How do hearers manage to understand speakers? And how do speakers manage to shape hearers' understanding? Lepore and Stone show that standard views about the workings of semantics and pragmatics are unsatisfactory. They advance an alternative view which better captures what is going on in linguistic communication.
There are at least four varieties of quotation, including pure, direct, indirect and mixed. A theory of quotation, we argue, should give a unified account of these varieties of quotation. Mixed quotes such as 'Alice said that life is 'difficult to understand'', in which an utterance is directly and indirectly quoted concurrently, is an often overlooked variety of quotation. We show that the leading theories of pure, direct, and indirect quotation are unable to account for mixed quotation and therefore unable (...) to provide a unified theory. In the second half of the paper we develop a unified theory of quotation based on Davidson's demonstrative theory. 'Language is the instrument it is because the same expression, with semantic features (meaning) unchanged, can serve countless purposes.' (Davidson 1968). (shrink)
A semantic theory T for a language L should assign content to utterances of sentences of L. One common assumption is that T will assign p to some S of L just in case in uttering S a speaker A says that p. We will argue that this assumption is mistaken.
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)
We take it that Brandom’s sense of the geography is that our way of proceeding is more or less the first and his is more or less the second. But we think this way of describing the situation is both unclear and misleading, and we want to have this out right at the start. Our problem is that we don’t know what “you start with” means either in formulations like “you start with the content of words and proceed to the (...) content of sentences” or in formulations like “you start with the content of sentences and you proceed to the content of words.” Brandom’s official view seems to be that he’s talking about explanatory priorities (see the preceding quote); but we think that can’t really be what he has in mind, and we can’t find any alternative interpretation that seems plausible. Speaking just for ourselves, we’re inclined towards a relatively pragmatic view of explanation; what explanation we should “start with” depends, inter alia, on what it’s an explanation of and whom it’s an explanation for. But, in any case, we would have thought that explanatory priority is of more than heuristic interest only if it reflects a priority of some other kind: ontological, semantical, psychological, or whatever. In talking about what one “starts with”, Brandom must be claiming more than. (shrink)
Context Shifting Arguments (CSA) ask us to consider two utterances of an unambiguous, non-vague, non-elliptic sentence S. If the consensus intuition is that what’s said, or expressed or the truth-conditions, and so possibly the truthvalues, of these utterances differ, then CSA concludes S is context sensitive. Consider, for example, simultaneous utterances of ‘I am wearing a hat’, one by Stephen, one by Jason. Intuitively, these utterances can vary in truth-value contingent upon who is speaking the sentence, while holding hat-wearing constant, (...) and so they express distinct propositions and differ in their truth conditions. Since these differences are not the result of ambiguity (lexical or structural), vagueness, conversational implicature, or syntactic ellipsis, we have pretty strong evidence that ‘I am wearing a hat’ is context sensitive. (shrink)
Indexicals are linguistic expressions whose meaning remain stable while their reference shifts from utterance to utterance. Paradigmatic cases in English are ‘I’, ‘here’, and ‘now’. Recently, a number of authors have argued that various constructions in our language harbor hidden indexicals. We say 'hidden' because these indexicals are unpronounced, even though they are alleged to be real linguistic components. Constructions taken by some authors to be associated, or to ‘co-habit’, with hidden indexicals include: definite descriptions and quantifiers more generally (hidden (...) indexical refers to a domain – Davies (1981), Westerstahl (1985), Soames (1986), Higginbotham (1988), Stanley and Williamson (1995)), propositional attitude verbs (hidden indexical refers to a mode of presentation – Richard (1990)), comparative adjectives (hidden indexical refers to comparison classes – Partee (1989), Kamp (1975), Ludlow (1989)). An interesting recent addition is the view that all nouns are associated with a hidden indexical referring to a domain restriction (Stanley and Szabo (2000), Stanley.. (shrink)
Robert Brandom has it in mind to run a ‘pragmatist’ theory of content. That is, he wants to reconstruct notions like saying such and such or believing such and such in terms of a distinctive kind of “knowing how or being able to do something”.
A certain metaphysical thesis about meaning that we'll call Informational Role Semantics (IRS) is accepted practically universally in linguistics, philosophy and the cognitive sciences: the meaning (or content, or `sense') of a linguistic expression1 is constituted, at least in part, by at least some of its inferential relations. This idea is hard to state precisely, both because notions like metaphysical constitution are moot and, more importantly, because different versions of IRS take different views on whether there are constituents of meaning (...) other than inferential role, and on which of the inferences an expression occurs in are meaning constitutive. Some of these issues will presently concern us; but for now it will do just to gesture towards such familiar claims as that: it's part and parcel of dog meaning dog2 that the inference from x is a dog to x is an animal is valid; it's part and parcel of boil meaning boil that the inference from x boiled y to y boiled is valid; it's part and parcel of kill meaning kill that the inference from x killed y to y died is valid; and so on. (See Cruse, Ch. 1 and passim.) IRS brings in its train a constellation of ancillary doctrines. Presumably, for example, if an inference is constitutive of the meaning of a word, then learning the word involves learning that the inference holds. If dog means dog because dog ---> animal is valid, then knowing that dog ---> animal is valid is part and parcel of knowing what the word dog means; and, similarly, learning that x boiled y ---> y boiled is part and parcel of learning what boil means, and so forth. IRS constrains grammatical theories. The semantic lexicon of a language is supposed to make explicit whatever one has to know to understand the lexical expressions of the language, so IRS implies that meaning constitutive inferences are part of the semantic lexical entries for items that have them. Lexical entries are thus typically complex objects (`bundles of inferences') according to standard interpretations of IRS.. (shrink)
The Oxford Handbooks series is a major new initiative in academic publishing. Each volume offers an authoritative and up-to-date survey of original research in a particular subject area. Specially commissioned essays from leading figures in the discipline give critical examinations of the progress and direction of debates. Oxford Handbooks provide scholars and graduate students with compelling new perspectives upon a wide range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences. Ernie Lepore and Barry Smith present the definitive reference work for (...) this diverse and fertile field of philosophy. A superb international team contribute more than forty brand-new essays covering topics from the nature of language to meaning, truth, and reference, and the interfaces of philosophy of language with linguistics, psychology, logic, epistemology, and metaphysics. It will be an essential resource for anyone working in the central areas of philosophy, for linguists interested in syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, and for psychologists and cognitive scientists working on language. (shrink)
In this paper, we defend Davidson's program in truth-theoretical semantics against recent criticisms by Scott Soames. We argue that Soames has misunderstood Davidson's project, that in consequence his criticisms miss the mark, that appeal to meanings as entities in the alternative approach that Soames favors does no work, and that the approach is no advance over truth-theoretic semantics.
Compositionality is the idea that the meanings of complex expressions (or concepts) are constructed from the meanings of the less complex expressions (or concepts) that are their constituents.1 Over the last few years, we have just about convinced ourselves that compositionality is the sovereign test for theories of lexical meaning.2 So hard is this test to pass, we think, that it filters out practically all of the theories of lexical meaning that are current in either philosophy or cognitive science. Among (...) the casualties are, for example, the theory that lexical meanings are statistical structures (like stereotypes); the theory that the meaning of a word is its use; the theory that knowing the meaning of (at least some) words requires having a recognitional capacity for (at least some) of the things that it applies to; and the theory that knowing the meaning of a word requires knowing criteria for applying it. Indeed, we think that only two theories of the lexicon survive the compositionality constraint: viz., the theory that all lexical meanings are primitive and the theory that some lexical meanings are primitive and the rest are definitions. So compositionality does a lot of work in lexical semantics, according to our lights. (shrink)
This paper evaluates arguments presented by John Perry (and Ken Taylor) in favor of the presence of an unarticulated constituent in the proposition expressed by utterance of, for example, (1):1 1. It's raining (at t). We contend that these arguments are, at best, inconclusive. That's the critical part of our paper. On the positive side, we argue that (1) has as its semantic content the proposition that it is raining (at t) and that this is a location-neutral proposition. According to (...) the view we propose, an audience typically looks for a location when they hear utterances of (1) because their interests in rain are location- focused: it is the location of rain that determines whether we get wet, carrots grow, and roads become slippery. These are, however, contingent facts about rain, wetness, people, carrots, and roads – they are not built into the semantics for the verb 'rain'. (shrink)
This paper develops the view presented in our 1997 paper "Varieties of Quotation". In the first part of the paper we show how phenomena such as scare-quotes, echoing and mimicry can be treated as what we call Speech Act Heuristics. We then defend a semantic account of mixed quotation. Along the way we discuss the role of indexicals in mixed quotation and the noncancelability of reference to words in mixed quotation. We also respond to some objections raised by Recanati, Saka, (...) Stainton and Reimer. (shrink)
Paul Saka, in a recent paper, declares that we can use, mention, or quote an expression. Whether a speaker is using or mentioning an expression, on a given occasion, depends on his intentions. An exhibited expression is used, if the exhibiter intends to direct his audience’s attention to the expression’s extension. It is mentioned, if he intends to draw his audience’s attention to something associated with the exhibited token other than its extension. This includes, but is not limited to, an (...) orthographic form, a phonic form, a lexical entry, and an intension. (shrink)
It’s been, for some time now, a pet thesis of ours that compositionality is the key constraint on theories of linguistic content. On the one hand, we’re convinced by the usual arguments that the compositionality of natural languages1 explains how L-speakers can understand any of the indefinitely many expressions that belong to L. 2 And, on the other hand, we claim that compositionality excludes all “pragmatist” 3 accounts of content; hence, practically all of the theories of meaning that have been (...) floated by philosophers and cognitive scientists for the last fifty years or so. A number of objections to our claim have been suggested to us, but none that we find persuasive (see, for example, the discussions of the “uniformity principle” and of “reverse compositionality” in Fodor and Lepore 2002). These objections have a common thread: they all grant that mental and linguistic content are compositional but challenge the thesis that compositionality is incompatible with semantic pragmatism. In this paper, we want to consider an objection of a fundamentally different kind, namely, that it doesn’t matter whether compositionality excludes semantic pragmatism because compositionality isn’t true; the content of an expression supervenes not on its linguistic structure4 alone but on its linguistic structure together with the context of its tokening. 5.. (shrink)
In Insensitive Semantics (2004), we argue for two theses – Semantic Minimalism and Speech Act Pluralism. In this paper, we outline our defense against two objections often raised against Semantic Minimalism. To get to that defense, we first need some stage setting. To that end, we begin with five stage setting sections. These lead to the first objection, viz., that it might follow from our view that comparative adjectives are context insensitive. We defend our view against that objection (not, as (...) you might expect, by denying that implication, but by endorsing it). Having done so, we address a second objection, viz., that Semantic Minimalism makes it difficult to see what role semantic content plays in communicative exchanges. We respond and end with a reversal, i.e., we argue that even though the second objection fails against us, it works against those who raise the objection. In particular, we show that Recanati ends up with a notion of communicated content that fails various tests for psychological reality. (shrink)
But the sort of context sensitivity exhibited in such sentences does not compromise the claim that meaning determines truth conditions, since recourse to context here is directed and restricted by conventional meaning alone. Anyone who understands sentence (2) knows that its utterances are true just in case whatever object is demonstrated in the context of utterance is nice; and he also knows that any utterance of (2) says of, or expresses about, whichever object is demonstrated that it’s nice. (Similarly, anyone (...) who understands (3) knows that any utterance of it is true just in case whoever utters it has eaten. And every utterance says of, or expresses about, the speaker that he or she has eaten.) In sum, according to the thesis that meaning determines truth conditions, (indicative) sentences divide into two classes – those with truth conditions tout.. (shrink)
Greg Ray (2014) believes he has discovered a crucial oversight in Donald Davidson’s semantic programme, recognition of which paves the way for a novel approach to Davidsonian semantics. We disagree: Ray’s novel approach involves a tacit appeal to pre-existing semantic knowledge which vitiates its interest as a development of the Davidsonian programme.
Following Aristotle (who himself was following Parmenides), philosophers have appealed to the distributional reflexes of expressions in determining their semantic status, and ultimately, the nature of the extra-linguistic world. This methodology has been practiced throughout the history of philosophy; it was clarified and made popular by the likes of Zeno Vendler and J.L. Austin, and is realized today in the toolbox of linguistically minded philosophers. Studying the syntax of natural language was fueled by the belief that there is a conceptually (...) tight connection between the syntax of our language and its semantics, and the belief that there is a similarly tight connection between the semantics of our language and metaphysical facts about the world. We are less confident than our colleagues about the relation syntax has to semantics and metaphysics. In particular, we do not believe that the current status of theoretical syntax (or semantics or metaphysics) provides much support for either of the above two beliefs. We will illustrate our view with a case study regarding the status of complex demonstratives. We will show that a recent and particularly subtle syntactically based argument for the semantic/metaphysical status of complex demonstratives does not in fact show what semantic category complex demonstratives are.. (shrink)
We start off with some points of clarification about the view we defend in Insensitive Semantics, before going on to consider responses from Charles Travis, Zoltan Szabo,Anne Bezuidenhout, Steven Gross, and Francois Recanati.
Speakers share content when they make the same assertion (claim, conjecture, proposal, etc). They also share content when they propose (entertain, discuss, etc.) the same hypothesis, theory, and thought. And again when they evaluate whether what each says (thinks, claims, suggests, etc.) is true, false, interesting, obscene, original or offensive. Content sharing, so understood, is the very foundation of communication. Relevance Theory (RT), however, implies that content sharing is impossible; or at least, we will argue as much in what follows.
Insensitive Semantics (I) has three components: It defends a positive theory; it presents a methodology for how to distinguish semantic context sensitivity from other kinds of context sensitivity; and finally, it includes chapters critical of other contributors on these issues. In this Précis, we outline each component, but before doing so a few brief ‘big picture’ remarks about the positions defended in IS are in order.
This volume brings together two series of papers: one began with Herman Cappelen and Ernie Lepore's 1997 paper 'On an Alleged Connection Between the Theory of Meaning and Indirect Speech'. The other series started with their 1997 paper 'Varieties of Quotation'. The central theme throughout is that only when communicative content is liberated from semantic content will we make progress in understanding language, communication, contexts, and their interconnection. These are the papers in which Cappelen and Lepore introduced speech act pluralism (...) and semantic minimalism, and they provide the foundation for one of the most powerful attacks on contextualism in contemporary philosophy. (shrink)
This chapter reviews interpretations of Davidson's project in the theory of meaning and argues against a variety of views according to which Davidson intended to reduce meaning to some variety of truth conditions or replace the project of giving a theory of meaning with a theory of truth, and in support of interpreting him as offering an indirect way of achieving the goals of the traditional project by appeal to knowledge of facts about a semantic theory of truth for the (...) language, including that it was confirmable from the standpoint of the radical interpreter. (shrink)
In our 2015 book Imagination and Convention, we explore the scope and limits of linguistic knowledge in semantics and pragmatics for natural language. We draw heavily on the notion of coordination from David Lewis' book on conventions. To the extent that the account we develop is right, general principles like Grice's cooperative principle and the maxims of conversation have little to say about about interpretation. Three commentators—Anne Bezuidenhout, Laurence Horn, and Zoltan Gendler Szabo—discuss and evaluate our program in three essays (...) in this issue. What follows is our response to their challenges. (shrink)
This paper surveys rich and important phenomena in language use that theorists study from a wide range of perspectives. And according to us, there is no unique and general mechanism behind our practices of metaphor and irony. Metaphor works in a particular way, by prompting the specific kind of analogical thinking And, irony works in its own particular way, by prompting new appreciation of the apparent contribution, speaker or perspective of an utterance exhibited for effect. Or so we will argue.
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.