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Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 39, 2008

Philosophy of Language

Steffen Borge
Pages 13-19

Intentions and Compositionality

It has been argued that philosophers that base their theories of meaning on communicative intentions and language conventions cannot accommodate the fact that natural languages are compositional. In this paper I show that if we pay careful attention to Grice’s notion of “resultant procedures” we see that this is not the case. The argument, if we leave out all the technicalities, is fairly simple. Resultant procedures tell you how to combine utterance parts, like words, into larger units, like sentences. You cannot have that unless you have R-correlations (reference) and Dcorrelations (denotation). These in turn, the argument goes, depend on communicative intentions, since without communicative intentions any attempt to R-correlate or D-correlate a word with an object or sets of objects would inevitably result in correlation-relations between that word and everything that exists. In other words, without communicative intentions in the equation it would turn out that every time we speak, we inevitably speak about everything, but clearly we do not. So communicative intentions, instead of being nebulous things that are in possible conflict with the Principle of Compositionality, are in fact a prerequisite for that very principle.