Institut Jean Nicod

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Cycle de Conférences

Jeffrey KING

Directeur d'études invité à l'EHESS,
Distinguished Professor, Department of Philosophy, Rutgers University


Context and Semantic Value

Le 21 mai de 14h à 16h. Ecole normale supérieure, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris. Salle Langevin

1. "The metasemantics of contextual sensitivity".

Abstract: There appears to be a lot of contextual sensitivity in natural language.  Aside from obviously contextually sensitive expressions like ‘I’, ‘now’, ‘here’, ‘she’ and so on, quantifiers, conditionals, modals, possessives like ‘Annie’s book’, relational expressions that take implicit arguments like ‘ready’, gradable adjectives and so on are all good candidates for being contextually sensitive.  It appears that expressions like ‘I’, whose meaning alone suffices for it to have a semantic value in context, are the exception when it comes to contextual sensitivity.  Much more common seem to be expressions or constructions whose meanings must be supplemented in some way in context to have semantic values.  I call such expressions supplementives to highlight their need for the supplementation in question.  It is plausible that in addition to demonstrative expressions, including demonstrative pronouns, all the less obviously contextually sensitive expressions mentioned above—modals, conditionals, gradable adjectives and so on--are supplementives in my sense. 
The question arises as to what is the nature of the supplementation required by supplementives in order that they have semantic values in context; and whether all supplementives require the same mechanism—supplementation of the same nature—to have semantic values in context.  I argue that there is a single mechanism by means of which supplementives secure semantic values in context and describe two accounts of what that mechanism is.

Le 4 juin 2015 de 14h à 16h. Ecole normale supérieure, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris. Salle Langevin

2. W(h)ither semantics?(!)

Abstract: My starting point is Barbara Partee’s famous paper ‘Semantics: Mathematics or Psychology?’.  In that paper, Partee worried that two views of what semantics is place conflicting demands on semantics.  On the one hand, there is the view Partee attributes to Chomsky and his followers on which semantics is a part of psychology.  On the other hand, there is the view that Partee, following Rich Thomason, attributes to Richard Montague on which semantics is a branch of mathematics.  I begin by reviewing this paper and saying a few now familiar things about the points she raises.  This will serve as a warm-up for the main topic of the paper, which is the question of whether a Chomskyan “internalist” approach to the study of language conflicts with the sorts of semantic theories practicing semanticists produce

Le 5 juin 2015 de 11h30 à 13h, dans le cadre du Co-colloqium de l'IJN, Séance organisée conjointement avec le séminaire LINGUAE. Institut Jean-Nicod, ENS, Pavillon Jardin, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris.
Salle de réunion, RDC.

3. "Strong contextual felicity and felicitous underspecification"

Tonhauser et al [2013] and Beaver and von Fintel [2013 a,b] have argued that certain triggers for projected content put particularly stringent conditions on contexts.  They require contexts to entail their projected contents and this condition cannot be accommodated.  Tonhauser et al and Beaver and von Fintel call this condition strong contextual felicity (SCF).  Beaver and von Fintel claim that while certain contextually sensitive expressions give rise to SCF, others don’t.  They suggest that this shows that different kinds of contextually sensitive expressions have different metasemantic accounts explaining how they get semantic values in context.  I argue that all contextually sensitive expressions give rise to SCF, so that the claim that they are all governed by a single metasemantics can be reinstated.

Le 11 juin 2015 de 14h à 16h. Ecole normale supérieure, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris. Salle Langevin.

4. "Singular thought and (augmented) Russellianism"

Abstract : Many philosophers believe that there is a kind of thought about an object that is in some sense particularly directly about the object.  I will use the term de re or singular thought (I’ll use these interchangeably) for thoughts of this sort.  Many papers on the subject of singular thought initially illustrate the idea of such a thought by considering a case in which a subject is visually perceiving an object and is thereby in a position to have occurrent thoughts about the object she is perceiving.  I don’t think this is a coincidence.  Having occurrent thoughts about an object one is visually perceiving with the thought in some sense “directed” at the perceived object is, for the sighted believer in singular thought at least, the paradigm of a singular thought.  Indeed, a main question is how to move beyond this case and characterize the conditions under which one does or can have singular thoughts.  This question is a main focus of the present paper.  I outline a broadly Russellian approach to singular thought and explore its consequences.