Recently, there has been a shift away from traditional truth-conditional accounts of meaning towards non-truth-conditional ones, e.g., expressivism, relativism and certain forms of dynamic semantics. Fueling this trend is some puzzling behavior of modal discourse. One particularly surprising manifestation of such behavior is the alleged failure of some of the most entrenched classical rules of inference; viz., modus ponens and modus tollens. These revisionary, non-truth-conditional accounts tout these failures, and the alleged tension between the behavior of modal vocabulary and classical (...) logic, as data in support of their departure from tradition, since the revisionary semantics invalidate some of these patterns. I, instead, offer a semantics for modality with the resources to accommodate the puzzling data while preserving classical logic, thus affirming the tradition that modals express ordinary truth-conditional content. My account shows that the real lesson of the apparent counterexamples is not the one the critics draw, but rather one they missed: namely, that there are linguistic mechanisms, reflected in the logical form, that affect the interpretation of modal language in a context in a systematic and precise way, which have to be captured by any adequate semantic account of the interaction between discourse context and modal vocabulary. The semantic theory I develop specifies these mechanisms and captures precisely how they affect the interpretation of modals in a context, and do so in a way that both explains the appearance of the putative counterexamples and preserves classical logic. (shrink)
Natural languages are riddled with context-sensitivity. One and the same string of words can express many different meanings on occasion of use, and yet we understand one another effortlessly, on the fly. How do we do so? What fixes the meaning of context-sensitive expressions, and how are we able to recover the meaning so effortlessly? -/- This book offers a novel response: we can do so because we draw on a broad array of subtle linguistic conventions that determine the interpretation (...) of context-sensitive items. Contrary to the dominant tradition, which maintains that the meaning of context-sensitive language is underspecified by grammar and that interpretation relies on non-linguistic cues and speakers' intentions, this book argues that meaning is determined entirely by discourse conventions, rules of language that have largely been missed and the effects of which have been mistaken for extra-linguistic effects of an utterance situation on meaning. The linguistic account of context developed here sheds new light on the nature of linguistic content and the interaction between content and context. At the same time, it provides a novel model of context that should constrain and help evaluate debates across many subfields of philosophy where appeal to context has been common, often leading to surprising conclusions such as epistemology, ethics, value theory, metaphysics, metaethics, and logic. (shrink)
Traditionally, pronouns are treated as ambiguous between bound and demonstrative uses. Bound uses are non-referential and function as bound variables, and demonstrative uses are referential and take as a semantic value their referent, an object picked out jointly by linguistic meaning and a further cue—an accompanying demonstration, an appropriate and adequately transparent speaker’s intention, or both. In this paper, we challenge tradition and argue that both demonstrative and bound pronouns are dependent on, and co-vary with, antecedent expressions. Moreover, the semantic (...) value of a pronoun is never determined, even partly, by extra-linguistic cues; it is fixed, invariably and unambiguously, by features of its context of use governed entirely by linguistic rules. We exploit the mechanisms of Centering and Coherence theories to develop a precise and general meta-semantics for pronouns, according to which the semantic value of a pronoun is determined by what is at the center of attention in a coherent discourse. Since the notions of attention and coherence are, we argue, governed by linguistic rules, we can give a uniform analysis of pronoun resolution that covers bound, demonstrative, and even discourse bound readings. Just as the semantic value of the first-person pronoun ‘I’ is conventionally set by a particular feature of its context of use—namely, the speaker—so too, we will argue, the semantic values of other pronouns, including ‘he’, are conventionally set by particular features of the context of use. (shrink)
The standing tradition in theorizing about meaning, since at least Frege, identifies meaning with propositions, which are, or determine, the truth-conditions of a sentence in a context. But a recent trend has advocated a departure from this tradition: in particular, it has been argued that modal claims do not express standard propositional contents. This non-propositionalism has received different implementations in expressivist semantics and certain kinds of dynamic semantics. They maintain that the key aspect of interpretation of modal claims is the (...) characteristic dynamic effect they have on the context. I argue that pessimism about truth-conditions arises from an overly simplistic picture of content, context and their interaction. While I agree with the critics that an important aspect of modal meaning is the dynamic effect modals have on the context, I argue that they have mischaracterized the nature and the complexity of this effect. A more nuanced account of the interaction between modals and context shows that far from being incompatible with propositional meaning, the dynamic aspect of meaning is precisely what allows us to predict the correct propositional content of an utterance. (shrink)
The Rigidity Thesis states that no rigid term can have the same semantic content as a nonrigid one. Drawing on Dummett (1973; 1991), Evans (1979; 1982), and Lewis (1980), Stanley (1997a; 1997b; 2002) rejects the thesis since it relies on an illicit identification of compositional semantic content and the content of assertion (henceforth, assertoric content). I argue that Stanley’s critique of the Rigidity Thesis fails since it places constraints on assertoric content that cannot be satisfied by any plausible notion of (...) content appropriately related to compositional semantic content. For similar reasons, I also challenge a recent two-dimensionalist defense of Stanley by Ninan (2012). The moral is far-reaching: any theory that invokes a distinction between semantic and assertoric contents is unsatisfactory unless it can plausibly explain the connection between them. (shrink)
We all make mistakes in pronunciation and spelling, but a common view is that there are limits beyond which a mistaken pronunciation or spelling becomes too dramatic to be recognized as of a particular word at all. These considerations have bolstered a family of accounts that invoke speaker intentions and standards for tolerance as determinants of which word, if any, an utterance tokens. I argue this is a mistake. Neither intentions nor standards of tolerance are necessary or sufficient (individually or (...) jointly) for determining which word an utterance tokens. Instead, drawing in part on empirical research on word production, I offer an alternative account, Originalism-plus-Transfer (OPT), according to which word tokening depends entirely on lexical selection during word production, and on how the selected lexical item is situated within the network of causal/historical connections leading back to its neologizing. Once the elements of my account are in place, as a bonus, we will have resources for a promising answer to the question of word individuation as well. (shrink)
The traditional view is that 'now’ is a pure indexical, denoting the utterance time. Yet, despite its initial appeal, the view has faced criticism. A range of data reveal 'now’ allows for discourse-bound (i.e., anaphoric) uses, and can occur felicitously with the past tense. The reaction to this has typically been to treat ‘now’ as akin to a true demonstrative, selecting the prominent time supplied by the non-linguistic context or prior discourse. We argue this is doubly mistaken. The first mistake (...) concerns the semantic value of ‘now’, which is not a time, but a state — the consequent state of a prominent event. The second is that ‘now’ is a pure indexical after all, insofar as its interpretation is determined without recourse to extra-linguistic supplementation. Specifically, we argue that any occurrence of 'now’ selects the consequent state of the most prominent event, where event-prominence is linguistically maintained through prominence-affecting updates contributed by coherence relations. Our analysis accounts straightforwardly for a wide range of discourse initial and discourse bound uses of ‘now’, while giving it a simple indexical meaning. (shrink)
In demonstration, speakers use real-world activity both for its practical effects and to help make their points. The demonstrations of origami mathematics, for example, reconfigure pieces of paper by folding, while simultaneously allowing their author to signal geometric inferences. Demonstration challenges us to explain how practical actions can get such precise significance and how this meaning compares with that of other representations. In this paper, we propose an explanation inspired by David Lewis’s characterizations of coordination and scorekeeping in conversation. In (...) particular, we argue that words, gestures, diagrams and demonstrations can function together as integrated ensembles that contribute to conversation, because interlocutors use them in parallel ways to coordinate updates to the conversational record. (shrink)
The dominant view maintains that names are directly referring, rigid terms, the primary function of which is to designate an individual. But, as has long been noted, proper names also allow for predicative uses and combine with quantifiers and definite, indefinite, and numerical determiners. Any adequate semantic account of proper names thus must make sense not just of their referential uses but also of their seemingly predicative ones. Predicativists maintain that such uses manifest a name’s semantically encoded, predicative meaning, while (...) the directly referential theorists argue that they involve polysemic or pragmatic, metalinguistic re-interpretations. But while competing accounts differ radically in their analyses of such uses, they all, in the wake of Kripke’s attack on descriptivism, share a common feature: they interpret a predicative use of a name N as expressing (either semantically or pragmatically) the property of being called N. I argue that no such account of predicative uses currently on offer is successful. Indeed, adequately characterizing being called condition is more difficult than has been appreciated. The best attempt—on predicative and directly referential accounts alike—leaves a surprising consequence: names are ambiguous in a way unlike any other we witness with other kinds of lexical items. (shrink)
Nowak and Michaelson have done us the service of presenting direct and clear worries about our account of demonstratives. In response, we use the opportunity to engage briefly with their remarks as a useful way to clarify our view.
Our focus is in this paper is in answering the question what is required of interlocutors in order for them to pick up a word, and use/apply it successfully. Putting our cards on the table, our answer will be not much.
Utterances in situated activity are about the world. Theories and systems normally capture this by assuming references must be resolved to real-world entities in utterance understanding. We describe a number of puzzles and problems for this approach, and propose an alternative semantic representation using discourse relations that link utterances to the nonlinguistic context to capture the context-dependent interpretation of situated utterances. Our approach promises better empirical coverage and more straightforward system building. Substantiating these advantages is work in progress.
In this paper, we consider a range of puzzles for demonstratives in the language of thought we had raised in our last philosophical conversation we had with Jerry Fodor. We argue against the Kaplan-inspired indexing solution Fodor proposed to us, but offer a Fodor-friendly account of the demonstratives in the language of thought in its stead, building on our account of demonstrative pronouns in English.
A once commonplace view is that only a semantic theory that interprets sentences of a language according to what their utterances intuitively say can be correct. The rationale is that only by requiring a tight connection between what a sentence means and what its users intuitively say can we explain why, normally, those linguistically competent with a language upon hearing its sentences uttered can discern what they say. More precisely, this approach ties the semantic content of a sentence to intuitions (...) about “says that” reports. Cappelen and Lepore forcefully argued against this approach. But given their criticism, what constraints are there on a correct assignment of semantic conent to sentences of a language? Two choices are available regard: either give up the strategy of identifying semantic content by looking at indirect speech reports, or, conclude that the intuition about the connection between meaning and intuitions about indirect reports is basically on the right track, but needs to be further constrained. We will explore both strategies and argue that ultimately we should reject the intuitions about indirect reports as tests on semantic theory, and propose a more direct strategy for identifying semantic content. (shrink)
In this paper we are dealing with Kant's view on the phenomenon of incongruous counterparts, in particular with the argument from his article 'On the First Ground of the Distinction of Regions in Space', where the phenomenon of incongruous counterparts is used as an argument for the existence of the absolute and objective space, and with the argument from Kant's Inaugural Dissertation in which he uses the phenomenon of incongruous counterparts again, but this time for a different purpose - as (...) an argument in favor of the idea of space as a pure intuition. Our aim is to show that Kant's argument from 'On the First Ground of the Distinction of Regions in Space', although it shows the inadequacy of Leibniz's definition of congruence, does not in fact represent the reductio ad absurdum of the relationist view, for his argument in favor of the existence of the absolute space represents merely the inference to the best explanation. We also propound an alternative account of the phenomenon of incongruous counterparts, which is in line with the relationist theory. Furthermore, we call in question Kant's argument from the Inaugural Dissertation, according to which incongruence could not be explained discursively, and we put forward a conceptual determination of incongruence in terms of the notions of similarity, equality and congruence, taken as the possibility of objects to be included within the same spatial boundaries. U ovom radu bavimo se Kantovim shvatanjem fenomena inkongruentnih pandana pre svega njegovim argumentom iz spisa 'O osnovnim principima razlikovanja smerova u prostoru', gde Kant fenomen inkongruentnih pandana koristi kao argument u prilog tvrdnje o postojanju apsolutnog i objektivnog prostora, kao i argumentom iz Kantove Inauguralne disertacije, u kojoj se on ponovo poziva na fenomen inkongruentnih pandana, ali ovoga puta sa drugacijim ciljem - kao argument u prilog shvatanja prostora kao cistog opazaja. Cilj nam je da pokazemo kako Kantov argument iz spisa 'O osnovnim principima razlikovanja smerova u prostoru', iako pokazuje neadekvatnost Lajbnicove definicije kongruencije, ipak ne predstavlja reductio ad absurdum relacionisticke pozicije, buduci da njegov argument u prilog postojanja apsolutnog prostora predstavlja samo zakljucak na najbolje moguce objasnjenje, kao i da ponudimo alternativno objasnjenje fenomena inkongruentnih pandana, koje je u skladu sa relacionistickom teorijom. Takodje, dovodimo u pitanje Kantov argument iz Inauguralne disertacije, prema kojem se inkongruencija ne moze izraziti diskurzivno, nudeci pri tome pojmovno odredjenje inkongruencije preko pojmova slicnosti, jednakosti i kongruencije, shvacene kao sposobnost objekata da zauzmu istovetne prostorne granice. (shrink)
There are various reasons one might think that the semantic content of occurrences of sentences does not coincide with assertoric content –content of belief and assertion– corresponding to those sentences. But if a semantic theory exploiting such distinction is to play a role in explaining communication, there needs to be a tight connection between the two types of content. Drawing upon the considerations of McDowell and Evans concerning rigidity, Stanley proposes to extend Lewis’ argument for the distinction between the two (...) types of content –an argument concerning behavior of certain English language operators– to argue that modals do not operate on assertoric, but merely on semantic contents of sentences they embed. I argue that the Dummett-Evans-Stanley line of argument fails due to its inability to explain the connection between semantic and assertoric content. Unable to provide a plausible way of recovering assertoric content from semantic content, the theory renders successful communication mysterious. The moral of its failure is far-reaching –any theory that appeals to the distinction between these two types of content remains less than fully satisfactory unless the challenge of accounting for their connection is met. (shrink)
The discussion that follows rehearses some familiar arguments and replies from the Kripke/Putnam/Burge critique of the traditional Frege/Russell/Wittgenstein views on names and predicates. Its main contributions are, first, to introduce a novel way of individuating tokens of the same expression, (what we call “articulations”) second, to then revise standard views on deference, (as this notion is understood to pertain to securing access to meaning for potentially ignorant, and confused agents in the externalist tradition going back to Putnam and Burge) and (...) lastly, to emphasize the often conflated distinction between disambiguation and meaning fixing. Our line on deference is that it is not, and should not be conceived as, an intentional mental act, but rather indicates an historical chain of antecedent tokenings of the same expression. (shrink)