Spring 2011

Friday Feb 18, 16.00 - 17.30 Andy Fugard (University of Salzburg)

Empirical constraints on how the mind computes a Ramsey test

Probabilistic theories in the psychology of reasoning have for some years now drawn inspiration from the Ramsey test as a psychological explanation of how people infer their degree of belief in indicative conditionals, but details of the cognitive processes involved have been sparse. In this talk I will present data concerning how people understand an "if" on a probabilistic truth table task. Three main empirical results will be presented: spontaneous within-participant shifts in how people understand "if"; an association between interpretation and a measure of bottom-up bias in working memory processes; and initial data from patients with brain injury suggesting a role of bottom-up bias from visual perceptual processes. Along the way, I'll show how the data support
a sketch of a cognitive model of how the mind computes a Ramsey test.

Friday March 4, 16.00 - 17.30: Thomas Mueller (Utrecht University)

Persisting individuals and modal logic

The talk will try to bring together, in an exploratory fashion, three currently unconnected strands of philosophical discussion:
1. The neo-Aristotelian conception of individuals identifiable only as individuals of certain kinds (Lowe, Thompson, Wiggins).
2. The debate about how to understand the persistence of things (endurantism vs. perdurantism).
3. The question of the philosophical usefulness of modal logic.
It will be argued that a seemingly small change in semantic perspective -- from the current orthodoxy of Lewis-style possible worlds to Bressan-style possible cases -- can lead to a modal predicate logic that is philosophically useful, capturing kinds of individuals as well as their persistence conditions. This will be exemplified by a sketch of case-intensional branching time logic.

Friday March 18, 16.00 - 17.30: Boudewijn de Bruin (University of Groningen)

The Value of Common Knowledge: From G.W.F. Hegel to David Lewis

Agents S and T possess common knowlege of proposition p whenever the following infinitely many conditions hold true: S knows that p, T knows that p, S knows that T knows that p, T knows that S knows that p, etc. Common knowledge is a key concept in the epistemic program in game theory, where it and variants of it are used to describe the epistemic preconditions of game theoretic solution concepts. Other ways in which logicians have applied to the concept involve coordination (on linguistic meaning, for instance), and cooperation (within social groups). In my talk, I will start with the origin of common knowledge, and trace it back to philosophers interested in various forms of intersubjectivity, including such theorists as Sartre, Schuetz, and the Nobel Laureate Schelling. Subsequently, I connect this to two central claims about the value of common knowledge, one locating the value of common knowledge in ethics, the other locating it in epistemology.

Friday March 25, 16.00 - 17.30: Truth be Told

Note: this lecture will take place at the Doelenzaal, which is located in the Central University Library

Friday April 1, 16.00 - 17.30: Anamaria Falaus (University of the Basque Country) 

Modal indefinites and modal distinctions

There is growing evidence that modal indefinites behave differently in epistemic and deontic contexts. Aloni & Port (2010) show for example that irgendein triggers different modal inferences: (i) ignorance (‘modal variation’) in epistemic contexts and (ii) free-choice effect in deontic contexts. The situation is even more clear-cut in Romanian, where the indefinite vreun can only be used under epistemic operators. With this background in mind, I examine the distribution of vreun in imperatives, which do not easily fit in the picture sketched above. I show that vreun can occur in certain kinds of imperatives, which I argue to be alternative-presenting imperatives (building on a distinction in Aloni 2007). To account for the observed pattern, I endorse the unitary approach to dependent indefinites in Chierchia (2006 et seq) and propose to derive the restricted distribution of vreun from constraints on the domain alternatives it activates. The alternative-based proposal allows us to situate vreun in a broader typology of dependent elements, and retains the recurrent insight that differences among dependent indefinites result from different operations on quantificational domains.

Friday April 8, 16.00 - 17.30: Stewart Shapiro (Ohio State University) 

The semantics of indiscernibles

There is an interesting logical/semantic issue with some mathematical languages and theories. In the language of (pure) complex analysis, the two square roots of -1 are indiscernible: anything true of one of them is true of the other. So how does the singular term ‘i’ manage to pick out a unique object? This is perhaps the most prominent example of the phenomenon, but there are some others. The issue is related to matters concerning the use of definite descriptions and singular pronouns, such as donkey anaphora and the problem of indistinguishable participants. Taking a cue from some work in linguistics and the philosophy of language, I suggest that i functions like a parameter in natural deduction systems. This may require some rethinking of the role of singular terms, at least in mathematical languages, and it requires an account of the semantics of such terms.

Friday April 15, 16.00 - 17.30: Petra Hendriks (University of Groningen

Perspective taking and the use of referring expressions

In language acquisition, children’s performance in production and their performance in comprehension do not always go hand in hand. Particularly puzzling are cases where children’s production seems to be ahead of their comprehension. A possible explanation for such asymmetries is that children are not yet able to take into account the speaker’s perspective as a listener, and vice versa. Focusing on the comprehension and production of referring expressions, I will present results from a series of studies using theoretical modeling, computational simulation and psycholinguistic experiments that provide support for this view. These studies show under which conditions children’s linguistic performance becomes more adult-like and adults’ linguistic performance becomes more child-like.

Friday April 29, 16.00 - 17.30: Gianluca Giorgolo (Carleton University) 

Gestures explained without (too much) handwaving

Naturally occuring communication is rarely restricted to the verbal modality alone. Speakers instead show a wide range of non-verbal behaviors that accompany their linguistic performance. In this talk I will concentrate on the analysis of the structural properties of
spontaneous representational hand gestures. I will present data supporting the hypothesis that this form of non-verbal communication is tightly integrated in the structure of verbal
language. I will focus mainly on the semantic/pragmatic "interface" between the two modalities. I will show how representational gestures convey meaning (I will provide a formal characterization of their iconic properties in the form of a spatial logic) and how their informational content interacts with the meaning of verbal language in interesting
ways. I will also report on ongoing research aimed at testing experimentally the predictions associated with the this particular analysis, and their consequences for a number of
cognitive models of the production of joint verbal and gestural utterances proposed in the
literature so far.

Friday May 13, 16.00 - 17.30: Maribel Romero (University of Konstanz) 

Modal Superlatives: A Compositional Analysis

Superlative constructions with modal modifiers like possible have (at least) two readings, illustrated in (1)-(2) (Corver 1997, Larson 2000, Schwarz 2005). Under reading (1a)-(2a), possible is a normal noun modifier. The second reading, paraphrased in (1b)-(2b) and called 'modal superlative' reading, is the concern of this talk.

(1) John bought the largest possible present.
a. "Out of the objects that were possible presents, John bought the largest one."
b. "John bought as large a present as it was possible for John to buy."

(2) John climbed the fewest possible mountains.
a. "Out of the objects that were possible mountains, John climbed the fewest."
b. "John climbed as few mountains as it was possible for John to climb."

Schwarz (2005) notes that prenominal possible requires syntactic locality with the superlative morpheme for the modal superlative reading to arise. For example, in English, an intervening adjective (e.g. affordable in (3)) rules out this reading.

(3) I bought the largest affordable possible present.
a. "Out of the objects that were affordable possible presents, I bought the largest one."
b. * "I bought as large an affordable present as it was possible for me to buy."

The goal of this talk is to provide a compositional analysis of the modal superlative reading that (i) meets the observations about its surface syntax, (ii) uses Logical Form structures independently justified for degree constructions, and (iii) derives the correct truth conditions.

Friday May 27, 16.00 - 17.30: Hotze Rullman (University of British Columbia) 

1st and 2nd Person Pronouns as Bound Variables

Although it has been claimed that 1st and 2nd person pronouns are necessarily deictic, they can sometimes behave as bound variables:

(1) We all think we’re smart.
(2) Each of us thinks we’re smart.

These sentences have a reading that can be paraphrased roughly as ‘for every person x belonging to “us” (a contextually salient group that includes the speaker), it is the case that x thinks that x is smart.’ In this reading, the underlined occurrence of the pronoun we functions as a bound variable that ranges over singular individuals, including individuals other than the speaker, despite the fact that morphosyntactically the pronoun is plural and 1st person. In (2) there is the additional problem of the lack of person and number agreement between the bound-variable pronoun (we) and the quantifier that binds it (each of us). As can be seen from the agreement it triggers on the verb (thinks), each of us is morphosyntactically a 3rd person singular DP. Bound-variable interpretations of 1st and 2nd person pronouns have also been observed in the literature for sentences involving focus particles (like only), and other constructions that are arguably focus-driven, such as VP-deletion and the “the only” construction:

(3) Only I have finished my homework.
(4) I am the only one who finished my homework.
(5) I have finished my finished my homework, but you haven’t.

I will argue that the bound-variable interpretation of the pronoun in cases like these has a different origin than that in (1) and (2). Whereas the bound-variable reading in (1) and (2) can be explained if we adopt a somewhat more liberal semantics for the pronoun we than is usually assumed, the bound-variable interpretation in (3)-(5) is due to the semantics of focus. In particular, I will argue that the presuppositions imposed by person and number features are ignored in the calculation of the focus-semantic value.

Friday June 10, 16.00 - 17.30: Fabrizio Cariani (Northwestern University) 

Deliberative Modality under Epistemic Uncertainty

(paper co-authored with S. Kaufmann and M. Schwager)

We discuss the semantic significance of a puzzle concerning `ought' and conditionals recently discussed by Kolodny and MacFarlane.

We argue that the puzzle is problematic for the standard Kratzer-style analysis of modality. In Kratzer's semantics, modals are evaluated relative to a pair of conversational backgrounds. We show that there is no sensible way of assigning value to these conversational backgrounds so as to derive all of the intuitions in Kolodny and MacFarlane case. We show that the appropriate verdicts can be derived by extending Kratzer's framework to feature a third conversational background (the decision problem) and claiming that the relevant reading of `ought' is sensitive to this parameter. Formally speaking, decision problems can be modeled as partitions of the modal base that interact with the ordering source in determining the salient ordering. Our resulting theory captures all of Kolodny and MacFarlane's data, and is both more explanatory and conservative than their proposal.