Précis for Context and Coherence

Croatian Journal of Philosophy 23 (69):243-259 (2023)
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Abstract

This précis outlines some of the key themes in Context and Coherence. At the core of Context and Coherence is the meta-semantic question: what determines the meaning of context-sensitive language and how do we interpret it as effortlessly as we do? What we can express with language is obviously constrained by grammar, but it also seems to depend on various non-linguistic features of an utterance situation, for example, pointing gestures. Accordingly, it is nearly universally assumed that grammar underspecifi es content: the interpretation of context-sensitive language depends in part on extra-linguistic features of the utterance situation. Contra this dominant tradition, the book develops and defends a thoroughly linguistic account: context-sensitivity resolution is entirely a matter of grammar, which is much more subtle and pervasive than has typically been noticed. In interpreting context-sensitive language as effortlessly as we do, we draw on our knowledge of these subtle, but pervasive, linguistic cues—what I call discourse conventions. If this is right, the dominant, extra-linguistic account must be rejected. It not only mischaracterizes the linguistic conventions affecting context-sensitivity resolution, but its widespread, and often implicit, endorsement leads to philosophically radical conclusions. The recent arguments for non-truth-conditional and non-classical semantics for modal discourse provide just one illustration of this point. But appeals to context are quite common within a wide range of debates across different subfi elds of philosophy, and they typically assume the extra-linguistic model of context-sensitivity resolution. If the account of context-sensitivity developed in Context and Coherence is on the right track, such arguments have to be reconsidered.

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Una Stojnic
Princeton University

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