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Philosophy 208: Seminar on Pragmatics

Where: Philosophy seminar room (H&SS 7077)
When: Fridays 1-3:50

Instructor: Jonathan Cohen
'joncohen' followed by the at sign, followed by ''
office: (858) 534 6812

Office hours: Tuesdays 10-11:30, in H&SS 8072 (and by appointment; please feel free to call/email)

It is a familiar and relatively uncontroversial observation that utterances of linguistic expressions routinely convey more than what those expressions mean -- in particular, more than they semantically or truth-conditionally encode. Thus, just to give a couple of banal examples, "Can you pass the salt?" ordinarily conveys a request that the salt be passed to the speaker; "I ate some of your cookies" conveys that I did not eat all of your cookies; and "Jack fell down and broke his crown" conveys that Jack's falling preceded and caused Jack's crown breaking.

In the last few decades, these issues have become increasingly germane to debates in almost every area of philosophy: theorists have appealed to the semantic/extrasemantic distinction again and again to defend views about ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, perception, and on and on. On the standard defense of this sort, a theorist will insist that her view's entailments are actually true, and only appear to be false because they extrasemantically convey various further claims that are false. Since so many disputes in so many areas of philosophy turn on evaluating the viability of such strategies, an understanding of extrasemantic content is something that well-equipped philosophers of all sorts would be well-advised to have in their toolboxes.

However, on closer inspection, consensus about extrasemantic content breaks down quickly once we move past the observation that there is some. There is controversy about the distinction between semantic and non-semantic/pragmatic phenomena, the nature of the interface between them, the typology of extrasemantic phenomena, their relationships to both other species of rational and non-rational inference and various forms of (non-linguistic) cooperation, and the proper (psychological, linguistic, logical) understanding of the processes of language use that underlie them.

This seminar will be devoted to studying these issues in the hope of coming to some conclusions about what sort of thing extrasemantic content is, and how we should think about it. This seminar will count as a core course in philosophy of language, and will count toward the distribution requirement in philosophy of mind/language.


I'll make readings for the course available electronically; there are no books to buy.


The seminar requirements are of two main kinds: presentations, and papers.

Presentation: All attendees (including auditors) will be required to lead a seminar discussion (or maybe more than one, depending on our numbers). A presentation should be a critical discussion rather than a summary or book report (the presenter can assume that other participants have done the reading, and the other participants will make it the case that that assumption is correct), and should contain a thesis and arguments for that thesis. It can concern any topic connected with the week's reading that is of interest to the presenter. You must discuss your presentation with me sometime before the session in which you present, just to make sure we're on the same page. Seminar presentations may be given using handouts or slides, but they may not be read aloud from a pre-written paper.

Papers: Students taking the course for credit will be asked to write papers for the course; but there are two different formats that that could take.

The first option involves writing shortish, weekly homework papers. Students electing this option will have to do all of the homework assignments (I predict there will 7-8 of them), but won't be asked to write a term paper at the end of the quarter. The second option is to write a traditional (circa 15 page) term paper at the end of the quarter on some issue raised during the quarter and (mandatorily) discussed with me by the 7th week of the quarter. Advantages of the first option: it is a low-risk way of getting acquainted with the material, and makes receiving an incomplete for the course unlikely. Advantages of the second option: it allows you the opportunity to dig more deeply into some issue that you care about, and you'll end up with a stand-alone philosophical paper of which you can be proud.


I will determine your grade based on the following breakdown:
25% seminar presentations and participation (very much including weeks in which you are not leading the course)
75% paper(s)

Tentative Schedule

4 AprilOrganization Larry Horn, "Implicature" in L.R. Horn & G. Ward, eds. Handbook of Pragmatics Jonathan
11 AprilIntroduction to pragmatics Richard Montague, "Pragmatics," in R. Klibansky (ed.) Contemporary Philosophy - La philosophie contemporaine, vol. 1, Florence: La Nuova Italia Editrice, pp. 102-22.
Robert Stalnaker, "Pragmatics", Sections I-II; in Davidson and Harman (eds.) 1972, Semantics for Natural Language, Dordrecht: Reidel, pp. 380-97.
Hans Kamp, "Formal Properties of 'Now'", Theoria 37:227-274 (1971); Intro and Section I
Weltman (Montague), Namboodiripad (Stalnaker), Pittman (Kamp)
18 AprilUr-texts in pragmatics Grice, "Logic and Conversation"
Lewis, "Scorekeeping in a language game" Journal of Philosophical Logic, 8(3):339-359 (1979)
Blume (Grice), Greene (Lewis)
25 April Class cancelled
2 MayNeo-Griceanism Levinson, S. (2000). Presumptive meanings: The theory of generalized conversational implicature. MIT Press. (Introduction and Chapter 1).
Horn, Laurence (1984). Toward a new taxonomy for pragmatic inference: Q-based and R-based implicature. In Deborah Schiffrin (ed.), Meaning, Form, and Use in Context: Linguistic Applications (GURT '84), 11-42. Washington: Georgetown University Press.
Tracy (Horn), Tracz (Levinson)
9 MayAnti-Gricean Challenges Davis, W. A. (1998). Implicature: Intention, Convention, and Principle in the Failure of Gricean Theory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ch1-2
Jennifer Saul, Review of Davis, Nous
Greene (Davis, ch1), Namboodiripad (Davis, ch2), Rosner (Saul)
16 MayRelevance theory, I D. Sperber and D. Wilson Relevance: Communication and Cognition, ch3-4
Finley (ch3), Pittman (ch4)
23 MayRelevance theory, II Robyn Carston, "Implicature, Explicature, and Truth-Theoretic Semantics"
Saul, J. (2002). What is said and psychological reality: Grice's project and relevance theorists' criticisms. Linguistics and Philosophy, 25, 347-372.
Olson (Cartson), Tracz (Saul)
30 MayImpliciture, Primary pragmatic processes, etc. Kent Bach, "Conversational Impliciture"
F. Recanati, Direct Reference, ch 13-14
F. Recanati, Literal Meaning, ch 2
Barai (Bach), Speitel ("Direct Reference"), Weltman ("Literal Meaning")
6 JuneThe semantics/pragmatics interface Recanati, F. Does linguistic communication rest on inference? Mind & Language, 17, 105-126.
Horn, L. (2005). "The Border Wars: A neo-Gricean Perspective" In K. Turner & K. von Heusinger (eds.), Where Semantics Meets Pragmatics. Elsevier, 2005.
[S. Davis (ed) Pragmatics - a Reader]
Blume (Recanati), Olson (Horn)
13 June?Philosophical applications Philosophical applications Soames, S. (1987). "Direct reference, propositional attitudes, and Semantic Content", Philosophical Topics 15: 47-87
Kripke (1977). "Speaker Reference and Semantic Reference" Midwest Studies in Philosophy
Speitel (Soames)