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Synthese

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Toward a sharp semantics/pragmatics distinction

  • Megan Henricks Stotts
Article

Abstract

The semantics/pragmatics distinction was once considered central to the philosophy of language, but recently the distinction’s viability and importance have been challenged. In opposition to the growing movement away from the distinction, I argue that we really do need it, and that we can draw the distinction sharply if we draw it in terms of the distinction between non-mental and mental phenomena. On my view, semantic facts arise from context-independent meaning, compositional rules, and non-mental elements of context, whereas pragmatic facts are a matter of speakers’ mental states and hearers’ inferences about them. I argue for this treatment of the distinction by comparing it to some other extant treatments (in terms of “what is said,” and in terms of the involvement of context) and then defending it against several challenges. Two of the challenges relate to possible intrusion of mental phenomena into semantics, and the third has to do with possible over-restriction of the domain of pragmatics.

Keywords

Semantics/pragmatics distinction Semantics Pragmatics Demonstratives Context-sensitivity Pragmatic intrusion 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I’m grateful to audiences at Vassar College, McMaster University, the 2017 Western Canadian Philosophical Association meeting, and the Fall 2017 New York Philosophy of Language Workshop for discussion of past versions of this paper. I’m also grateful to Bradley Shubert for research assistant work, and to two anonymous referees for Synthese for extremely helpful feedback.

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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