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.

Assessment

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.

Classes

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.

Questions to consider for 5th February:

1 a) What are the differences between Grice's account of meaning and conversation and relevance theory's account of communication?
 
   b) What is the minimum that it takes for a theory to be inferential-intentional? i.e. What assumptions/commitments are shared by relevance theory, Grice, and everyone else who is broadly 'Gricean'? 
 
2 a) Is the hearer's recognition of Grice's 2nd/RT's 'communicative' intention really sufficient for successful communication? (...as Sperber and Wilson say it is.)
If you can think of a case where that intention is recognised but we wouldn't say there is successful communication, I'd really like to hear about it.
 
  b) Is the hearer's recognition of Grice's 2nd/RT's 'communicative' intention necessary for successful communication? (...as Sperber and Wilson suggest it isn't.) Here, I have a counterexample in mind, but I'd like to hear what you come up with too.
 

Topic 1: Introduction to intentional-inferential pragmatics

Reading
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.
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.
 
Background and supplementary reading
Neale, S. (1992). Paul Grice and the philosophy of language. Linguistics and Philosophy, 15(5), 509–559.
Sperber, D. (1994). Understanding verbal understanding. In J. Khalfa (Ed.), What is Intelligence? (pp. 179–198). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sperber, D. (1995). How do we communicate? In J. Brockman & K. Matson (Eds.), How Things Are: A Science Toolkit to the Mind. (pp. 191–199). New York: W. Morrow.
 

Topic 2: Grice on reasoning and inference

Reading
Ch 1 & part of ch 2 (to end of p. 36) of Grice, P. (2001). Aspects of Reason. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
 
Background reading
Dancy, J. (2003). Aspects of reason I (Review of ‘Aspects of Reason’, Paul Grice, 2001). The Philosophical Quarterly, 53(211)(211), 274–279.
Harman, G. (2003). Aspects of reason II (Review of ‘Aspects of Reason’, Paul Grice, 2001). The Philosophical Quarterly, 53(211), 280–284.
Warner, R. (2001). Introduction: Grice on reasons and rationality. In R. Warner (Ed.), Aspects of Reason. (pp. vii–xxxviii). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
 

Topic 3: External critique I: Millikan

Reading
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.
Ch. 10 (‘Semantics/Pragmatics: (Purposes and Cross-Purposes)’) of Millikan, R. G. (2005). Language: A Biological Model. Oxford University Press.
Origgi, G. & Sperber, D. (2000). Evolution, communication, and the proper function of language. In P. Carruthers & A. Chamberlain (Eds.), Evolution and the Human Mind: Modularity, Language and Meta-Cognition. (pp. 140–169). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
 
Background reading
Chomsky, N. (2003). Reply to Millikan. In L. M. Antony & N. Hornstein (Eds.), Chomsky and His Critics. (pp. 308–315).
Ch. 3 of Millikan, R. G. (1984). Language, Thought and Other Biological Categories. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. 
Millikan, R. G. (1998). Language conventions made simple. The Journal of Philosophy, 95(4), 161–180.
Millikan, R. G. (2003). In defense of public language. In L. M. Antony & N. Hornstein (Eds.), Chomsky and His Critics. (pp. 215–237). Oxford: Blackwell.
Onishi, K. H. & Baillargeon, R. (2005). Do 15-month-old infants understand false beliefs? Science, 308(5719), 255–258.
 

Topic 4: External critique II: Gauker

Reading
Gauker, C. (2001). Situated Inference versus Conversational Implicature. Nous, 35(2), 163-189.
Gauker, C. (2008). Zero tolerance for pragmatics. Synthese, 165(3), 359–371.
 
More topics to come...

Organizer

Nicholas Allott
Tags: pragmatics, philosophy of language, linguistics, Philosophy of mind
Published Jan. 28, 2013 12:24 PM - Last modified Jan. 30, 2013 1:09 PM