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Philosophical Topics

Volume 45, Issue 2, Fall 2017
Philosophy of Language

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Displaying: 1-9 of 9 documents

1. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Luvell Anderson, Hermeneutical Impasses
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When people respond to chants of “Black lives matter” with “All lives matter” or excoriate Colin Kaepernick for being “anti-military” or “anti-American” when he sits or kneels during the playing of the national anthem, there appears to be a break in understanding. BLM protestors and Kaepernick understand their actions and messages in one way, detractors in quite a different way. This seems to present what we might refer to as an interpretive challenge.In this essay, I aim to explore the nature of this interpretive challenge by illuminating the various obstacles that leave us without understanding. I will refer to such breaks in understanding as hermeneutical impasses. First, I sketch a taxonomy of hermeneutical impasses. I then discuss various ways of describing the notion of ‘understanding’ that may be at issue in impasses. Next, I discuss the relation between power and hermeneutical impasses, showing some of the ways power relations constrain our discursive practices. I conclude by arguing the structures of our environment make hermeneutical impasses difficult to avoid, if not inevitable.
2. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Keota Fields, Intensional Liar
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I propose to downgrade the Liar paradox from what Quine called an antinomy to a much weaker veridical paradox. I then apply Quine’s strategy of rejecting veridical paradoxes by exposing an unacceptable premise to the Liar. I argue that upon analysis the intension of a standard Liar sentence presupposes the existence of a non-empty empty set; and that since such an object is impossible this presupposition may be rejected, downgrading the Liar. I then briefly argue that Dialetheism can be motivated without supposing the existence of a non-empty empty set.
3. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Justin Khoo, Code Words in Political Discourse
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I argue that code words like “inner city” do not semantically encode hidden or implicit meanings, and offer an account of how they nonetheless manage to bring about the surprising effects discussed in Mendelberg 2001, White 2007, and Stanley 2015 (among others).
4. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Carlotta Pavese, A Theory of Practical Meaning
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This essay introduces the notion of practical meaning by looking at a certain kind of procedural system—the motor system—that plays a central role in computational models of motor behavior. I suggest that a semantics for motor commands has to appeal to a distinctively practical kind of meaning. Defending the explanatory relevance of motor representation and of its semantic properties in a computational explanation of motor behavior, my argument concludes that practical meanings play a central role in an adequate explanation of motor behavior that is based on these computational models. In the second part of this essay, I generalize and clarify the notion of practical meaning, and I defend the intelligibility of practical meanings against an important objection.
5. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Jennifer M. Saul, Racial Figleaves, the Shifting Boundaries of the Permissible, and the Rise of Donald Trump
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The rise to power of Donald Trump has been shocking in many ways. One of these was that it disrupted the preexisting consensus that overt racism would be death to a national political campaign. In this paper, I argue that Trump made use of what I call “racial figleaves”—additional utterances that provide just enough cover to give reassurance to voters who are racially resentful but don’t wish to see themselves as racist. These figleaves also, I argue, play a key role in shifting our norms about what counts as racist: they bring it about that something which would previously have been seen as revealing obvious racism is now seen as the sort of thing that a nonracist might say. This gives them tremendous power to corrupt not just our political discourse but our culture more broadly.
6. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Eric Swanson, Omissive Implicature
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In some contexts, not saying S generates a conversational implicature: that the speaker didn’t have sufficient reason, all things considered, to say S. I call this an omissive implicature. Standard ways of thinking about conversational implicature make the importance and even the existence of omissive implicatures somewhat surprising. But I argue that there is no principled reason to deny that there are such implicatures, and that they help explain a range of important phenomena. This paper focuses on the roles omissive implicatures play in Quantity implicatures—in particular, in solving the symmetry problem for scalar implicatures—and on the political and social importance of omissions where apologies, objections, or other communicative acts are expected or warranted.
7. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Lynne Tirrell, Toxic Speech: Toward an Epidemiology of Discursive Harm
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Applying a medical conception of toxicity to speech practices, this paper calls for an epidemiology of discursive toxicity. Toxicity highlights the mechanisms by which speech acts and discursive practices can inflict harm, making sense of claims about harms arising from speech devoid of slurs, epithets, or a narrower class I call ‘deeply derogatory terms.’ Further, it highlights the role of uptake and susceptibility, and so suggests a framework for thinking about damage variation. Toxic effects vary depending on one’s epistemic position, access, and authority. An inferentialist account of discursive practice plus a dynamic view of the power of language games offers tools to analyze the toxic power of speech acts. A simple account of language games helps track changes in our discursive practices. Identifying patterns contributes to an epidemiology of toxic speech, which might include tracking increasing use of derogatory terms, us/them dichotomization, terms of isolation, new essentialisms, and more. Using this framework, I analyze some examples of speech already said to be toxic, working with a rough concept of toxicity as poison. Finally, exploring discursive toxicity pushes us to find ways that certain discursive practices might “inoculate” one to absorbing toxic messages, or less metaphorically, block one’s capacity to make toxic inferences, take deontic stances that foster toxicity, etc.
symposium on two dimensional semantics
8. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Una Stojnić, On the Connection between Semantic Content and the Objects of Assertion
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The Rigidity Thesis states that no rigid term can have the same semantic content as a nonrigid one. Drawing on Dummett (1973; 1991), Evans (1979; 1982), and Lewis (1980), Stanley (1997a; 1997b; 2002) rejects the thesis since it relies on an illicit identification of compositional semantic content and the content of assertion (henceforth, assertoric content). I argue that Stanley’s critique of the Rigidity Thesis fails since it places constraints on assertoric content that cannot be satisfied by any plausible notion of content appropriately related to compositional semantic content. For similar reasons, I also challenge a recent two-dimensionalist defense of Stanley by Ninan (2012). The moral is far-reaching: any theory that invokes a distinction between semantic and assertoric contents is unsatisfactory unless it can plausibly explain the connection between them.
9. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 45 > Issue: 2
Brian Rabern, A Bridge from Semantic Value to Content
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A common view relating compositional semantics and the objects of assertion holds the following: Sentences φ and ψ expresses the same proposition (in a context) iff φ and ψ have the same modal profile (in context). Following Dummett (1973), Evans (1979), and Lewis (1980), Stanley (1997) argues that this view is fundamentally mistaken (and thus blocks Kripke’s modal objection to descriptivism). According to Dummett, we must distinguish the semantic contribution a sentence makes to more complex expressions in which it occurs from its assertoric content. Stojnić (2017) insists that views which distinguish the roles of content and semantic value must nevertheless ensure a tight connection between the two. But, she contends, there is a crucial disanalogy between the views that follow Lewis and the views that follow Dummett. Stanley’s Dummettian view is argued to contain a fatal flaw: On such views, there is no way to secure an appropriate connection between semantic value and a theoretically motivated notion of assertoric content. I will review the background issues from Dummett, Evans, Lewis, and Stanley, and provide a principled way of bridging the gap between semantic value and a theoretically motivated notion of assertoric content.