Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

Presupposition and Assertion: A defense of the common ground view

Date: 20 December 2017

Time: 15:00

Place: ROOM 411


In this talk I will examine Abbott’s (2008) claims that Stalnaker’s (1978, 2002) widely influential views about both presupposition and assertion (that many of us make use of) are wrong. She calls those views the common ground view of presupposition and the common ground view of assertion.

Abbott claims that the common ground view is not able to distinguish presupposition from assertion, and that it is subject to many different kinds of counterexamples.

To give some sense of the kind of counterexamples that she provides:

According to the common ground view conversation takes place on the basis of a set of assumptions about the beliefs that all the participants in the conversation share. Abbot claims that according to the common ground view about assertion:
(a) Speakers “intend their utterances to reduce the set of possible worlds consistent with these beliefs” (Abbott 2008, p. 531), and that

(b) “To make an assertion is to reduce the context set (i.e. the common ground) in a particular way” (p. 532).

Abbott points out, though, that, for instance, when uttering (1) in an university elevator

(1) The term will soon be over the speaker will typically have no intention of being informative, but just to avoid an uncomfortable silence in the elevator; (1) is not providing any new information and so neither (a) nor (b) will hold in this case.

I will, in response to Abbott’s arguments, point out that (i) Abbott partially misdescribes the common ground view of assertion; (ii) We can account for each of Abbott’s counterexamples on the basis of the common ground view of assertion and several additional (and independently motivated) facts and mechanisms.