Volume 19, Issue 3, 2019
Carlo Penco, Massimiliano Vignolo
Some Reflections on Conventions
In Overlooking Conventions Michael Devitt argues in defence of the traditional approach to semantics. Devitt’s main line of argument is an inference to the best explanation: nearly all cases that linguistic pragmatists discuss in order to challenge the traditional approach to semantics are better explained by adding conventions into language, in the form of expanding the range of polysemy or the range of indexicality (in the broad sense of linguistically governed context sensitivity). In this paper, we discuss three aspects of a draft of Devitt’s Overlooking Conventions, which was discussed at a conference in Dubrovnik in September 2018. First, we try to show that his rejection of Bach’s distinction between convention and standardization overlooks important features of standardization. Second, we elaborate on Devitt’s argument against linguistic pragmatism based on the normative aspect of meaning and show that a similar argument can be mounted against semantic minimalism. While Devitt and minimalists have a common enemy, they are not allies either. Third, we address a methodological difficulty in Devitt’s view concerning a threat of over-generation and propose a solution to it. Although this paper is the result of collaboration the authors have written different parts. Carlo Penco has written part 1, Massimiliano Vignolo has written part 2 and part 3.