The nature of language (5 cr)
- 2020-10-07 - 2020-12-09
- Wednesdays, 11.00-14.00
David Kaplan and Robert Stalnaker articulated an important distinction between semantics and metasemantics or foundational semantics, ascribing complementary roles to each. To the former category belong theories that assign meanings to their bearers, prominent among them linguistic expressions. To the latter belong theories that provide “the basis” for ascribing such meanings (Kaplan, 1989b: 573-4) or state “what the facts are” that give these meanings to their bearers (Stalnaker, 1997: 535). This is a metaphysical undertaking – one concerning the grounding of meaning-facts, i.e., what determines, fixes or constitutes them, and it depends on views on what languages are, i.e., on what their ontological nature is.
The terminology in which we have cashed out this undertaking is recent, but the concern itself has a long history, as long as the philosophy of language. Grice (1957) offers a metasemantics on which the meaning relation is at its heart psychologically determined by a particular kind of reflexive intentions. Davidson argued both for a Tarskian truth-conditional format for semantic theories, and an interpretativist metasemantics to decide which one better characterize languages in use. A Chomskian alternative psychological view appeals instead to “subpersonal” states; a “Platonist” view understands languages as abstract entities; and a Wittgensteinian normative approach developed by Alston (1964), Austin (1962) and Searle (1969) takes the meaning-facts about natural languages to be determined by social norms and social conventions. Lewis (1979) is a deservedly influential forerunner of current versions. With his “scorekeeping” analogy, Lewis showed how to model some of the normative facts that play crucial metasemantic roles in them.
Our goal in this course is to present recent debates on the metasemantic undertaking and the nature of language. The recent discussion has mostly addressed a specific case, the metasemantics of context-dependent expressions in general and indexicals/demonstratives in particular. While keeping an eye on the debates about indexicals, we will focus instead on the metasemantics of force-indicators such as the declarative, interrogative and imperative moods, presuppositions triggers understood as speech-act indicators, slurs also taken as speech-act indicators. Instead of discussing these proposals in the abstract, in this course we will explore the debates by focusing on a particular topic, namely, the nature of assertion – the speech act that we express by default when uttering declarative sentences. There has been a continuous discussion of the nature of assertion in contemporary philosophy. Grice and Strawson proposed in the 1960s an account in terms of communicative intentions, classically presented in polished form in Bach & Harnish’s (1979). Austin and Dummett propounded a contrasting normative account, while Davidson made influential sceptical remarks. Also at the end of the 1970s, Stalnaker influentially suggested to understand assertions as proposals to update a context set of information commonly taken for granted by conversationists. Recently, Tim Williamson’s (1996/2000) already classic paper on the topic has initiated a whole new industry: many papers have been published in recent years on the topic, mostly discussing the pros and cons of the account that Williamson proposed, according to which assertions can be individuated as propositional acts subject to the normative requirement that the assertor knows the proposition put forward.
The first sessions will consist in a lecture devoted to introducing the topics of the course and the relevant basic notions. After that, the course will be run in the style of a seminar. We will study a set text in each session. All participants are expected to study each week’s reading carefully in advance, so as to be prepared for the class discussion. The texts are available online in the Campus Virtual. Guiding questions will be provided.
The module will be evaluated by a weighted combination of three factors. Participation in class will be evaluated in terms of quality of preparation and of contributions to the discussion. There will be two short papers, which we will ask you to complete during the course. Their main purpose is to allow you to check whether you are on top of the material, and to motivate you to stay on top. Finally, you will be expected to write a term paper, running to 3,000 words at most, on a question you choose from a list of essay questions, which will be made available towards the end of the course. The essay will be due on January 25th, 2021. The weighting of the three factors is as follows:
Class participation: 15%
2 short papers: 35%
The readings are available from the CV.
(7/10) Metasemantics and the Nature of Language. García-Carpintero, Manuel (2012): “Foundational Semantics, I & II”, Philosophy Compass 7(6), 397-421; (forthcoming): “Metasemantics: A Normative Perspective (and the Case of Mood)”, P. Stalmaszczyk (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Philosophy of Language, Cambridge: CUP.
(14/10) Intention and Convention. Strawson, Peter (1964): “Intention and Convention in Speech Acts”, Philosophical Review 73, 439-460.
(21/10) Stalnaker’s Account. Stalnaker, Robert (1978): “Assertion,” in P. Cole (ed.) Syntax and Semantics 9, New York: Academic Press, 315-332.
(28/10) Accommodation and Presuppositions. Lewis, David 1979, “Scorekeeping in a Language Game”, Journal of Philosophical Logic 8, 339-359.
(4/11) The Knowledge Account of Assertion. Williamson, Timothy (1996): “Knowing and Asserting”, Philosophical Review 105, 489-523.
(11/11) Are There Indirect Assertions? Fricker, Elizabeth (2012): “Stating and Insinuating,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society sup. vol. lxxxvi, 61-94.
(18/11) Explicit Performatives. García-Carpintero, Manuel (2013): “Explicit Performatives Revisited”, Journal of Pragmatics, 49, 2013, 1-17, DOI: 10.1016/j.pragma.2013.01.005.
(25/11) Reference as a Speech Act. Michaelson, Eliot forthcoming, “Towards a Grand Unified Theory of Reference”; García-Carpintero (forthcoming): “Reference-fixing and Presuppositions”, in S. Biggs & H. Geirsson (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Linguistic Reference.
(2/12) Lying and misleading. Stokke, Andreas (2017): “Conventional implicature, presupposition, and lying”, Aristotelian Society Supp. Vol. XVI, pp. 127-147.
(9/12) Slurs. Marques, Teresa, & García-Carpintero, Manuel (2020): “Really Expressive Presuppositions and How to Block Them”, Grazer Philosophische Studien 97, 138-158.