Friday, July 28, 2006

Intentions and meaning

One of the surprising things on the "In Conversation" tapes was Davidson's assessment of Grice's work. I think it was in discussion with McDowell or Dummett that Davidson said it. He thinks that Grice's project of analyzing implicatures in terms of intentions won't work for two reasons. One is that meaning-that is an intentional relation just like believing-that. The other reason is because he thinks that in any single utterance there are going to be many many intentions present and active and he does not think it is possible to single out any one of these as the source of the implicature or speaker meaning. He also said that he liked Grice's work in connecting meaning, action, and intention and showing how these notions are related. He didn't give any more argument for his position in the brief discussion than that though. I would have liked to hear him explain the multiple intention objection to Grice. Supposing that I do have many intentions involved with any particular utterance, why couldn't there be a single communicative intention that bears the burden of being recognized as an attempt to convey some content? I think this is probably connected to Davidson's holism and interpretation. In order to interpret someone and assign them certain intentions, I have to know a lot about them. In doing this I am already interpreting them as having many beliefs about different things and meaning certain things by their words. I guess the objection to the Gricean picture is that there are many intentions that will attributed to a speaker in interpreting them, and there are many intentions that could have been attributed to them just as well. Since there is no difference in the interpretation to recommend one over the other intention, there is nothing more to the story. This can't be right though. From the first person point of view (sounds Searlean), one knows more or less what one intends. There seems like there should be a fact of the matter about intentions. I have them or I don't, regardless of how you decipher them in interpretation. There has to be more to Davidson's objection than what I've given, although I think that would require digging into some of his papers to pull out.

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