In defense of hearing meanings
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According to the inferential view of language comprehension, we hear a speaker’s utterance and infer what was said, drawing on our competence in the syntax and semantics of the language together with background information. On the alternative perceptual view, fluent speakers have a non-inferential capacity to perceive the content of speech. On this view, when we hear a speaker’s utterance, the experience confers some degree of justification on our beliefs about what was said in the absence of defeaters. So, in the absence of defeaters, we can come to know what was said merely on the basis of hearing the utterance. Several arguments have been offered against a pure perceptual view of language comprehension, among others, arguments pointing to its alleged difficulties accounting for homophones and the context-sensitivity of ordinary language. After responding to challenges to the perceptual view of language comprehension, I provide a new argument in favor of the perceptual view by looking closer at the dependence of the justificatory qualities of experience on the notion of a defeater as well as the perceptual nature of language learning and language processing.
KeywordsAmbiguity Cognitive penetration Cognitive phenomenology Language comprehension Perceptual learning Phenomenal contrast argument Phenomenal dogmatism Presentational phenomenology Polysemy Top-down influences
I am grateful to Brendan Balcerak-Jackson, Ned Block, Anna Drożdżowicz, Casey O’Callaghan, Francois Recanati, Josh Weisberg and Wayne Wu for helpful discussion of these issues and to Elijah Chudnoff, Kathrin Glüer, Anandi Hattiangadi, Casey Landers, Luca Moretti, Peter Pagin, Tommaso Piazza, David Poston, Dag Westerståhl, audiences at Stockholm and Houston and two anonymous reviewers for this journal for helpful comments on a previous version of the paper.
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