Moderate vs Radical Pragmatics

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Published on October 30, 2008

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Moderate vs. Radical Pragmatics : Moderate vs. Radical Pragmatics Anne Bezuidenhout Trondheim, September 18-22, 2006 Recanati’s Continuum : Recanati’s Continuum Proto-literalism Eternalism Conventionalism Minimalism Syncretism Quasi-contextualism Pragmatic composition Wrong-format view (WF) Meaning eliminativism (ME) Where does Predelli fit in? Maybe he’s a conventionalist? Maybe nowhere? Cappelen & Lepore’s Syncretism : Cappelen & Lepore’s Syncretism There is a strict semantics-pragmatics divide. Every indexical-free sentence expresses a complete proposition. The truth conditions of such sentences can be given disquotationally: e.g., ‘John is ready’ iff John is ready. Semantics is pure, uncontaminated by pragmatics, except as regards the small (well-behaved) class of indexical expressions that belong to the Basic Set. To determine the referents of indexicals, we may have to rely on contextual knowledge, such as knowledge of speaker intentions. Full blown contextual knowledge is only relevant to understanding what is said/stated/asserted and other such speech acts. Understanding speech act content is a thoroughly pragmatic process, but for this reason it cannot be systematized. The Mirror Opposite: A Generic Contextualism : The Mirror Opposite: A Generic Contextualism There is “pragmatic intrusion” into truth-conditional content; truth-conditional pragmatics. There are sentences that are semantically incomplete; they express only propositional radicals. The disquotational schema does not give us real semantic knowledge, and if it appears to, this is because the object and meta-languages are both our own. There is a wider class of context-sensitive expressions than just those in C&L’s Basic Set. Besides the sort of “bottom-up” pragmatic processes needed to assign contextual values to indexicals, “top-down” pragmatic processes are needed too. (e.g., free enrichment, loosening, transfer). C&L have collapsed the distinction between locutionary and illocutionary acts. Saying is a locutionary act. Pragmatic processes are not unsystematic. Who Subscribes to GC? : Who Subscribes to GC? This doesn’t describe any one person’s view. Many who deny they are contextualists subscribe to some of the points on the list (e.g., Kent Bach believes that some sentences are semantically incomplete). One can be a contextualist and agree that all sentences-in-context express complete propositions! (Recanati in some moods, Predelli(?)) Some of these points don’t require one to be very radical. E.g., one could widen the Basic Set only a little, and do this only on principled grounds. E.g. Stanley (2000), Taylor (2001), Sarah-Jane Leslie (2006). One can make more or less use of the notion of free enrichment. One can even make no use of free enrichment and still be a contextualist! E.g., Corazza & Dokic (2006). Points (3), (6) and (7) however are ones that I insist upon and will assume henceforth. The Contextualist Strawman? : The Contextualist Strawman? It certainly does seem that C&L have set up a Strawman as their opposition. They think they can do this as they have an argument that so long as one grants even the tiniest part of the contextualist story one is launched down a slippery slope into a radical contextualist hell. This is a place where no constraints hold at all, where even the meanings of words are unstable from one moment to the next, where no communication is possible, where each person is trapped inside his own private, solipsistic world, etc. One is allegedly launched down this slide because the sorts of context-shifting arguments and arguments from incompleteness that are appealed to by some contextualists can be applied across the board to show that every sentence is incomplete. To avoid such a hell, C&L suggest a series of three tests that can be wielded to show that only expressions in the Basic Set are context-sensitive. Is There a Slippery Slope? : Is There a Slippery Slope? The quick answer is ‘No’. There are many principled stopping places along the way: One can apply tests to determine whether there are hidden argument slots/hidden variables. Grammatical tests (Stanley) Semantic tests (Taylor) Pragmatic tests (Recanati) One interesting recent paper uses one of C&L’s own tests for context-sensitivity to widen the class of context-sensitive expressions! Leslie (2006). See Leslie’s “questionnaire”. Besides, where did this radical contextualist hell come from? There is no contextualist I know of, even someone as “radical” as Travis, who thinks there are no meaning constraints whatsoever. (Even Recanati’s ME has constraints – of past usage in one’s linguistic community). (The slippery slope rhetoric used by C&L is reminiscent of the rhetoric used by Fodor & Lepore to argue against meaning holism) Aims for Remainder of this Lecture : Aims for Remainder of this Lecture Will assume that there are principled stopping places. Interested in defending the quasi-contextualist (QC) and pragmatic composition (PC) views. Reminder as to what these views entail: QC: ‘There is a stone lion in the courtyard’ PC: ‘John heard the piano’ Will look at one sort of strategy used by Recanati for deciding whether we need to appeal to saturation or free enrichment. End by raising some questions for further discussion: The psychological role of minimal propositions (Lecture 2) The coherence of pragmatic (enriched) composition (Lecture 4) Unarticulated constituents : Unarticulated constituents Consider the following sentence: (1) It is raining Eons ago, Perry claimed that, in an appropriate context, an utterance of (1) might express the proposition that It is raining in Paris. This proposition therefore has unarticulated constituents. A similar view was advocated by Recanati and by relevance theorists such as Sperber & Wilson and Carston, who argued that the contextually determined location that a hearer recovers when processing an utterance of (1) is the result of free enrichment, where this is understood to be an optional pragmatic process (in contrast to such obligatory pragmatic processes as saturation). Three Waves of Opposition : Three Waves of Opposition Wave 1: The “Standard View”; hidden variable/hidden argument slot strategy Recanati's response: The Weatherman Example Wave 2a: Optional Variable Strategy Recanati’s response: The Negative Weatherman Example Wave 2b: Broad Location Strategy Recanati's response: Hoisted by their own petards! Wave 3: “Weatherman”-type cases are ubiquitous Recanati’s response: Meaning shifts The Standard View : The Standard View Stanley (2000) makes use of examples such as ‘Wherever he goes, it rains’ to argue for an implicit variable that can be bound by an overt quantifier or supplied with a contextual value when it occurs free, as in (1). Taylor (2001) appeals to semantic considerations about theta roles to argue for an implicit location argument slot in (1). Note that when these implicit variables/ arguments are not explicitly quantified over their contextual values will be specific. Suggests the following test: If we can come up with a context in which (1) is to be understood simply as It is raining somewhere, then there is no hidden variable slot. Overt variables (e.g., pronouns) don’t have such indefinite/non-specific interpretations. E.g., ‘He is bald’ doesn’t have an interpretation according to which it means that someone is bald. So covert ones shouldn’t either. Why ‘He collects local newspapers’ is not a counterexample. The Weatherman Example : The Weatherman Example …imagine a situation in which rain has become extremely rare and important, and rain detectors have been disposed all over the territory (whatever the territory – possibly the whole Earth). In the imagined scenario, each detector triggers an alarm bell in the Monitoring Room when it detects rain. There is a single bell; the location of the triggering detector is indicated by a light on a board in the Monitoring Room. After weeks of total drought, the bell eventually rings in the Monitoring Room. Hearing it, the weatherman on duty in the adjacent room shouts: ‘It’s raining!’ His utterance is true iff it is raining (at the time of utterance) in some place or other. Lesson to be Learned : Lesson to be Learned There is no location variable or argument slot in the predicate ‘rains’. When a location is recovered this involves free enrichment. In the Weatherman case no free enrichment occurs and the proposition expressed by (1) is simply that It is raining (punkt), a proposition Recanati (2006) represents as follows: (2) e t [Present (t)  Time(t,e)  Raining(e)] Note that Recanati does not represent it thus: (3) e t l [Present (t)  Time(t,e)  Raining(e)  Location(l,e)] Claims we can appeal to the metaphysical fact that events always take place somewhere to infer (3) from (2). Problems? No free enrichment? (Note also the irrelevance of rain on Titan, a point acknowledged by Recanati). Free Enrichment Cases : Free Enrichment Cases When (1) is uttered in a context in which the place of the rain event is relevant, the location will be recovered by free enrichment and become a part of the full utterance content. Such free enrichment is either a matter of adding an event description under the scope of the event quantifier or a matter of restricting the domain of the event quantifier: So when free enrichment occurs, the basic LF in (2) results in one or other of the following modified LFs: (4) e t [Present (t)  Time(t,e)  Raining(e)  Location(Paris,e)] (5) (e: Location(Paris,e))(t [Present (t)  Time(t,e)  Raining(e)] Recanati wishes to remain agnostic as to which of these accounts is to be preferred. I will come back to a discussion of the notion of a “modified logical form”. 2nd Wave: Optional Variables : 2nd Wave: Optional Variables Answer to Weatherman case: Even though overt variables must be supplied with specific contextual values when they occur free, covert variables are special. They can be supplied with either a specific or a non-specific value. The latter is what happens in the Weatherman Example. The covert variable undergoes existential closure, yielding (3) above as the underlying form. Recanati’s Response to OVS : Recanati’s Response to OVS Negative Weatherman Case: Imagine a scenario in which the absence of rain has become extremely rare and important (it rains almost everywhere and everytime). All over the territory detectors have been disposed, which trigger an alarm bell in the Monitoring Room when they detect the absence of rain. There is a single bell; the location of the triggering detector is indicated by a light on a board in the Monitoring Room. After weeks of flood, the bell eventually rings in the Monitoring Room. Hearing it, the weatherman on duty in the adjacent room shouts: ‘It’s not raining!’ Here we do not get the wide scope reading There is somewhere that it is not raining. But this reading is predicted if there is an optional location variable available for existential closure. To rule out the impossible reading, the OVS must say that the covert existential always takes narrow scope with respect to any other scope bearing elements in the sentence. But this seems ad hoc (although there is more to be said here). 2nd Wave: Broad Locations : 2nd Wave: Broad Locations Contrary to Recanati’s claim, we do supply a specific value for the implicit location variable in the Weatherman case, namely on Earth. Of course, we don’t get the meaning everywhere on Earth, but rather just somewhere on Earth. So the specified location has to be understood as a location in the broad sense. Event e is located at place l in the broad sense iff there is some sub-location l* of l and e is located at l* in the narrow sense. Recanati’s Response to BLS : Recanati’s Response to BLS Those who posit hidden variables/argument slots for ‘rains’ (e.g., Taylor) want to contrast ‘rains’ with predicates like ‘dance’ which allegedly do not have location argument slots. But this contrast is lost if we appeal to broad locations, because one can equally say that ‘dance’ has a location slot but that it is usually filled by reference to a broad location. Defenders of BLS are likely to protest that they do not have to analyze ‘dance’ in this way. But then neither do they have to analyze ‘rains’ in this way. The BLS backfires on the defenders of the strategy! 3rd Wave: Ubiquity of “Weatherman” cases : 3rd Wave: Ubiquity of “Weatherman” cases Recanati has allegedly given us a test to determine when we need to posit hidden variables/ argument slots and when we must appeal to free enrichment. We test to see whether or not we can generate a non-specific reading for a putative argument position. If we can, we do not have an implicit argument position. But with sufficient ingenuity we can always get such non-specific readings, even for predicates where all parties to the debate agree that there are implicit argument slots, e.g., predicates such as ‘finish’, ‘arrive’ or ‘notice’: (6) John has finished {{reading} the book}. (7) Mary has arrived {at Heathrow airport}. (8) Bill noticed {my new shoes/ that I had new shoes}. Semi-Coma Example : Semi-Coma Example Consider a scenario with a patient who has been in a semi-coma, and a technician in another room is reading the output of an EEG or whatever it is that measures brain activity in various areas of the brain. A trained technician could know when brain activity signals ‘noticing’, and since for the semi-coma patient, the fact that he’s noticing (something) is all that’s important, one might imagine the technician being able to shout ‘He’s noticing!’ without being in any position to know or say what it is the patient is noticing. (Cited in Recanati (2006), from an anonymous referee) Recanati’s Response to Ubiquity Objection : Recanati’s Response to Ubiquity Objection These are not cases where free enrichment occurs. Rather they are cases of pragmatically induced meaning shifts. Recanati posits the notion of a variadic function that can either decrease or increase the adicity of a predicate. In the former case we have a recessive function and in the latter an expansive one. In some cases these shifts are lexicalized (e.g., transitive and intransitive readings of ‘eat’). In some cases the shifts are pragmatically induced. In the Semi-Coma example there is a pragmatically induced recessive meaning shift, since one of the lexically specified argument roles in the predicate ‘notice’ has been existentially quantified. “Standard View” Vindicated? : “Standard View” Vindicated? Having acknowledged the idea of recessive meaning shifts, Recanati is now forced to agree that his “hidden argument slot” opponents can appeal to this notion too! Advocates of SV can say that ‘rains’ has a location argument slot, but in the Weatherman case a pragmatically induced recessive meaning shift occurs, and the denotation of ‘rains’ is shifted from the property in (9) to the one in (10): (9) l e [Raining(e)  Location(l,e)] (10) e [l [Raining(e)  Location(l,e)]] Truth-Conditional Pragmatics : Truth-Conditional Pragmatics Recanati agrees that at present we have to admit that free enrichment and recessive meaning shift accounts of ‘rains’ are equally able to account for the data. We have no neutral way at present for deciding what the encoded meaning of ‘rains’ is. Recanati remains (relatively) sanguine about this stalemate, since he thinks that either way the idea of a truth-conditional pragmatics has been vindicated. This is because both free enrichment and pragmatically induced recessive meaning shifts are optional pragmatic processes, showing that utterance content is influenced in a top-down manner by pragmatic information. Expansive Meaning Shifts : Expansive Meaning Shifts Having introduced this machinery of recessive and expansive meaning shifts, Recanati notes that one can appeal to this machinery in implementing the free enrichment idea. Take the case of (1), uttered in a situation in which rain in Paris is relevant. Then one can say that the location-less predicate ‘rains’ undergoes a pragmatically induced expansive meaning shift. The denotation of the predicate shifts from the property in (11) to the one in (12), and at the same time a value for the location argument slot is supplied, yielding the interpretation It is raining in Paris: (11) e [Raining(e)] (12) l e [Raining(e)  Location(l,e)] Advantages of Meaning-Shift Implementation : Advantages of Meaning-Shift Implementation If we go for this implementation, we avoid commitment to unarticulated constituents, which have been taken to cause problems for a compositional account of utterance content. Meaning shifts are local pragmatic processes that act on lexical items to yield pragmatically shifted meanings. In the example on the previous slide, we would get the modulated meaning rains-in-Paris. This modulated meaning is what is submitted to the compositional process, not the lexicalized meaning. Problems? (Taken up in Lecture 4) (Note: Different story when we go for the implicit domain restriction version of free enrichment. Have to allow unarticulated constituents of utterance content, i.e., of what Recanati calls the Austinian or global proposition). Modulated Meanings vs. Unarticulated Constituents : Modulated Meanings vs. Unarticulated Constituents Are there any considerations that would drive us one way or the other in particular cases? Recanati admits that in the case of (1) it is a toss-up. But he is adamant that in some cases only the meaning shift explanation is plausible, Consider: (13) I’ve eaten {a full breakfast today}. Suppose (13) is uttered in response to an invitation to join someone for breakfast on the day of speaking, and that the enriched proposition recovered includes the content indicated by the words in the braces. Recanati would say that an expansive meaning shift has occurred, and that in this context ‘eat’ means ‘eat a full breakfast’. What is the method that decides these cases? An appeal to intuitions? Ex. of lexicalized meaning shift: ‘to drink’ has as one of its lexicalized meanings to drink alcohol. Context-Sensitivity without Free Enrichment? : Context-Sensitivity without Free Enrichment? Several people have recently argued that context-sensitivity of the sort exhibited by (1) can be accounted for without an appeal to free enrichment. I will discuss two such suggestions: (i) The ”thought without representation” idea proposed by Corazza & Dokic (2006) (ii) The “free generation of variables” idea proposed by Marti (2006) Thought Without Representation : Thought Without Representation Suppose speaker and hearer are in Paris when the speaker utters (1) intending to convey that it is raining in Paris. The utterance situation s implicitly restricts the location of the rain event to the location of s. But since speaker and hearer are in that situation, there is no need for them to construct a mental representation of the enriched content It is raining in Paris. The environment that the speaker and hearer are embedded in together with the minimal contents in their heads support the enriched content. Problem: Expressions or embedded clauses may need to be interpreted relative to situations other than the utterance situation. So we can’t always get away with just minimal propositions. Lekta vs. Global Propositions : Lekta vs. Global Propositions Recanati (forthcoming) suggests a view very similar to the one suggested by Corazza & Dokic. He distinguishes two levels of content: (A) the content of a sentence-in-context, which he calls a lekton. (Lekta appear to be identical to minimal propositions). (B) the content of an utterance, which he calls a global proposition. (Such propositions are arrived at via free enrichment of lekta). Now, if you say ‘Its raining’ in your situation (say in Paris) and I say ‘Its not raining’ in my situation (say in the Bahamas) then even though our lekta express contradictory contents, we are not disagreeing. We only disagree if we’re talking about the same situation. But Recanati also says (and here is where he seems to agree with C&D) that when we’re in the same situation, lekta can go proxy for complete utterance contents and we can assert, communicate, and disagree about these minimal contents. The Poker Game : The Poker Game If we can assert and disagree about lekta, they must be truth evaluable. Recanati does indeed claim that we can evaluate the truth of both sentences-in-context and utterances. However, there is no guarantee they’ll coincide in truth-value: Recanati cites an example from Barwise & Etchemendy (1987): Jon is watching a poker game and says ‘Claire has a good hand now’, which is true iff Claire has a good hand in the poker game that Jon is watching right then. But suppose Jon made a mistake and Claire is not one of the players in the game he is watching. However, she is playing in a bridge game across town and in that game she does indeed have a good hand. On Recanati’s dual content view, what Jon said was false, since his utterance is evaluated in the poker-game situation, and in that situation Claire does not have a good hand. But the sentence-in-context is true (in the actual world), since Claire does have a good hand (somewhere in the world) at the time of Jon’s utterance. Problems with Minimal Propositions : Problems with Minimal Propositions Strictly, Recanati should say that the sentence-in-context is true because Claire has a good hand of some sort somewhere in the world at the time of Jon’s utterance (since it is virtue of having a good bridge hand, not a good poker hand, that she has a good hand). In other words, it is not only the location which is unspecified in the lekton, but also the type of hand (and probably also the standard of goodness by which the hand is judged – if Claire is playing against novices who’ll make lots of unforced errors, she probably doesn’t need as strong a hand as she’d need in an international bridge tournament). Either way, it is not clear to me that what is evaluated is the lekton, as opposed to a general proposition that is derived from the lekton by free enrichment of a sort. The lekton that Claire has a good hand punkt at the time of utterance is a propositional radical. Does an appeal to metaphysics help here as it allegedly did in the case of (1)? Is there a metaphysics of “good hands”? Free Generation of Variables : Free Generation of Variables Marti (2006) argues against free enrichment. Instead, she posits the idea that a variable slot is optionally generated in the syntax. When it is, it must be supplied with a contextual value in the ordinary way. When it is not, we get the sort of non-specific interpretation that we do in the Weatherman case. But what determines whether the slot is generated? It had better not be pragmatic considerations, or the view will collapse into the free enrichment view on its expansive meaning shift implementation. In fact, Marti denies that pragmatics triggers anything. She writes: Whether one of the B-variables … is generated in the syntax or not is left completely free, just because adjuncts generally are not necessary. The system tries out different derivations, and only those that comply with all the principles of grammar, including Gricean principles, are successful. (p. 150) Unencapsulated Syntax? : Unencapsulated Syntax? It is not entirely clear what the view is, but I’ll assume that Marti is not saying that syntactic processing is unencapsulated and directly influenced by wide pragmatic considerations of the Gricean sort. Rather, she is claiming that the output of the (encapsulated) syntactic system will be multiple candidate LFs and then wide pragmatic processes will operate to prune the list. This would amount to some sort of ambiguity theory. Sentences like (1) are at least two ways ambiguous. Of course, it is an empirical question how language processing works, but this does on the face of it seems like an inefficient use of processing resources. Why bother to generate multiple LFs when a single underspecified LF will do the trick? Why should we even consider the variable slot option in the Weatherman case just to rule it out? See Sperber & Wilson (1997), Carston (2002) for discussion of the benefits of underspecified LFs. Modified Logical Forms : Modified Logical Forms Earlier I noted that Recanati (2006) posits that the basic LF (2) undergoes free enrichment to yield the modified LF (4) i.e, if one goes for the adding-a-conjunct idea; if one goes for the domain restriction idea, the modified LF will be (5). But does (4) have any sort of psychological reality? We’ve already seen that Corazza & Dokic think not; only basic LFs need be represented. Recanati (2006) is inclined to say that (4) is simply the theoretician’s way of representing the intuitive truth-conditions of an utterance of (1) in the Paris situation. It does not represent another layer of syntactic representation. LFs and the Language of Thought : LFs and the Language of Thought Recanati attributes the view that modified LFs are another layer of syntactic representation to Sperber & Wilson and to Jackendoff. He does this on the grounds that these people all subscribe to the view that representations in thought are representations in the “language of thought” (which according to Fodor has its own “syntax”). But it is very uncharitable to take Sperber & Wilson to be saying that representations of enriched propositions are syntactic representations in the same sense that basic LFs are. Basic LFs are the output at the conceptual-intentional interface of the syntactic system proper. Representations of enriched propositions on the other hand are constituted out of ad hoc concepts, and are the output of local pragmatic processes which take basic LFs as their input. I will come back to a discussion of Jackendoff’s views in lecture 4. Mental Architectures : Mental Architectures We’ve had hints of various different pictures of the mental architecture underlying our pragmatic competence. I personally am very interested in questions about the psychological processing of utterances and about the psychological organization of the language system. I take up some of these issues in more detail in lecture 2. I’ll end with a few diagrams of the mental architecture of the language system that seem to be suggested by: (a) Corazza & Dokic (b) Marti (c) Sperber & Wilson (Positions (a) and (c) can be taken to be expressions of the rival representationalist and anti-representationalist positions that have been debated since at least the 1980s. See Kempson & Meyer-Viol (2004) for a description of this debate and reasons for favoring the representationalist side). Situationalism : Situationalism Ambiguism : Ambiguism Pragmatic Modulation : Pragmatic Modulation

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