Communication in Context (Stockholm)

IP 1 examines four fundamental sets of questions concerning communicative success:

  1. What are the relata of communication? Is it a relation between speaker and hearer behaviour, or is it a relation between the mental states of the parties? Following Pagin (2008), the working hypothesis is that communication takes place where the inner state of the speaker causes an utterance that in turn causes an inner state of the hearer. What is relevant for communicative success, it is further suggested, is the relation between the content of the speaker’s thought and the content of the hearer’s thought.
  2. What relation should hold between the thought contents of speaker and hearer for the communicative event to count as successful? It is standardly assumed that the two contents should be identical. By contrast, the main hypothesis of the present IP is that similarity between contents is a sufficient relation for success. For it is prima facie clear that there is great variation in the conceptions different people associate both with ordinary, everyday terms and with scientific ones. The demand for identical contents thus forces either the conclusion that much everyday communication results in failure, or that concepts may remain identical in spite of greatly varying conceptions.
  3. How are the relevant resemblance relations to be understood? For the contents to count as sufficiently similar, it seems promising to demand that the propositions agree in truth value at the relevant worlds. The working hypothesis is that which worlds are the relevant or normal ones is not determined by psychological features of speaker and hearer but by contingent features of the external world.
  4. How should recent empirical findings concerning conceptual variation be interpreted? Studies have been taken to indicate that there is wide, and sometimes culturally influenced, variation in conceptions of epistemic, semantic and moral concepts. However, the interpretation of these experimental studies is hotly debated. The IP strives to provide an interpretation of the data of the most important of these studies in the developing theoretical framework.

For further information, please contact Åsa Wikforss (project leader): asa.wikforss [at]