PERSP Lectures on Aspects of Meaning. Robin Jeshion (University of Southern California). Barcelona, December 14-15, 2015.

PERSP Lectures on Aspects of Meaning

Robin Jeshion (University of Southern California)

Barcelona, December 14 and 15


Venue: Seminari de Filosofia, Faculty of Philosophy (fourth floor), University of Barcelona.


Lecture 1, December 14. Time: 10:00-12:00

Title: Slurs, Dehumanization, and the Expression of Contempt.


Lecture 2, December 14. Time: 15:00 - 17:00 

Title: The Social Dimension of Slurs.


Lecture 3, December 15. Time: 13:00-15:00 

Title: Katherine and the Katherine: On the Syntactic Distribution of Names and Count Nouns.


Abstract, first two talks: Slurring terms are pejorative expressions that target individuals on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, socioeconomic status, occupation, and various other socially important properties.  They are tools of subordination and their use a threat to human dignity.  What do such expressions mean? And how does their meaning contribute to the fact that uses of slurs are extraordinarily destructive – dehumanizing – to their targets and can tend to make hearers feel complicit?  Understanding such expressions requires understanding the interactions of their semantics and pragmatics with their social and psychological functions and effects.  These lectures will explore the interplay between the meaning of slurring terms, their contribution to truth conditions, their capacity to dehumanize, and their social functions to forge alliances and signal affiliations.


Abstract, third talk: Names are referring expressions. "Katherine" as it occurs in "Katherine wants a coffee" contributes an individual to the proposition expressed; it is of semantic type e. Names interact with the determiner system only exceptionally and in ways that differ dramatically from those of count nouns and mass nouns. Some expressions that may appear to be names are not in fact names. "Katherine" as it occurs in "Only one Katherine applied for the job" is not a proper name. It is a count noun whose extension includes all and only individuals who bear the name "Katherine" ; it is of semantic type <e, t>.  Qua count noun, it shares exactly the same syntactic distribution with the determiner system as ordinary count nouns like "cat" . Predicativists like Matushansky and Fara claim otherwise. They maintain that in both sentences "Katherine" is a predicate, is of semantic type <e, t>, yet belongs to a special syntactic category, the category of name count nouns – in contrast with the category of ordinary count nouns.  Name count nouns differ from ordinary count nouns in how they interact with the determiner system. Whereas ordinary count nouns cannot occur bare in the singular ("Cat wants water" *), name count nouns can ("Katherine wants a coffee" ). And whereas ordinary count nouns can occur with "the" in the singular, even when unstressed ("The cat wants water" ), name count nouns cannot ("The Katherine is dancing" *).  I argue that predicativists' key syntactic data is incorrect. "The Katherine is dancing" is grammatical when "Katherine" occurs as an ordinary count noun though ungrammatical when it occurs as a proper name. "Katherine wants a coffee" is grammatical when "Katherine" occurs as a proper name, though ungrammatical when it occurs as a count noun. I also offer extensive additional syntactic data for doubting predicativism and favoring referentialism about names.


Type of event: 
Mon, 2015-12-14 - Tue, 2015-12-15
Seminari de Filosofia, Faculty of Philosophy (fourth floor), University of Barcelona