PhD course on communication and inference
The focus of this course will be the view that communication involves inference to the best explanation of an utterance, where in normal cases the best explanation is that the speaker intended to inform the hearer of an intention to inform the hearer of something. This view derives from Grice's work on speaker meaning (1957) and on conversational maxims and implicatures (1975).
We will look at criticisms of this view which aim to show that (all or some) communication is not inferential, or does not involve the recovery of speaker intentions. We will also look at what this view of communication assumes about inference and about metarepresentation, and more broadly, at the explanatory role in cognitive science of talk about inferences over representations.
Time and dates of classes
Tuesdays afternoons, 2.15 to 4, from 29th January for at least ten weeks.
Topics to be covered include
The inferential-intentional model of communication developed from Grice’s work on meaning (1957) and conversation (1975), in particular the attempt to provide a psychologically realistic account of inferential utterance interpretation within relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson, 1986).
Different notions of inference in the cognitive sciences: encapsulated and automatic as (some think) in vision (‘pseudo-inference’ – Sperber); person-level, unencapsulated (full-blown reasoning?). Are other notions required? e.g. unencapsulated, automatic inference seems to be assumed in relevance theory. Discussion between Recanati (2004) and Carston.
Different levels of explanation of mental processes: When does the possibility of an algorithmic account render talk about hypothesis confirmation merely figurative, and when does it rather provide an account at a different level of something that the talk of hypothesis confirmation describes truly? Comparison to debate over I-language (e.g. Chomsky 2000, Collins 2007).
Non-inferential models: arguments against the inferential model, including Gauker (2008), Millikan (1984, 1987).
Mixed models, including Recanati’s accessibility-only model. The debate here is about whether an acceptability criterion is needed in an account of arriving at the proposition expressed by a speaker (Recanati 2004). Also Mazzone’s (2011) extension of the accessibility-only account to implicature derivation. A different line of criticism of the RT orthodoxy is seen in Jary’s (forthcoming) view that there are two different kinds of inference involved in arriving at implicatures, and consequently two categories of implicature: material and behavioural.
The relation of questions about how, through communication, beliefs are formed, and whether they are justified, about: a) what speakers mean and b) how the world is more generally (i.e. the relation between questions about pragmatics/interpretation and testimony). There is a connection to the topic (above) on different notions of inference, through Sperber et al (2010) which claims that interpretation of speaker’s meaning is inferential but not (in general) reflective, while belief revision as a consequence of interpretation is inferential and reflective (in the sense that it is necessarily meta-representational).
Partial list of references
Chomsky, N. (2000). New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Collins, J. (2007). Linguistic Competence without Knowledge of Language. Philosophy Compass, 2(6), 880-895.
Gauker, C. (2008). Zero tolerance for pragmatics. Synthese, 165(3), 359–371.
Grice, P. (1957). Meaning. The Philosophical Review, 66, 377–388.
Grice, P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole & J. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax & Semantics 3: Speech Acts. (pp. 41–58). New York: Academic Press.
Jary (forthcoming). Two types of implicature: material and behavioural. Mind and Language.
Mazzone, M. (2011). Schemata and associative processes in pragmatics. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(8), 2148-2159.
Millikan, R. G. (1984). Language, Thought and Other Biological Categories. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Millikan, R. G. (1987). What Peter thinks when he hears Mary speak (Reply to Sperber and Wilson, Précis of ‘Relevance: Communication and Cognition’). Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 10, 725–726.
Recanati, F. (2004). Literal Meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sperber, D. & Wilson, D. (1986). Relevance: Communication and Cognition (2nd Ed. 1995). Oxford: Blackwell.
Sperber, D., Clément, F., Heintz, C., Mascaro, O., Mercier, H., Origgi, G. & Wilson, D. (2010). Epistemic vigilance. Mind & Language, 25(4), 359–393.
Wilson, D. (1994). Relevance and understanding. In G. Brown, K. Malmkjaer, A. Pollitt & J. Williams (Eds.), Language and Understanding. (pp. 35–58). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Credit (for PhD students) is gained through participation plus either a short essay (5 credits) or a longer essay (10 credits). It is also possible for MA students to take this course for credit by special arrangement (contact Caroline Christin Hansen).
Students will be encouraged to present a paper or group of papers that they are interested in towards the end of the course, as partial preparation for the essay.
We'll work through the topics below at about one per week, depending on how much we find to say about them.
Next week, i.e. 5th February, we'll be finishing off topic 1 and moving on to topic 2.