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Minutes from "Disagreement Seminar 4 - Sundell (2011)" on 7 Mar 2012 - 15:00

7 Mar 2012
Minutes for:

Disagreement Seminar 4 - Sundell (2011) from 7 Mar 2012 - 15:00 to 7 Mar 2012 - 18:00

Delia Belleri; eugenio orlandelli; Michele Palmira; pleonardi; Sebastiano Moruzzi
Federica Berdini, Raban Reichmann, Luca Zanetti

After the seminar's extended discussion for properly assessing Sundell's arguments, Sebastiano thinks that we can represent Sundell's results follows.

The significance of non-content disagreement cases for the debate over the tasty cases

  • Implicature and character disagreement provide counterexample to the unqualified principle of Substantive Disagreement (SD)
  • With respect to the examples of non-content/presupposition disagreement (i.e. character, implicature, manner and context disagreement) and the tasty example, one of the following conditions holds with respect to Sundell's proposal:
    1. NO SEMANTIC BLINDNESS the non-content/presupposition disagreement examples can be characterised as cases where it is clear to the speakers that there is no inconsistency among the targeted propositions and it is also clear to them that no such disagreement takes place in the the tasty cases are cases
    2. PARTIAL SEMANTIC BLINDNESS the non-content/presupposition disagreement examples can be characterised as cases where it is clear (or unclear) to the speakers that there is no inconsistency among the targeted propositions, whereas it is unclear (or clear) to them that no such disagreement takes place in the the tasty cases are cases
    3. TOTAL SEMANTIC BLINDNESS the aforementioned counterexamples can be characterised as cases where it is unclear to the speakers that there is no content disagreement and it is also unclear to them that no such disagreement takes place in the the tasty cases are cases
  • Now a question arises:
    • QUESTION: under which case does Sundell's explanation of the tasty case by means of the hypothesis of metalinguistic use best fall under?
    • With respect to QUESTION, it seems that it is irrelevant whether total, partial or null semantic blindness holds in order to claim that in the tasty case we could have a case of disagreement analogous to character or manner disagreement. Sundell's point is in fact that we cannot assess this just by the phenomenology of the case because of two reasons:
      1. conflict of intuitions and linguistic denial is present in both cases
      2. character disagreement and possibly context disagreement cast doubt on in the accuracy of the speakers in tracking the distinction between linguistic facts and non-linguistic facts; this threatens the accuracy if intuitions about the kind of disagreement in which they are involved; hence even if speakers take themselves to have a substantive disagreement we cannot rely on this intuition.
    • It is worth noticing that the second reason involve a form of semantic blindness hypothesis and, hence, that Sundell'project is revisionary
    • Notice also Sundell may choose the drop the second reason by sticking just to the first reason, but his argument would be weaker since the semantic blindness hypothesis is helpful to rebut the objection that tasty cases seem different cases from the non-content disagreement types.

    The proper assessment of Sundell's explanation of disagreement of tasty cases

    In the last part of the seminar attendees intensively discussed of how Sundell's explanation works in detail. Sebastiano thinks that the discussion can be represented as follows.

    According to Sundell we have to cases to explain:

    • CASE 1 linguistic exchange of the form "A utters "not-p" and, later, B utters "p"
    • CASE 2 linguistic exchange of the form "A utters "p" and, later, B utters "not-p"

    Explanation of CASE 1

    This is a reconstruction of Sundell's explanation since the details are not clear in the paper.

    Sundell notices that CASE 1 can be explained by means of the communitarian contextualist semantics without any further refinement. The communitatian contextualist semantics set the salient taste standard as intersection if taste of the speakers involved in the conversation.

    Suppose that the standard is set once for all at the start of the conversation by taking into account A and B's beliefs. Then you can't have faultlessness in a communitarian setting. So this option must be discarded if we want to have faultless disagreement with linguistic denials.[1]

    So let's suppose that by "speakers involved in the conversation" it is meant people who have made a linguistic move by uttering something. It follows that because of B's utterance of "p" is later then A's utterance of "not-p" CASE 1 the standard B's utterance is correct (as it is A's utterance). So faultlessness is preserved. What about disagreement? Well, the contextualist can account for the fact that they take themselves to disagree because those features that according to Sundell are the mark of disagreement: intuition of conflict and linguistic denial, and so the conversation has all the characteristics that manner and implicature disagreements have (i.e. disagreement without inconsistent propositions).

    Explanation of CASE 2

    The former explanation cannot be used for CASE 2 since the conversation starts with an endorsement ("p") the endorsement has as a consequence that the salient standard of taste has to take into account such endorsement, hence any further utterance denying "p" is wrong (the semantics could be more dynamic by allowing not only extensions but also shrinkings). So here the meta-linguistic use kicks in. According to the meta-linguistic use an utterance of "a is tasty" his utterance conveys the information that in the
    present context the relevant standard of taste is (or at least should be) such that a does satisfy it.

    Explanations can be generalised?

    So we have a sketch of the explanation that a communitarian contextualist semantics integrated with the metalinguistic hypothesis can provide for disputes of taste exemplified by CASE 1 \& 2. Can this explanation provide the basis for explaining any other dispute of taste where we we have the appearance of faultless disagreement?

    Let's consider a third case:

    • CASE 3: linguistic exchange of the form "A utters "not-p" and, later, B utters "p" and A rebuts by saying "No! Not-p."

    The explanation for CASE 1 cannot be used because it would incur in the same problems of CASE 2. Hence the contextualist must appeal the meatalinguistic hypothesis. Notice that CASE 1, could be just the development at later time of the conversation of CASE 1; in such a case we would have a mixture of uses: non-metalinguistic for the first two utterances and then metalinguistic for the third utterance. Would the speakers be aware of such potpourri semantical analysis? It is certainly doubtful, Sundell [2] himself cast doubt on the fact that speakers have in cases of meta-linguistic use a firm grip on what is going on. So it seems very likely that the contextualist has to appeal to semantic blindness hypothesis here.

    But let us ask now whether such analysis of the dispute can cast light on the normative question of whether the dispute is rationally sustainable. Were the speakers aware of the complicated semantics could the dispute be sustained with reason? To answer this question it is necessary to understand what is the role of meta-linguist use or sharpening with respect to the epistemic status of subject, a question that brings us into the debate of vagueness since the role of sharpening in Barker original proposal was to address vagueness. Is also Sundell addressing vagueness? Does he think that such cases are tantamount to borderline cases of tastiness? First of all Sundell himself declares that he has no answer to the question of what is to adjudicate a standard, so we can gain no help from him. A classical analysis of a vague condition is in terms of lack of truth-value (or, more generally, a third semantic value inconsistent with truth - let's call this view following Wright Third Possibility). So we could think that to say that it is a vague question which is the salient standard of taste amounts to say that it is neither true or false the disputants proposal to use their own standard. But if that is the situation we have no faultlessness since it is plausible to assume that for truth-apt attitude to be faultless a necessary condition is that it is true. Alternative reading of what is to be vague condition is that it is neither determinately true no determinately false whether the condition holds. So we could think that to say that it is a vague question which is the salient standard of taste amounts to say that it is neither determinately true or nor determinately false the disputants proposal to use their own standard. It is a well-known difficulty of these kind of proposals that are intended to avoid Third Possibility view whether they can give a consistent and substantial non-epistemic reading (cfr. Williamson). We can imagine at least two options here: either to follow McGee \&McLaughlin approach with a non-standard form of supervaluationism or a form of contextualism. In both cases to advance a standard as the salient standard involve some form of precisification, so it is plausible to read this fact as the fact the disputants are entitled to give different interpretation of "salient standard of taste", but then what kind of disagreement do we really have here? More specifically how can they really object to each other if both parties are right because there is no fact of the matter as to whether a certain standard is the salient standard?

    Of course Sundell does not reply to these questions. He himself acknowledges that he has no answer to these puzzling questions. Sundell's main point is that we can legitimately treat these conversations as deisagreements because the sense of conflict and the felicitous use of linguistic are reliable signs of disagreement.
    However if we would try to extract how Sunedell's analysis could provide a answer fo the normative project tt seems we are back to a difficulty analogous to the one that I and Annalisa have raised for assessment relativism: why objecting to someone is her perspective is no worse the yours?

    Concluding remarks

    • Sundell's communitarian conhtextualism integrated with metalinguistic use hypothesis endorse the appearances of faultless disagreement; Sundell could in principle explain without the use of a semantic blindne ss hypothesis, but he himself seem keen to use the price of a semantic blindness hypothesis and it is in fact more plausible to his setting to use it; hence the most plausible reading of Sundell's outcome is that of a descriptive revisionary project.
    • Sundell's approach does not cast any light on the normative project, but the only possible outcome seems to revisionary.
fn1. Sundell underlines that in such a situation there could be still disagreement provided there is linguistic denial. fn2. Here is the relevant passage: "Finally, cases of Context Disagreement—like cases of Character Disagreement-differ from ordinary content disagreement in subtle and esoteric ways (...) A philosopher or linguist might be anxious to clarify Betty’s description, but it is hardly obscure why she describes things as she does. The more general point is that speakers cannot be relied upon for accurate judgments about the nature of their disagreements." ((p.279)

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