As indicated, many authors believe that taste sentences ascribe dispositions on their stative reading (see footnote 1). These authors will thus interpret our quantifier Q and our restrictor r such that we get truth-conditions along the following lines.
The cake tastes good to me. (= (1))
DISP[disp(e); tastes-good-to(the cake, me, e)]
I’m disposed to get gustatory pleasure when I eat the cake.
There is a question of how to interpret the quantifier DISP and the restrictor disp, and the details depend on which theory of dispositions one adopts. On a simple counterfactual analysis of dispositions, for instance, the quantifier will be universal. Meanwhile, the restrictor will look at the nearest possible worlds where the speaker is presently eating the cake, and it will include all present events of the speaker eating the cake in these worlds. More sophisticated analyses of dispositions may weaken the quantifier (e.g. from “all” to “generally,” “most,” “many” or “some”) and widen the restriction (e.g. to include events from more distant worlds or events other than events of eating the cake), but we won’t take a stand on this here.Footnote 10 The important point is that all dispositionalists will agree that the proposition expressed by (1) doesn’t entail that the speaker has tried the cake. This commitment raises the question of why you cannot properly assert (1) unless you have tried the cake.
In what follows, we’ll discuss various potential answers. We’ll argue that all available accounts face concerns, which will eventually lead us to abandon the dispositional analysis. For brevity, we will use TRIED to denote the proposition that the speaker has tried the cake, i.e. the content of the acquaintance requirement on assertions of (1).
The implicature account
Let’s begin with what we’ll call the implicature account of the acquaintance requirement. According to this account, TRIED is a conversational implicature of utterances of (1), and speakers of (1) are required to ensure the truth of TRIED because one shouldn’t implicate falsehoods.Footnote 11
The implicature account is a natural place to start, but it leads to immediate problems. One problem concerns cancellability.Footnote 12 Conversational implicatures are standardly assumed to be cancellable in the sense that if an utterance of “p” conversationally implicates that q, then sentences of the form “p, but not-q” or “p, but I don’t mean to suggest that q” sound fine (Grice 1989: 39; Zakkou 2018). The following sentence, however, sounds problematic.
The cake tastes good to me, but I haven’t tried it.
The alleged implicature thus fails the cancelability test, which is evidence against the implicature account.
Second, the acquaintance requirement doesn’t seem restricted to the linguistic domain but arises at the level of thought as well. When you haven’t tried the cake, it seems not only problematic to assert that the cake tastes good to you. Outright belief in this proposition seems problematic too. When you haven’t tried the cake, should rather believe that the cake would or will taste good to you.Footnote 13 Proponents of the implicature account are in trouble because conversational implicatures arise in conversations, not in solitary thought (pace Douven 2010).
The expressivist account
Consider next what we’ll call the expressivist account of the acquaintance requirement. According to this view, utterances of (1) express a positive gustatory reaction to eating the cake. More specifically, utterances of (1) aren’t sincere unless the speaker had that gustatory reaction to the cake. Speakers of (1) are thus required to ensure the truth of TRIED because they would otherwise be insincere, expressing a mental state they’ve never had.Footnote 14
The expressivist account handles the cancellability concern because sincerity conditions cannot be cancelled (Franzén 2018: 679). The problem of an acquaintance requirement at the level of belief presumably remains, for it is hard to make sense of sincerity conditions at the level of belief (see Franzén 2018: 680–681 though).
As a further concern, consider third-personal taste sentences. Suppose Hannah hasn’t tried the cake, but you say,
The cake tastes good to Hannah.
In this context, (35) sounds problematic to more or less the same extent that our sentence (1) does when the speaker hasn’t tried the cake. Third-personal sentences like (35) thus seem subject to an acquaintance requirement on the third party.Footnote 15 The expressivist account makes this puzzling. After all, utterances of (35) no longer express an affective state. The speaker of (35) neither expresses an affective state of hers—(35) can be uttered independently of whether the speaker likes the cake. Nor does she express an affective state on the part of Hannah—it seems impossible in general to express other people’s affective states.
Some supplementary story could be told about how the acquaintance requirement arises in third-person cases, independently of appeals to the expression of affective states. But any account we can think of here straightforwardly carries over to the acquaintance requirement on (1), making the expressivist account an idle wheel.
The presupposition account
The presupposition account of the acquaintance requirement construes TRIED as a semantic presupposition of (1) (or a conventional implicature; the subsequent considerations should apply mutatis mutandis; see similarly Ninan 2014: 299n17). According to this account, speakers of (1) must ensure the truth of TRIED because one shouldn’t presuppose falsehoods.Footnote 16
The presupposition account easily handles the previous data. Semantic presuppositions aren’t cancellable, they arguably arise at the level of thought too, and it seems entirely coherent to assume that the alleged presupposition is sensitive to the overtly supplied subject and thus that third-personal sentences presuppose acquaintance on the part of the third party. The presupposition account further makes correct predictions for embeddings under negation (see below), and it plausibly passes a range of other familiar presupposition tests.Footnote 17
The main worry we see for the presupposition account is that the alleged presupposition doesn’t survive in embeddings where presuppositions standardly do survive.Footnote 18 The sentence “Hannah quit smoking,” for instance, arguably presupposes that Hannah smoked, and the following sentences continue to convey this message.
a. If Hannah has quit smoking, then she has a strong will.
b. Hannah might have quit smoking.
c. Has Hannah quit smoking?
We would thus expect the following sentences to similarly retain the alleged presupposition that the speaker and, respectively, Hannah have tried the cake.
a. If the cake tastes good to me, then I’m no exception.
a’. If the cake tastes good to Hannah, then she’s no exception.
b. The cake might taste good to me.
b’. The cake might taste good to Hannah.
c. Does the cake taste good to me?
c’. Does the cake taste good to Hannah?
In fact, however, none of these sentences suggests that the speaker or Hannah has tried the cake. This is strong evidence against the presupposition account.Footnote 19
In the case of the first-personal versions of (37), there may be pragmatic pressure to “locally accommodate” the presupposition in question in the antecedent of the conditional and under “might,” respectively. This could explain its failure to project at least in these sentences (Anand and Korotkova 2018: 61). But we don’t know how to tell a similar story about the third-personal sentences. For comparison, the factive presupposition of “find out” may be accommodated locally in “If I find out that Peter cheated, I’ll be disappointed.” But it projects straightforwardly in “If Hannah finds out that Peter cheated, she’ll be disappointed.”
Another line of response would be that the PPTs in (37) receive a (future-directed) episodic reading, where the acquaintance requirement is entailed rather than presupposed and therefore doesn’t project.Footnote 20 But following Anthony (2016: 690), we can force the stative reading by adding restrictor when-clauses such as “when she’s just brushed her teeth.” These clauses operate by adding constraints to our restrictor disp, which features only in the stative reading. Even with these added clauses, the sentences in (37) don’t suggest that the speaker/Hannah has tried the cake. For instance, it seems fine to say “I don’t know if Hannah ever tried the cake, but if the cake tastes good to her when she’s just brushed her teeth, then she’s an exception.”Footnote 21
Anand and Korotkova (2018: §4) propose a version of the presupposition account that faces a further challenge. They hold that (1) features an implicit evidential restriction (in the spirit of von Fintel and Gillies 2010) that requires “direct knowledge” of the proposition expressed. The presupposition TRIED arises, on their view, because direct knowledge is impossible to obtain unless one has tried the cake. But consider an amnesiac who has tried the cake. He remembers having tried the cake, but unfortunately, he can’t remember whether he liked it. He asks a friend whether she remembers whether he liked the cake, and she responds that he did. It seems fine for the amnesiac now to assert (1), at least assuming that the friend is trustworthy. This is despite the fact that the amnesiac knows that the cake tastes good to him from testimony and hence despite the fact that he doesn’t have direct knowledge of this proposition thereby violating the alleged evidential restriction.
The epistemic account
Consider lastly what we’ll call the epistemic account of the acquaintance requirement. This account starts out with the following counterfactual.
CF1 The speaker of (1) wouldn’t know that she has the relevant gustatory dispositions if she hadn’t tried the cake.
According to the epistemic account, assertions of (1) thus sound bad because you shouldn’t assert what you don’t know, due to the knowledge norm of assertion.Footnote 22
The epistemic account easily explains all of the data considered so far. The acquaintance requirement comes out as uncancellable, as it should, because one cannot properly cancel the requirements of the norms of assertion (e.g. Williamson 1996: 506–507; Ninan 2014: 303). The epistemic account can also be extended to account for an acquaintance requirement on outright belief if we adopt a knowledge norm of outright belief as a correlate of the knowledge norm of assertion (e.g. Williamson 2000; Sutton 2005; Huemer 2007). Embedding data are unproblematic because even given the knowledge norm, assertions of the complex sentences in (37) only require knowledge of the complex proposition expressed. They don’t require knowledge that the cake tastes good to you (Ninan 2014: 304). The amnesiac’s assertion comes out fine because he knows that the cake tastes good to him from testimony.Footnote 23
The epistemic account handles the third-personal sentence (35) as well (pace Anand and Korotkova 2018: 62–63). We just need to add the following counterfactual as a further assumption.
CF2 The speaker of (35) wouldn’t know that Hannah has the relevant gustatory dispositions if Hannah hadn’t tried the cake.
Given CF2, the speaker will violate the knowledge norm of assertion when Hannah hasn’t tried the cake. To motivate CF2, consider the ways in which we typically come to know what other people like. It’s easy to see that they all require acquaintance on the part of the third party, Hannah. One possible source of knowledge is Hannah’s testimony. For someone’s testimony to bestow us with knowledge, the speaker needs knowledge herself.Footnote 24 Thus, Hannah will have to know that the cake tastes good to her and, by CF1, she wouldn’t know this unless she had tried the cake. Another possible source of knowledge is that we observe Hannah enjoy the food. This requires acquaintance on her part too. Other sources of knowledge may be available in principle, but they are plausibly too far-fetched to threaten the truth of CF2.
Promising as it may be, the epistemic account faces concerns. First, there seem to be situations where acquaintance is not the only plausible way to acquire taste knowledge and yet the acquaintance requirement seems in place. This is easy to see in cases where we are familiar with the type of cake in question and now assess the gustatory properties of a specific token. Suppose, for instance, that you’ve baked a marble cake. You’ve done this many times before, and you always liked the result. You’ve used the same recipe you always use, and you know that you did everything correctly and that all the ingredients were fine. Now the cake is done, and it’s sitting in front of you. Given all your background knowledge, you should know that you are disposed to enjoy the cake from your previous experience with the other cakes you made. Utterances of (1), however, still sound problematic before you tried the cake (“will” and “would” sentences sound better). This is puzzling on the epistemic account because the knowledge norm should be satisfied.Footnote 25
Second, the following sentence sounds odd.
The cake probably tastes good to me, I haven’t tried it though.
Better: The cake will/would probably taste good to me. I haven’t tried it though.
The epistemic account doesn’t explain this. Even given the knowledge norm, proper assertions of (38) don’t require that I know that the cake tastes good to me. If anything, they require that I know that the cake probably tastes good to me. Given the dispositional analysis, we need the following counterfactual to derive an acquaintance requirement.
CF1* The speaker of (38) wouldn’t know that she probably has the relevant gustatory dispositions if she hadn’t tried the cake.
This counterfactual, however, doesn’t look very plausible. For instance, knowledge of ingredients, experience with similar food and observations of other people’s gustatory reactions can easily make it probable that I have certain gustatory dispositions even if these factors don’t suffice to yield knowledge of these dispositions.
To respond, one might appeal to the previously distinguished episodic reading, where acquaintance is entailed. On this reading, (38) comes out as problematic, as it should (see below). However, a principle of charity should suppress this problematic reading in favor of the stative reading, on which the sentence should be perfectly fine, given the epistemic account.
The same problem arises for past tense sentences. The following sounds odd.
The cake probably tasted good to me before it went off. I never tried it though.
Better: The cake would probably have tasted good to me before it went off. I never tried it though.Footnote 26
Once more, the epistemic account doesn’t explain this. For I can easily come to know that I probably had the unrealized disposition to enjoy the cake even if I never tried the cake. As before, (39) comes out as problematic on the episodic reading, where acquaintance is entailed (see below). But this won’t suffice to explain the data, for charity should lead us to choose the stative reading instead. Moreover, we saw earlier that the “before”-clause normally triggers this reading anyway.Footnote 27
In sum, all presented accounts face serious concerns. In what follows, we present what we take to be a more promising account. Notice that more could be said on behalf of the accounts discussed so far. For instance, intuitions about (37), (38) and (39) may not be entirely stable, and it may be worthwhile to explore them in an experimental setting. Notice also that much of what we have to say below is in principle compatible with the accounts discussed so far and that it might be worthwhile to explore more ecumenical positions. We’ll leave this for another occasion.