Colloquium with David Beaver

October 13
3:30-5:30 pm
Stuart 105
University of Texas at Austin
Hustle: the hidden agendas in language
"The point of a discourse - at least one central kind of discourse - is the exchange of information.”
- Robert Stalnaker

We live a perfect world. Interlocutors are perfectly rational, and their interests are perfectly aligned. Speakers have no reason to disguise their motivations, and there is never a question as to why someone says something or what they mean. Given the perfect alignment of interests in our world, philosophers and linguists know that hearers can safely assume cooperativity, and then calculate what the speaker must have intended. Works every time. And it’s easy! In fact, it’s not only easy, it’s necessarily easy, as we can prove by contradiction. Suppose the speaker produced an utterance, and intended something by it, but it wasn’t easy to calculate what was intended. Then the speaker, being entirely rational, would recognize that there was no guarantee of the hearer recovering the intention. So the speaker with such a communicative intention wouldn’t have produced that utterance, contradicting our initial assumption. And that trivial little argument not only makes communication easy, but it also makes the job of the theorist of meaning easy… just a few little details remain to be filled in. 

But what of that other world? You know, the messy one. The one where people say all sorts of shit. Oftentimes, in this other world, it is hard to know what people mean. They may even take pains to hide it from us. They may even say things without fully grasping what they mean or what effects their words will have. This talk is about that other world. Specifically, it’s about persuasive, and, indeed, pervasive features of communication that are not typically placed under the microscope of formal semanticists and analytic philosophers of language, because idealizations that we make in analyzing language tend to lead us not to notice them. These features represent the hidden agendas that people bring to the table, whether consciously or not, every time they open their mouths. We call these hidden agendas hustle.

David Beaver is a professor of linguistics and philosophy at University of Texas at Austin. This project involves joint work with Jason Stanley of Yale University