Convergent Minds: Ostension, Inference, and Grice’s Third Clause

Interface Focus 7 (3) (2017)
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A prevailing view is that while human communication has an ‘ostensive-inferential’ or ‘Gricean’ intentional structure, animal communication does not. This would make the psychological states that support human and animal forms of communication fundamentally different. Against this view, I argue that there are grounds to expect ostensive communication in non-human clades. This is because it is sufficient for ostensive communication that one intentionally address one’s utterance to one’s intended interlocutor – something that is both a functional pre-requisite of successful communication and cognitively undemanding. Furthermore, while ostension is an important feature of intentional communication, the inferences required in Gricean communication may be minimal: ostension and inference may come apart. The grounds for holding that animal communication could not be Gricean are therefore weak. I finish by defending the idea that a ‘minimally Gricean’ model of communication is a valuable tool for characterising the communicative interactions of many animal species.



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Richard Moore
University of Warwick

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