Volume 16, Issue 2, 2016
Daniel W. Harris
Intentionalism versus The New Conventionalism
Are the properties of communicative acts grounded in the intentions with which they are performed, or in the conventions that govern them? The latest round in this debate has been sparked by Ernie Lepore and Matthew Stone (2015), who argue that much more of communication is conventional than we thought, and that the rest isn’t really communication after all, but merely the initiation of open-ended imaginative thought. I argue that although Lepore and Stone may be right about many of the specific cases they discuss, their big-picture, conventionalist conclusions don’t follow. My argument focuses on four phenomena that present challenges to conventionalist accounts of communication: ambiguity, indirect communication, communication by wholly unconventional means, and convention acquisition.