Saturday, June 17, 2006

Deixis and anaphora in Making It Explicit

One of Brandom's more surprising claims in chapter 7 of Making It Explicit is that deixis presupposes anaphora. The argument starts with how his theory distributes propositional content. Content consists in what inferences are entailed by a proposition and what inferences are incompatible with it. Once you have sentence-level content, you can abstract out subsentential contents, of terms and predicates, by substitution. Deictic (and indexical) terms are token unrepeatables. Two utterances of one type are not guaranteed to be coreferential. It is a safe bet that they won't be, actually. Since token unrepeatables are unrepeatable, they can't be used in inferences, e.g. "That dog is brown, therefore that dog is brown" is not a good inference. It looks like deictic terms have no content unless they can be linked through an anaphoric chain. Brandom calls these recurrence structures or chains. Once you have an anaphoric mechanism in place, you can create recurrence relations that allow for inferences based on deictic terms that have the deictic terms has the antecedent origin of the anaphoric chain. This lets them be correctly used in inferences and therefore acquire content. Therefore, deixis presupposes anaphora.

I don't think he is using the terms 'deixis' much differently than is standard. He does say that his discussion of anaphora focuses on different issues than the ones most linguists are interested in. He is interested solely in applications of anaphora, what it means for somehting to be anaphoric on something else. The way he characterizes what interests linguists is as what are the rules for determining the proper antecedents of anaphoric terms. I think it is a linguistic universal that languages have deictic words for the first-person and places. He wants to say that these presuppose anaphora. This is sort of a weird claim. Is it enough for a counterexample to show that there can be a language that has deixis but not anaphora? It would have to be a full-fledged language, not an impoverished language game like the builders in Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. This is because the builders fall outside the field of Brandom's inquiry. He limits himself to rational linguistic practice characterized as a game of giving and asking for reasons. The builders can't give reasons or ask for them, so they are excluded.

To get back to Brandom's claim, I'm not sure what to think. Anaphora is tightly linked to the pronoun systetm, and the pronoun system is also tightly linked to deixis. Of course, there are anaphoric phenomena that are not pronoun-based or deictic, and vice versa. I think Quine might have been right about the claim that these things come in bundles of concepts. You acquire the first part of the pronoun system with some basic deixis and anaphora. What is really needed is an example of anaphora that is clearly prior to deixis. Where would this come from?

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