Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A well run game in communication and semantics

The theory Lewis puts forward in "Score-keeping in a Language Game" is both compelling and weird. There are two things that he seems to be supplying. One is a partial theory of communication. The other is a relativization of semantics. I think the two are mixed too much. The truth-conditions of utterances shouldn't change that much based on how the conversation develops. This makes truth-conditions hyper-intensional. Not only do truth-conditions depend on the context in a deep way (not that bad), but they also depend in a big way on the order in which assertions are made. Presuppositions and truth-conditionally relevant presuppition failures I can see doing this; normal truth-conditions, I have more trouble seeing doing that.

I'm not sure how Lewis understood "a well-run conversation." Conversations aren't much like baseball games. They don't have much in the way of constitutive rules. They have some normative rules, I suppose. These are more presuppositions or assumptions that conversants have going in: truthfulness and trust on Lewis's picture. But, this is not enough to make a scoreboard. Nor does the analogy with baseball rules work well with conversations. Many of my conversations are sprawling, involving abrupt topic changes and winding discussions or diverstions that may or may not come around to reconnect with the original topic. This is fine and does not seem less well-run than a straightforward exchange of tightly related assertions. I'm not sure if he meant this in the analogy or not, but the rules of baseball underdetermine possible plays. There are scenarios not described in the rules that must be adjudicated on a case by case basis. I suppose conversations are like that, fewer rules and more outlandish situations. Was that intended in the analogy? I'm not sure, but I think the analogy already broke.

No comments: