Work in Progress Seminar: Mirela Fuš

Mirela Fuš (Concept Lab)

Content Inscrutability


Truth-conditional semantics for natural language gives conditions for sentences to be true at a context. It has been taken for granted that the introduction of contexts presupposes that speakers and listeners have mutual knowledge of the values of the relevant contextual parameters. Otherwise, when there is no mutual knowledge, it is regarded that there is a defect in communication. Yet, as MacFarlane (2016) points out, semanticists keep introducing inscrutable contextual parameters whose settings speakers and listeners cannot mutually know, even in cases we take to be instances of a successful communication. MacFarlane is primarily concerned with the outcomes for the semantic theory that posits incurable contextual parameters. The scope of this paper is, however, broader, insofar I consider inscrutability as a more ubiquitous phenomenon. In this paper, I argue that certain conceptual contents can also be inscrutable and look at the consequences of content inscrutability (CI) in communication and when theorizing, as well as for the foundational theories of meaning.

In the first part, I motivate the notion of inscrutability by placing it into a wider historical context of epistemic inaccessibility. Then, I extend MacFarlane’s argument for inscrutable contextual parameters to inscrutable content parameters. I further argue for CI as an epistemic inaccessibility to contents. In the second part, I look at the effects CI produces in communication and when theorizing. I expand Cappelen´s (forthcoming) classification framework of conceptual deficiencies by arguing for CI as an epistemic conceptual deficiency. In the third part, I address the problem of inscrutability for a semantic theory. In particular, I look how CI undermines the mentalist approaches to content, such as Gricean and convention-based theories (e.g. Lewis 1975) programs but also mental representation-based theories. Finally, I briefly consider a non-mentalist approach that can deal with the phenomenon of CI.

Published Mar. 31, 2017 12:17 PM - Last modified May 10, 2017 12:09 PM