Brains, Persons, and Society *** ABSTRACTS
Cervelli, Persone e Società ***ABSTRACTS
Laboratoire de Linguistique Textuelle et de Pragmatique Cognitive
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Who (still) needs semantic context?
Partisans of semantic minimalism contend that the content of sentence tokens is exhausted by the semantic interpretation of their linguistic meaning. However, the existence of lexically encoded indexicals and demonstratives compels the advocates of such a view to posit a minimal, semantic conception of context, which is inherited mainly from Kaplan. Thus conceived, the context is constituted by a fixed and small set of parameters that suffice to map the linguistic meaning onto content, and so abstracting from the ‘wide’ or pragmatic context constituted by the details of the actual occasion of utterance. However, Kaplan’s reluctance to include speaker’s intentions within the context has for unpleasant consequence that the character of a demonstrative is not its linguistic meaning: what determines the content of a demonstrative in a context is the demonstratum. The directing intentions come into play before, at the preformal level in associating a distinct syntactic counterpart for each occurrence of the demonstrative (Kaplan 1989: 587-588). Therefore, as Recanati (2000b: 298) points out: (a) character may not be equated with linguistic meaning, (b) the determination of Kaplanian contexts depends on the wide, pragmatic contexts. The main reason advanced for Kaplan in defence of his non-pragmatic conception of context is his desire to preserve the validity of inferences whose premises contain indexicals, such as
P1: If John is here now, then Mary is happy.
P2: John is here now.
C: Mary is happy
This argument presupposes that the validity of material inferences is warranted by the underlying logical structure. Any materiel inference like ‘It rains, therefore the street are wet’ should thus require an implicit conditional premise, and the (implicit) mastery of the rule of detachment (Brandom 1994: 97-102). However, if one apprehends the things the other way around, and assumes, as does Brandom, that logical vocabulary simply makes explicit the inferential role of materiel inferences, Kaplan’s argument is bereft if its strength. It makes sense to argue here and now in P1 and P2 are assigned content with respect to assumptions about speaker’s intentions–whether or not the conjunction of P1 and P2 was intended to yield C as a valid conclusion. In other words, wide, pragmatic context, which includes extra-linguistic information such as speaker’s intentions, provides cues as whether two utterances should combine into a material inference, and consequently, whether the indexicals or, for that matter, demonstratives should be assigned the same content. If so, there is no conceptual necessity for the intermediate level of semantic content. This is particularly plausible in the view of high proportion of uses of here and now that are not amenable to a classical Kaplanian analysis (Recanati 2000a). Since the commitment to semantic context is unavoidable for any semantic minimalist, independent justification of such an extra level is required.
R. B. (1994). Making It Explicit. Reasoning, Representing, and
Kaplan, D. (1989). "Afterthoughts." Themes from Kaplan. J. Amog, J. Perry and H. K. Wettstein,
Recanati, F. (2000a). "Are Here and Now Indexicals?" Texte(27-28): 115-127
Recanati, F. (2000b). Oratio Obliqua, Oratio Recta. An Essay on Metarepresentation. Cambridge,
Mass., MIT Press.