Power Point - Princeton University

Lewis and
the Semantics-Pragmatics Divide
Ernie Lepore
Matthew Stone
Department of Computer Science
Center for Cognitive Science
Rutgers University
Rethinking semantics and pragmatics
• coordination (Lewis 1969)
• the conversational record (Lewis 1979)
Linguistics and the social
Implications for philosophical practice
Last time: Intentions
• Intention recognition is an important
ingredient of understanding, collaboration
• Problematic to locate linguistic knowledge
using intentions
Need to look elsewhere to get clear on the
scope of linguistic rules as social constructs
Situations where agents’ actions must agree
• but no intrinsic reason to prefer one joint
strategy over another
Examples from Lewis (1969)
• Arrange a meeting
• Restart an interrupted phone call
• Row a boat
• Share the road when driving
• Perform a search as a group
• Collude to set prices
• Signal a choice
Coordination as a game
Games and reasoning
If an agent chooses her action deliberately,
she must consider her expectations about
her partner.
Idealization: equilibrium
• no player would change his move,
given the moves the others make
Games and reasoning
We generally expect equilibria in real life
• where agents play repeatedly
they can learn to match one another
even if individual decisions are heuristic
Equilibrium describes regularity in behavior
• Lets us ascribe certain states to agents
(perhaps tacit or implicit)
State underlying equilibrium
It’s common knowledge that
(1) everyone conforms to R
(2) everyone expects everyone else to
conform to R
(3) everyone prefers to conform to R on the
condition that others do
Lewis: this is a convention
• Silent about how conventions are instituted
That’s the point.
• Lewis describes how we can get convention
from salience, precedents and convergence
– but this is just one story among many
Games and reasoning
A range of mechanisms explain equilibrium
• Architecture – we’re only biologically capable
of one equilibrium
• Salience – we’re so constituted that
preferred equilibrium leaps to mind
• Experience – we’ve learned that others
follow a given equilibrium
All potentially relevant to
language faculty
Architecture: Universal Grammar
Salience: Primitive preferences for particular
patterns of interpretation
Experience: Acquired lexical items, syntactic
parameter settings, etc.
Lewis: this is a convention
• We don’t have to know all these things
Fair point – let’s talk about ‘social competence’
instead as whatever lets us solve (certain)
coordination problems – not prejudging the
actual status of skills, knowledge, choice &
Lewis: this is a convention
• Lewis’s conventions are always followed –
this seems too strong (Gilbert, Millikan)
• Examples: handing out cigars, using ‘bank’
to mean financial institution
Lewis: this is a convention
• Lewis’s conventions have to achieve
preferred outcomes – this seems too strong
(Gilbert, Millikan)
• Examples: decorating for Christmas
specifically with red and green
Lewis: this is a convention
• Seems to assume coordination problem
exists antecedently of equilibrium – this
seems too strong (Marmor)
• Examples: playing chess by the rules
In keeping with idea of social competence,
let’s think of coordination problems are
rational reconstructions
Lewis on Signaling
One party produces signal,
knowing the state of the world
The other acts,
having seen the signal
Explains information carried by signal,
but a long way from meaning
Signaling example
‘one if by land, two if by sea’
Sexton hangs certain patterns of lights
conditional on what British are doing
Revere prepares particular pattern of defense
conditional on what lights he sees
They want equilibrium
Signaling games
Meaning is underdetermined
• 1 light: the British are coming by land
• 1 light: prepare the land defenses!
• both?
Meaning only present at equilibrium
• So what about coordination that succeeds
through other mechanisms – salience? good
luck? partial or tentative precedents?
Lewis on Convention
Lewis attempts to generalize to language
by directly understanding truth conditions
as conventions for agents to use
certain sentences in certain conditions
(namely, when they are true)
Lewis on Convention
This is very cumbersome
And doesn’t seem to get at the real difficulties
Another idea
Language combines social competence with
specific institutions targeted at meaning
Specifically: the conversational record
(Lewis 1979)
Conversational record
List of propositions associated with discourse
• interlocutors’ environment
• what has been said already
• what the purposes and plan is
• what standards of meaning are in play
• what issues are open
• what conversation is committed to
(Lewis 1979, Thomason 1990)
Conversational record
Record is dynamic
• topic can change
• meaning standards can be negotiated
• presuppositions can be challenged
• interlocutors can commit to new
propositions or rescind previous
Utterances specify updates
• generally, as a matter of meaning
Conversational record
• Free to specify discourse referents,
standards for vague predicates,
other constructs from formal theories
• Need not be tied to interlocutors’
knowledge or belief
Record is arbitrary
In key respects, it’s up to us how the record
So it’s natural to think of the record as an
object of coordination
Coordinating on the Record
One way of thinking
• I have my version of what’s happened
• You have your version of what’s happened
• When it lines up, we’ve communicated
Compare Neale’s presentation here
Coordinating on the Record
One way of thinking
• I have my version of what’s happened
• You have your version of what’s happened
• When it lines up, we’ve communicated
Drawback: describing cases of
miscommunication, clarification, etc.
Coordinating on the Record
An indirect way of thinking
• Each of us defers to practices
• Meanings specify how to update the record
• We coordinate on what we defer to
Coordinating on the Record
An indirect way of thinking
• Each of us defers to practices
• Meanings specify how to update the record
• We coordinate on what we defer to
Promises a better handle on
miscommunication, clarification
The Received View
• linguistic specification of reference, truth
• settles what the speaker is saying
• general principles of inference and strategy
• settles what speaker is doing
Fails to describe linguistic knowledge
• more linguistic facts than supposes
• e.g., rules for indirection, presupposition,
information structure, etc.
Fails to describe interpretive inference
• wide range of practices for engaging with
imagery, drawing insights
Overall picture
Key theoretical notion is inquiry
• process (normally collaborative)
in which interlocutors settle how things are
• public meanings
• open to negotiation, debate
Overall picture
Inquiry privileges conventional meaning
• depends on conversational record
• depends on coordination
Allows for a broad understanding of meaning
Excludes insight or point of open-ended,
idiosyncratic engagement with utterance
Inquiry and CR
Conversational record tracks inquiry
• Assertion registers proposition on record
as commitment of one party
• Enables further follow up, such as
clarification questions,
arguments for or against,
agreement or disagreement by other parties
Record ensures a shared interpretation
How will this affect philosophy?
Better arguments, but more difficult ones.
Close with case study:
• Grice versus ordinary language philosophers
Color: the dialectic
Claim: color supervenes on appearance
• Something is red just in case it looks red
under normal conditions to appropriately
endowed observers.
Objection (Austin):
• Hogwash! You’d only say something looked
red if it wasn’t red!
Color: the dialectic
Reply (Grice):
• Well, yes, you wouldn’t say something looks
red unless it wasn’t red.
• But, that’s not part of the meaning of “it
looks red”, it’s an implicature.
• Sorry Grice, your linguistics is bogus.
What next?
• Sorry Austin, your linguistics is bogus too!
Often say “something looks red” when it is:
• His fake tan looks orange.
• Contaminated water still looks clear.
• The distant shores look green and inviting.
(examples after google
What next?
• Sorry Austin, your linguistics is bogus too!
When “it looks red” means it’s not,
it’s because of intonation.
No objection to analysis of color,
as long as you don’t use that intonation!
Similar cases
Believe and know.
Try and succeed.
Or and and.
Ordinary language folks: 1st suggests not 2nd
Grice: That’s just an implicature.
Us: You’re both wrong.
1st suggests not 2nd if marked elsewhere
lots of times 1st doesn’t suggest not 2nd.
Basic point
Our theories need to acknowledge the
richness and complexity of language and
We can do the linguistics and philosophy
we want without unhelpful categories like
“conversational implicatures”.

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