (shrink)
Michael Dummett has nicely expressed a rather widespread doctrine about the primacy of sentences. He writes: "you cannot DO anything with a word — cannot effect any conventional act by uttering it — save by uttering some sentence containing that word ...". In this paper we argue that this doctrine is mistaken: it is not only sentences, but also ordinary words and phrases which can be used in isolation. The argument involves two steps. First: we show — using Sperber and (...) Wilson's relevance theory — that an utterance of "John's father" could COMMUNICATE a proposition. Second: we point out that, in this context, this proposition would be asserted rather than merely implicated. Because there is nothing importantly idiosyncratic about the phrase "John's father", we infer that words and phrases generally can be used in isolation to make assertions. (shrink)
Philosophical theorizing about language now involves an increasing emphasis on empirical work and a renewed convergence with philosophy of mind, formal semantics and logic. This new text reflects this evolution. -/- Philosophical Perspectives on Language is distinguished in several important respects from other introductions to the topic. Rather than looking at philosophy of language as a collection of (at best) loosely related topics—speech acts, demonstratives, sense and reference, truth and meaning, etc.—this book is organized around a unifying theme: language as (...) a system of symbols that is known and used. (shrink)
This is the only contemporary text to cover both epistemology and philosophy of mind at an introductory level. It also serves as a general introduction to philosophy: it discusses the nature and methods of philosophy as well as basic logical tools of the trade. The book is divided into three parts. The first focuses on knowledge, in particular, skepticism and knowledge of the external world, and knowledge of language. The second focuses on mind, including the metaphysics of mind and freedom (...) of will. The third brings together knowledge and mind, discussing knowledge of mind and naturalism and how epistemology and philosophy of mind come together in contemporary cognitive science. Throughout, the authors take into account the needs of the beginning philosophy student. They have made very effort to ensure accessibility while preserving accuracy. (shrink)
Speakers often use ordinary words and phrases, unembedded in any sentence, to perform speech acts—or so it appears. In some cases appearances are deceptive: The seemingly lexical/phrasal utterance may really be an utterance of a syntactically eplliptical sentence. I argue however that, at least sometimes, plain old words and phrases are used on their own. The use of both words/phrases and elliptical sentences leads to two consequences: 1. Context must contribute more to utterance meaning than is often supposed. Here's why: (...) The semantic type of normal words and phrases is non-proppositional, even after the usual contextual features are added . Yet an utterance of a word/phrase can be fully propositional. 2. Often, a hearer does not need to know the exact identity of the expression uttered, to understand an utterance. The reason: Typically, words/phrases in context will sound the same, and mean the same, as some elliptical sentence token. (shrink)
Philosophical theorizing about language now involves an increasing emphasis on empirical work and a renewed convergence with philosophy of mind, formal semantics and logic. This new text reflects this evolution. _Philosophical Perspectives on Language_ is distinguished in several important respects from other introductions to the topic. Rather than looking at philosophy of language as a collection of loosely related topics—speech acts, demonstratives, sense and reference, truth and meaning, etc.—this book is organized around a unifying theme: language as a system of (...) symbols that is known and used. (shrink)
We discuss two kinds of quotation, namely indirect quotation (e.g., 'Anita said that Mexico is beautiful') and pure quotation (e.g., 'Mexico' has six letters). With respect to each, we have both a negative and a positive plaint. The negative plaint is that the strict Davidsonian (1968, 1979a) treatment of indirect and pure quotation cannot be correct. The positive plaint is an alternative account of how quotation of these two sorts works.
Are there really such things as public languages? Are things like English and Urdu mere myths? I urge that, despite an intriguing line of thought which may be extracted from Davidson’s ‘A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs’, philosophers are right to countenance such things in their final ontology. The argument rebutted, which I concede may not have been one which Davidson himself ultimately embraced, is that knowledge of a public language is neither necessary nor sufficient for successful conversational interaction, so that (...) such shared languages are explanatorily otiose. In particular, the ability of interlocutors to communicate in the face of linguistic novelty and error seems to support this conclusion. I respond with two main points. First, initial impressions aside, knowledge of things like English and Urdu is explanatorily necessary. Second, even if successful conversation could be explained without positing such knowledge, we have other reasons to take public languages ontologically seriously. Th.. (shrink)
Does scientific psychology have a legitimate role to play in the philosophy of language? For example, is it methodologically permissible for philosophers of language to rely upon evidence from neurological development, experiments about processing, brain scans, clinical case histories, longitudinal studies, questionnaires, etc.? If so, why? These two questions are the focus of this survey. I address them in two stages. It may seem obvious that the science of psychology is relevant. I thus begin by introducing arguments against relevance, to (...) motivate the discussion. I will urge that these arguments ultimately fail, and that the appearance of relevance should be taken at face value. Next, I introduce positive arguments for relevance, with examples. To foreshadow the main conclusion, the methods and results of contemporary cognitive psychology are relevant because there are non-obvious connections, both constitutive and contingent, between language and human psychology. (shrink)
Definite descriptions (e.g. 'The king of France in 1997', 'The teacher of Aristotle') do not stand for particulars. Or so I will assume. The semantic alternative has seemed to be that descriptions only have meaning within sentences: i.e., that their semantic contribution is given syncategorimatically. This doesn't seem right, however, because descriptions can be used and understood outside the context of any sentence. Nor is this use simply a matter of "ellipsis." Since descriptions do not denote particulars, but seem to (...) have a meaning in isolation, I propose that they be assigned generalized quantifiers as denotations — i.e. a kind of function, from sets/properties to propositions. I then defend the pragmatic plausibility of this proposal, using Relevance Theory. Specifically, I argue that, even taken as standing for generalized quantifiers, descriptions could still be used and understood in interpersonal communication. (shrink)
The paper discusses in detail John Perry's important article “Davidson's Sentences and Wittgenstein's Builders“. Perry argues, on the basis of Wittgenstein's famous block/slab language, that words make direct metasemantic contact with the world. The present paper urges that, while Perry's conclusions are correct and important, the arguments provided for them, in his 1994 article, ignore essential features of genuine words in natural language. A more empirically-oriented alternative tactic for supporting the same philosophical conclusions is then provided, and its advantages and (...) disadvantages are weighed. (shrink)
From the perspective of certain contextualists, the most worrisome theses of Cappelen & Lepore’s Insensitive Semantics would seem to be: T1: The only context sensitive items are the basic and obvious ones, i.e., pronouns, demonstratives, etc.; T2: Once referents are assigned to these basic and obvious items in a (declarative) sentence, that sentence has truth conditions; T3: This truth-conditional content is asserted when the sentence is used; T4: The content of the assertion made is not thereby fixed, however, because speech (...) act content depends upon features beyond the utterance context; T5: The relativized truth conditions are psychologically relevant. (shrink)
I met Ernie in 1965 on the wrestling mats of our high school in North Bergen, New Jersey, a township on top of the plateau overlooking Hoboken and across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Hoboken then was still the Hoboken of Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront” (1954).1 Even though the Hudson was less than a mile across at that point, it was a wide spiritual divide. We were Jersey boys, not New Yorkers. Ernie was as ambitious as I was about (...) wrestling, and, so, after the season was over, we used to take a bus to Journal Square in Jersey City, and then walk about eight city blocks to a gym to lift weights. In those days, high schools didn’t have weight rooms; and gyms were scarce, men only, quite ﬁlthy, and entirely devoid of cardio equipment and Nautilus machines. They were all sweat, grunts, groans, and clanking iron. By 1968, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, after a grueling wrestling practice at the high school, we would take a bus to New York City (it took about a half hour to get into “the City” by bus, less if the Lincoln Tunnel was not crowded), and then a short subway ride up to the New York Athletic Club on 59th street, across from Central Park, to spend a couple of hours working out with former university wrestling stars—guys in their mid-twenties from places like Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Iowa—who were training to make the Olympic team. Even with all of this wrestling time, we were frustrated by the fact that there was nowhere to work out on Sundays. We investigated and found out that the Jersey City YMCA had a wrestling mat and was open on Sundays. We then spent our Sunday afternoons working out there, so as not to miss a day of wrestling. Wrestling was our savior: a healthy way to get out anger.2 But it wasn’t all wrestling. We did something else too: We talked. We spent many hours together introspecting out loud, and just trying to make sense of things. Ernie has mentioned in print one early topic of discussion: “We spent years trying to solve various logical conundra like how on earth the Virgin Mary could have been a virgin.... (shrink)
This paper discusses, in a preliminary manner, what revenge is. (It does not address the rationality or moral standing of revenge.) In particular, it proposes four elements of revenge --an agent, a recipient, a harm intended by the former, and a harm done by the latter which provokes the revenge. Based on these four elements, it highlights both agent-internal conditions for getting revenge, and agent-external ones. Along the way, the paper contrasts revenge with related phenomena like merely getting even, and (...) retribution. /// Este trabajo discute de manera preliminar lo que es la venganza. (No considera la racionalidad ni la moralidad de la venganza.) En particular, propone cuatro elementos de la venganza: un agente, un receptor, un daño que el primero tiene la intención de hacer, y un daño hecho por el segundo que provoca la venganza. Basándose en estos cuatro elementos, resaltan tanto las condiciones internas del agente como las externas a él para obtener venganza. A lo largo del trabajo se contrasta la venganza con fenómenos relacionados como el de desquitarse y la retribución. (shrink)
Cappelen and Lepore's "Uarieties of Quotation" builds on Davidson (1968, 1979) to give an account of mixed quotation. The result is a hach paper, which introduces interesting data and raises many thought-provoking questions. Given this, I can't possibly discuss the paper in its entirety. Instead, I intend simply to paraphrase their position, develop it a little, and then raise a few concerns.
In a 2007 paper, we argued that speakers with Autism Spectrum Disorders exhibit pragmatic abilities which are surprising given the usual understanding of communication in that group. That is, it is commonly reported that people diagnosed with an ASD have trouble with metaphor, irony, conversational implicature and other non-literal language. This is not a matter of trouble with knowledge and application of rules of grammar. The difficulties lie, rather, in successful communicative interaction. Though we did find pragmatic errors within literal (...) talk, the transcribed conversations we studied showed many, many successes. A second paper reinforced our finding of a general level of success. It considered differences within the class of pragmatically-inflected yet literal speech acts. The present paper carries our project forward. It overcomes some of the methodological limitations of the second paper, by increasing sample size, and looking at frequency of use rather than just seeming errors. It also includes a control sample. The emerging results are two-fold. On the one hand, there was a slight, statistically significant difference in frequency of use between our participants and the controls in four sub-categories: indexicals, possessives, polysemy and degree on a scale. In all four, the participants diagnosed with ASDs had fewer occurrences overall, relative to controls. On the other hand, there was no significant difference in error rates between ASDs and controls — not in any of the eight categories of pragmatic determinants of literal content that we coded for. The upshot is that, though there were less-preferred forms for participants with ASDs, they do very well indeed with pragmatic determinants of literal content. (shrink)
This book chapter is not currently available in ORA. Citation: Williamson, T. Can cognition be factorised into internal and external components? In: Stainton, R. Contemporary debates in cognitive science. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 291-306.