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NYPLW: Daniel Harris

March 11, 2013 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Workshop Monday, March 11th: Daniel Harris on Grice and Act-Theoretic Semantics

Our speaker on Monday will be Daniel Harris, a PhD Student in philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center. Daniel will present a work in progress called ‘Grice as an Act-Theoretic Semanticist’. Here is the abstract:

Grice’s contribution to semantics has been indirect: he showed us which kinds of linguistic phenomena should fall under the purview of pragmatics, and thereby delimited the scope of semantic explanation. According to the current orthodoxy, one of the chief benefits of a Gricean conception of the semantics/pragmatics interface is that it leaves the aims and methodology of semantics more or less intact. The job of a semantic theory, on this view, is to show how the semantic contents of sentences depend systematically on their syntactic structures, the denotations of their parts, and some modest contributions from context.

My aim is to show that this picture embodies untenable assumptions about the semantics/pragmatics interface, and that we should look to Grice’s positive views about the goals and methodology of semantics for the solution to this problem. I begin by arguing that the semantic reference/speaker reference distinction cannot survive careful attention to the meanings of context-sensitive expressions. It follows that there is no explanatory role for the notion of semantic content to play, and that the orthodox picture stands in need of significant revision. Next, I argue that we should interpret Grice as advocating a version of act-theoretic (or actic) semantics, which identifies the semantic values of expressions with types of speech acts. On Grice’s theory, for example, the semantic values of sentences are types of illocutionary acts, the semantic values of names are types of acts of referring, and the semantic values of verb phrases are types of acts of predicating. I then show how Grice’s act-theoretic semantics allows for a semantics/pragmatics interface the avoids the problems facing the orthodox picture. I close with a brief sketch of some of the other benefits of act-theoretic semantics.

The workshop will take place on Monday, March 11th at 6:30, in the third floor seminar room of NYU’s philosophy building. We hope to see you there!


March 11, 2013
6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
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the third floor seminar room of NYU’s philosophy building

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