ABSTRACT It has become standard to conceive of metalinguistic disagreement as motivated by a form of negotiation, aimed at reaching consensus because of the practical consequences of using a word with one content rather than another. This paper presents an alternative motive for expressing and pursuing metalinguistic disagreement. In using words with given criteria, we betray our location amongst social categories or groups. Because of this, metalinguistic disagreement can be used as a stage upon which to perform a social identity. (...) The ways in which metalinguistic disagreements motivated in this way diverge in character from metalinguistic negotiations are described, as are several consequences of the existence of metalinguistic disagreements motivated in this way. (shrink)
When A utters a declarative sentence in a context to B, typically A can mean a proposition by the sentence, the sentence in context literally expresses a proposition, there are propositions A and B can agree the sentence literally expressed, and B can acquire knowledge from this testimonial exchange. In recent work on linguistic communication, each of these four platitudes has been challenged, and on the same basis: viz. on the ground that exactly which proposition the sentence expressed in context (...) is not discernible given the information provided by the context. I argue that, even if this is true, there will be propositional parts of the proposition expressed by the sentence in context which can be identified and that, consequently, the partial understanding afforded by the existence of such identifiable parts undermines the soundness of the arguments against the platitudes. (shrink)
There is a correlation between positions taken on some scientific questions and political leaning. One way to explain this correlation is the cultural cognition hypothesis (CCH): people's political leanings are causing them to process evidence to maintain fixed answers to the questions, rather than to seek the truth. Another way is the different background belief hypothesis (DBBH): people of different political leanings have different background beliefs which rationalize different positions on these scientific questions. In this article, I argue for two (...) things. I argue that two attempts by proponents of the CCH to discredit the DBBH fail. And I argue that this matters, because while the CCH makes epistemic paternalistic interventions seem called for (as some philosophers have argued compellingly), the DBBH does not. The DBBH makes it much easier to stay closer to an ideal of deliberative democracy. (shrink)
Epistemologists typically assume that the acquisition of knowledge from testimony is not threatened at the stage at which audiences interpret what proposition a speaker has asserted. Attention is instead typically paid to the epistemic status of a belief formed on the basis of testimony that it is assumed has the same content as the speaker’s assertion. Andrew Peet has pioneered an account of how linguistic context sensitivity can threaten the assumption. His account locates the threat in contexts in which an (...) audience’s evidence under-determines which proposition a speaker is asserting. I argue that Peet’s epistemic uncertainty account of the threat is mistaken and I propose an alternative. The alternative locates the threat in contexts that provide factors that give audiences a mistaken psychological certainty or confidence that a speaker has asserted a proposition she has not. (shrink)
This article presents a semantic analysis of indirect speech reports. The analysis aims to explain a combination of two phenomena. First, there are true utterances of sentences of the form α said that φ which are used to report an utterance u of a sentence wherein φ's content is not u's content. This implies that in uttering a single sentence, one can say several things. Second, when the complements of these reports (and indeed, these reports themselves) are placed in conjunctions, (...) the conjunctions are typically infelicitous. I argue that this combination of phenomena can be explained if speech reports report (perhaps contingent) parts of the contents of the sentences reported. (shrink)
Context-sensitive expressions appear ill suited to the purpose of sharing content across contexts. Yet we regularly use them to that end (in regulations, textbooks, memos, guidelines, laws, minutes, etc.). This paper describes the utility of the concept of a metacontext for understanding cross-contextual content-sharing with context-sensitive expressions. A metacontext is the context of a group of contexts: an infrastructure that can channel non-linguistic incentives on content ascription so as to homogenize the content ascribed to context-sensitive expressions in each context in (...) the group. Documents composed of context-sensitive expressions can share content across contexts when supported by an appropriate metacontext. The bible has its church, the textbook its education system, the form its bureaucracy, and the manifesto its social movement. Some metacontexts support cross-contextual content-sharing. Some don’t. A promising research programme (one with practical importance) would take metacontexts as its unit of analysis. (shrink)
Bystander information is information about others’ attitudes towards a text (i.e. about whether they agree or disagree with it). Social media platforms force bystander information upon us when we read posts thereon. What effect does this have on how we respond to what we read? The dominant view in the literature is that it changes our minds (the so-called “bandwagon effect”). Simplifying a little: if we see that most people agree (disagree) with what a post says, we are more likely (...) to agree (disagree) with what it says. This paper argues that we should take seriously a competitor view and care about the difference between it and the dominant view. The competitor view proposes that bystander information changes what a text seems to us to say: although bystander information may lead us to change what attitude we express toward a post, that’s not because we’ve changed our attitude toward any fixed content (i.e. fixed thing that the post says). This paper argues that, if this competitor view is correct, then social media is likely to be an especially hazardous place for the practice of sharing content. (shrink)
It's sometimes thought that context-invariant linguistic meaning must be a character (a function from context types to contents) i.e. that linguistic meaning must determine how the content of an expression is fixed in context. This is thought because if context-invariant linguistic meaning were not a character then communication would not be possible. In this paper, I explain how communication could proceed even if context-invariant linguistic meaning were not a character.
Using a combination of semantic theory and findings from conversation analysis, this paper describes a way in which questions, which incorporate presuppositions that are false, when used in a courtroom cross-examination wherein there are certain turn-taking rules, rights and restrictions, stop a rape victim from expressing the content that she wants to express in that context. This kind of silencing contrasts with other kinds of silencing that consist in the disabling of a speech act's force, rather than precluding the expression (...) of certain contents. -/- Content Note: there are explicit descriptions of sexual violence in this paper. (shrink)
According to telling based views of testimony (TBVs), B has reason to believe that p when A tells B that p because A thereby takes public responsibility for B's subsequent belief that p. Andrew Peet presents a new argument against TBVs. He argues that insofar as A uses context-sensitive expressions to express p, A doesn't take public responsibility for B's belief that p. Since context-sensitivity is widespread, the kind of reason TBVs say we have to believe what we're told, is (...) not widespread. Peet doesn't identify any problem with his own argument though he does attempt to limit its sceptical potential by identifying special contexts in which TBVs stand a chance of success. A more general defence of TBVs can be provided by showing Peet's argument to be unsound. I argue that Peet's argument is unsound because it requires us to wrongly suppose that speakers do far less labour than their audiences in context-sensitive linguistic communication. I aim to show why—in the context of the epistemology of testimony and the philosophy of language—it's important to recognize the labour that speakers can do, and so can can be held responsible for not doing, in episodes of context-sensitive linguistic communication. (shrink)
Infallibilism is commonly rejected because it is apparently subject to easy counter-examples. I describe a strategy that infallibilists can use to resist this objection. Because the sentences used in the counter-examples to express evidence and belief are context-sensitive, the infallibilist can insist that such counter-examples trade on a vacillation between different readings of these sentences. I describe what difficulties await those who try to produce counter-examples against which the proposed strategy is ineffective.
Mark Richard argues for truth-relativism about claims made using gradable adjectives. He argues that truth-relativism is the best explanation of two kinds of linguistic data, which I call: true cross-contextual reports and infelicitous denials of conflict. Richard claims that such data are generated by an example that he discusses at length. However, the consensus is that these linguistic data are illusory because they vanish when elaborations are added to examples of the same kind as Richard’s original. In this paper I (...) defend the reality of Richard’s data. I show that, in trying to make their point, Richard’s critics have focused upon examples that are similar in some respects to Richard’s original but which lack a crucial feature of that original. When we ensure that this feature is in place, elaborations which make the data vanish are not possible. Richard’s critics therefore fail to show that the data generated by Richard’s original example are illusory. (shrink)
The incommensurability of two theories seems to problematize theory comparisons, which allow for the selection of the better of the two theories. If so, it becomes puzzling how the quality of theories can improve with time, i.e. how science can progress across changes in incommensurable theories. I argue that in papers published in the 1990s, Kuhn provided a novel way to resolve this apparent tension between incommensurability and scientific progress. He put forward an account of their compatibility which worked not (...) by downplaying the negative consequences of incommensurability but instead by allowing them to reach their natural end: a process of specialisation. This development in Kuhn’s thought has yet to be properly recorded but it is also interesting in its own right. It shows how a robust version of incommensurability—one which really does have severe negative consequences for scientists’ capacity to perform comparative evaluations of incommensurable theories—need make no puzzle of the progress of science. (shrink)
In the 1980s and 1990s, a series of attempts were made to put into U.S. law a civil rights ordinance that would make it possible to sue the makers and distributors of pornography for doing so (under certain conditions). One defence of such legislation has come to be called "the free speech argument against pornography." Philosophers Rae Langton, Jennifer Hornsby and Caroline West have supposed that this defence of the legislation can function as a liberal defence of the legislation: in (...) particular, a defence of the legislation based on the value of women's liberty. This would be somewhat unexpected given MacKinnon's own antipathy toward liberalism. In this paper, I argue that the free speech argument against pornography cannot be used as a liberal defence of the ordinances. The legislation is, to some extent, self-defeating insofar as it understood in terms acceptable to a fairly standard kind of liberal. This becomes apparent when we consider the value pornography can have for women, which we can see if we consider what female makers, distributors and consumers of pornography have to say about why they make, distribute and consume it. (shrink)
Several philosophers have recently claimed that if a proposition is cancellable from an uttered sentence then that proposition is not entailed by that uttered sentence. The claim should be a familiar one. It has become a standard device in the philosopher's tool-kit. I argue that this claim is false. There is a kind of entailment—which I call “modal entailment”—that is context-sensitive and, because of this, cancellable. So cancellability does not show that a proposition is not entailed by an uttered sentence. (...) I close the paper by describing an implication this has for a disagreement between J. L. Austin and Grice concerning the relation between felicity and truth. (shrink)
This paper presents experimental evidence in support of the existence of metalinguistic moral encroachment: the influence of the moral consequences of using a word with a given content upon the content of that word. The evidence collected implies that the effect of moral factors upon content is weak. For instance, by changing the moral consequences of the sentence's truth, it was possible to shift judgements about the truth of the sentence "that's a lot of cake", when used to describe two (...) sponge cakes. Similarly, by changing the moral consequences of the sentence's truth, it was possible to shift judgements about the truth of the sentence "the children's hospital is old", when used to describe a 40 year old hospital. The implications of this for Esa Díaz-León’s recent attempt to show how Jennifer Saul can legitimately reject an empirical semantic hypothesis on political grounds are described. Directions for future research are also described. (shrink)
John MacFarlane argues against objectivism about “tasty”/”not tasty” in the following way. If objectivism were true then, given that speakers use “tasty”/”not tasty” in accordance with a rule, TP, speakers would be using an evidently unreliable method to form judgements and make claims about what is tasty. Since this is implausible, objectivism must be false. In this paper, I describe a context in which speakers deviate from TP. I argue that MacFarlane's argument against objectivism fails when applied to uses of (...) “not tasty” within this context. So objectivism about “not tasty” is still a viable position within this context. (shrink)
In the literature on linguistic context-sensitivity, a recurrent move has been made with the intention of attacking Charles Travis's occasion-sensitivity. The move is to provide a semantic analysis of the meaning of an expression which makes the content of that expression context sensitive but without providing any reason to think that the meaning of the expression is a character. I argue that this move is off-target. Such proposals are entirely consistent with occasion-sensitivity and so don't constitute an attack on it.
A slew of newspaper articles were published in the 2010s with titles like: “The facts on why facts alone can’t fight false beliefs” and “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds — New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason”. They promoted a common idea: if a person doesn’t conform to the scientific majority, it’s because she forms beliefs on scientific questions in order to achieve social goals (to fit in with people of her kind, to make her (...) social life more comfortable) instead of engaging in an earnest hunt for the truth. Rational persuasion doesn’t work with her. To change her mind, science communicators must become more paternalist. They must adopt methods of persuasion that bypass her awareness—the arts of the marketeer, the ad man. Drawing upon ideas from my recent paper, this piece aims to convince you not to take these articles so seriously. Te piece is a shortened and simplified presentation of ideas from the paper "Science Communication, Cultural Cognition, and the Pull of Epistemic Paternalism.". (shrink)
This is the English (and extended version) of an interview originally published in Estonian in October 2018. In the interview, Simpson summarizes a particular way of defending the practice of no-platforming. The varying appeal of different defences of the practice in different socio-historical contexts (i.e. the UK/US versus a post-Soviet country such as Estonia) is discussed also.
This is not a critical review of Travis' book. It's an attempt to summarize the key thesis (occasion-sensitivity) in a way that makes the book accessible and distinguishes it from similar looking theses (such as relevance theory and truth-conditional pragmatics).
This thesis has two parts. In Part I there is an argument for the conclusion that a linguistic phenomenon known as (radical) context-sensitivity is to be expected given the limitations of those who use language to reason about empirical states of affairs. The phenomenon arises as a consequence of a process that must be performed to use language to reason validly. In Part II it is explained why the phenomenon, understood in light of the discussion of Part I, does not (...) threaten the possibility of communication. Some potential readers might be interested to know that in Part I there's a fair amount of exegesis of arguments for the existence of (radical) context-sensitivity put forward by Charles Travis. Some potential readers might be interested to know that in Part II use is made of work by Erving Goffman and some conversation analysts. (shrink)
It is widely assumed that the possibility of faultless disagreement is to be explained by the peculiar semantics and/or pragmatics of special kinds of linguistic construction. For instance, if A asserts “o is F” and B asserts this sentence’s denial, A and B can disagree faultlessly only if they employ the right kind of predicate as their “F”. In this paper, I present an argument against this assumption. Focusing on the special case when the expression of interest is a predicate, (...) I present a series of examples in which the same pairs of sentences are employed, but in different contexts. In some cases, we get an impression of faultless disagreement and in some cases we don’t. I identify a pattern across these contexts and conclude that faultless disagreement is made possible, not by a special kind of predicate, but instead by a special kind of context. (shrink)
This paper is about the shaping of student workload preferences by educational institution design, and how this creates distrust by staff in those preferences when staff are asked to use those preferences in re-designing the courses they teach. It is a case study of the construction of student workload preferences by the context of a particular higher education institution. In more detail: Failures to standardize the work required to receive equal credit points from different courses make credit points unfit for (...) their official purposes. Moreover, increasingly, institutions are found where students are required to take a high number of courses simultaneously. This study aimed to identify plausible hypotheses about how high course-loads and standardization failure interact by examining credit point standardization failure at an Estonian university where students are required to take twice as many courses as their peers at better performing universities. The hypotheses supported by the study are: the high course-load both made standardization failure useful to students seeking to manage the high course-load and contributed toward standardization failure because it rendered students’ assessments of workload untrustworthy to lecturers who regulate that workload. Existing advice on standardization of workloads within the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System is criticized for its insensitivity to the constructive effects of course-load on student workload preferences. (shrink)
One can attack a philosophical claim by identifying a misuse of the language used to state it. I distinguish between two varieties of this strategy: one belonging to Norman Malcolm and the other to Ludwig Wittgenstein. The former is flawed and easily dismissible as misled linguistic conservatism. It muddies the name of ordinary language philosophy. I argue that the latter avoids this flaw. To make perspicuous the kind of criticism of philosophical claims that the second variety makes available, I draw (...) a comparison between Wittgenstein’s recommendation that philosophers study ordinary language and Alfred Schütz’s recommendation that social scientists study the methods of the agents they study. Both do so in an attempt to sensitise philosophers and social scientists respectively to particular artefacts of method which can be easily mistaken for features of that which is studied. (shrink)