Commitment As A Cognitive Notion


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2008. Presentation delivered at the IADA congress in Milan, oct. 2008. Steve Oswald and Louis de Saussure.

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Commitment As A Cognitive Notion

  1. 1. Commitment as a cognitive notion: the hearer’s point of view (originally: Can implicitely derived contents intergrate a commitment store? A cognitive pragmatic account of commitment assessment ) Steve Oswald and Louis de Saussure Semantic – pragmatic research group – University of Neuchatel IADA Milano 2008
  2. 2. Aim of the talk <ul><li>Propose a psychological account of commitment </li></ul><ul><ul><li>However not the one centered on the speaker’s mind (what the speaker ‘believes’ or ‘thinks he commits to’) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>An account from the hearer’s point of view , which is not much different from the analysts’ point of view </li></ul></ul><ul><li>In particular, taking a closer look to the distinction between explicit and implicit contents </li></ul><ul><li>With the aim to support from a different perspective the claims by Walton and other scholars regarding the straw man fallacy and related fallacies </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Which dismanting requires the identification of commitments / commitment stores (Hamblin 1970) </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Commitment: what is this? <ul><li>Hamblin (1970), Walton (1993, 1996…) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Commitments are ‘statements’ (Hamblin) or propositions that can be fairly taken to be endorsed by the considered speaker. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They are not psychological objects </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>In the sense that being committed to P does not imply believing that P </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>In the sense that commitments as mental states are inscrutable </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They are objective facts observable from the outside (the analyst for example); they can be normatively evaluated by cautious look at what is said and what is done (SA theory) by the considered interactant. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ commitment refers to what the speaker can be said to have ‘taken for granted’ in making his or her utterance” (Katriel & Dascal 2003:160) </li></ul>
  4. 4. Not psychological: some regrets <ul><li>Hamblin (1970): ‘…Although, presumably, the brain of an actual speaker must contain some remote analogy of a commitment store…’ (our emphasis) </li></ul><ul><li>Walton (1993): ‘[ commitment is] an inference to be drawn from what you say and how you act when you are interacting with another participant’ </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Our observation: an inference is a logical operation taking place in one’s mind (therefore we can take it as a psychological, say, cognitive, object). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Whose mind is interesting here: the analysts’? The hearer’s? </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. The uselessness to try the classical ‘psychological’ way <ul><li>Hamblin, Walton, and so do we, reject the idea that commitments can be studied as being some kind of speaker’s state of mind . </li></ul><ul><ul><li>An argument by Walton: I don’t even know what I do believe myself. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If commitments are mental states – which they may well be in fact – they are inscrutable without external signs . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Even worse: the external signs (utterances, notably) are only very limited evidence about the speaker’s mental states: if utterances are public things, thoughts are intimate, private, inscrutable things. </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Some nuances however <ul><li>Utterances are representations of thoughts </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Not necessarily of ‘real’ thoughts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>But they are taken as such by the hearer </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>And they are known by the speaker as being taken as such by the hearer </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Therefore, the utterance conveying P provides grounds for the hearer to think that the speaker thinks that P is true. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In many cases, these grounds are enough for communication to take place but are in no way proofs that the S believes indeed P (trivial) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>However they may be taken as proofs, if some requirements are satisfied, that the speaker commits to render mutually manifest that he thinks that P is true. </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. I don’t know what I believe myself <ul><li>That is true if I take the whole set of my beliefs. However there are beliefs that I know I hold: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>That I exist, that there are x and y elements in the sourrounding situation… </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>And among the beliefs that I must hold, there are beliefs regarding the information provided by the utterance. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>If the speaker says There was a lot of people at your wedding party (and if there is no reason to think I misinterpret the message) then </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>I must believe that the speaker said so and therefore meant so, and is aware he’s leading me to assume that he believes that </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>There was a lot of people at my wedding party. </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  8. 8. If I don’t hold identifiable beliefs? <ul><li>If I don’t hold beliefs about the contents communicated by the speaker </li></ul><ul><ul><li>i.e. if I don’t hold the belief that the speakers said P when he said ‘P’ </li></ul></ul><ul><li>I can’t possibly enter in any other interaction than asking what the speaker says when saying P. </li></ul><ul><li>I can’t possibly assess that the speaker is committed to anything like P </li></ul><ul><li>Therefore, that I believe that the speaker means P by saying P is a fundamental requisite of conversation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Conversely, that H will believe that I speaker mean P by saying ‘P’ is necessarily believed by the speaker. </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Identifying commitments <ul><li>It looks like a requirement that commitments can be identified as such. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>This is probably their main property </li></ul></ul><ul><li>How can we identify commitments? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Not from the speaker’s mind. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>From the linguistic contents? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Classical idea: the speaker is commited to ‘what is said’ and not to ‘what is implicated’. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>This would be wonderful </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>1. If explicit contents could be surely traced back on the grounds of linguistic material and other facts, which is actually far from clear. </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>2. If explicit contents = what is said (Gricean sense), which is far too strong. </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>3. If intuitively, no implicit content can ever be taken for commitments, which is again far too strong. </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Identifying commitments: a matter of understanding <ul><li>Problem 1: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Explicit meaning is not necessarily literal meaning (code level). Explicit meaning can be strongly context-dependant (more than reference assignement and disambiguation) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(unless you have an indexical version of semantics) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>As a principle: when whatever x is context-dependant, x is defeasible without contradiction and therefore without threatening anything like commitment to x. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Problem 2: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Expliciteness is not the Gricean What is said </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Problem 3 (reformulated): </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It’s not clear whether commitment means explicit content . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>There are a fair variety of cases where commitment is attributed to S about implicatures. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Problem 1: Literality, expliciteness and context-dependency <ul><li>It will take time to heal these wounds </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It will take considerable time… </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>S commits to considerable while ‘considerable’ is unarticulated. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The pizzeria is open </li></ul><ul><ul><li>S commits either to is open at this time of this day , or to is no longer closed for refurbishment depending on contextual assumptions. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Paul says it’s time to go </li></ul><ul><ul><li>S commits or not to It’s time to go depending on contextual assumptions (Paul is the one who gives orders). </li></ul></ul><ul><li>What a beautiful day (ironically) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>S commits to a set of assumptions that are inconsistent with what is literaly said </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Max is a snake (when Max is a human being) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Same. </li></ul></ul>
  12. 12. Problem 2 : expliciteness and ‘what is said’ <ul><li>Mary has four children </li></ul><ul><ul><li>‘ What is said’: four or more </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Exactly four (explicitly conveyed, S’s commitment) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>If you mow the lawn, I’ll give you 20 bucks </li></ul><ul><ul><li>W.i.s.: if you mow the lawn (and possibly if you don’t mow the lawn) I’ll give you 20 bucks </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If and only if (explicitly conveyed, S’s com.) </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Commitment and implicatures <ul><li>There was a lot of people at your wedding party </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Constrained context: a father to his son, the father being miserly </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Obtained commitment: there was too many people at your wedding party </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>However, commitments seems to be attributed to the speaker with less confidence </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Some students came to the party </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Possibly all (theoretically possible to have some students came to the party and even all did ) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>But strong commitment attribution to not all the students came to the party which looks like an implicature. </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. ‘ Commitment is an inference’ <ul><li>… drawn by the hearer </li></ul><ul><li>… drawn by the analyst </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The analyst may only have more grounds to draw the inference of speaker’s commitment than the hearer, who processes the utterance online, but the analyst simply does what a hearer does. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Identifying commitment amounts to identifying what counts as a commitment for the  -hearer when processing the utterance . </li></ul><ul><li>Commitment-attribution, we say, is an inference drawn by the hearer </li></ul><ul><li>Having a proper theory of meaning implies having a proper theory of inferential processes about commitments. </li></ul><ul><li>An analysts’ judgement regarding whether it is ‘fair’ to think that S commits to P is a projection in the hearer’s mind. </li></ul>
  15. 15. … drawn by the hearer <ul><li>Then the question is: what are the conditions that allow the hearer to raise the hypothesis that S(peaker) is committed to P(roposition) on the basis of U(tterance) and C(context = other assumptions)? </li></ul><ul><li>Because these (U, C) are the observable facts on which the hearer bases his commitment-attribution inference </li></ul><ul><li>And: if it’s an inference drawn by the hearer, then it ends up being a belief by the hearer that S commits to P; beliefs as such can be entertained with various degrees of certainty. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Commitment-attribution <ul><li>The process of attributing commitment is an inference that is more or less risky, as are all discursive inferences. </li></ul><ul><li>When an ‘explicit’ content P (m.o.l. what is said) is retrieved, it is generally the case, that is unless there is strong contextual intrusion , that P is attributed to the speaker as a commitment. </li></ul><ul><li>When an ‘explicit’ content P is retrieved with recourse to heavy contextual information, commitment is attributed with less confidence. </li></ul><ul><li>When an implicit content P is retrieved with obvious contextual premisses, it is likely that commitment to P is attributed to S. </li></ul><ul><li>When an implict content P is remote, i.e. requiring a heavier load of contextual recourse, commitment to P is attributed to S with little confidence. </li></ul>
  17. 17. Commitment as a scale <ul><li>‘ Commitment’ may be studied through the process of ‘commitment attribution’ to the speaker by the hearer (to one interactant by the other(s) interactant(s)) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The hearer H is deemed to assume, at least to an operative level, that S is commited to P conveyed by U when it is plausible that S entertains correct assumptions about i) H’s assumptions and ii) H’s ability to reason on the basis of U </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Which is the ordinary case of communication. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  18. 19. Difficult cases <ul><li>Expressives: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Max said the bloody teacher failed him </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>My father screamed that he would never allow me to marry that bastard Webster (Kratzer 1999) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Reports </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bush said/implied/confessed/admitted there was no link between Iraq and 9/11 </li></ul></ul>
  19. 20. Inferring commitment: what to look for <ul><li>By default: the speaker uttering ‘u’ explicitly meaning P will be attributed commitment to P </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Since « Max is a hero but I don’t believe Max is a hero » is inconsistent </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Any other content can be attributed to the speaker as commitment if and only if: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The speaker left it to infer </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The hearer has grounds to suppose that the speaker could have expected the inference to take place </li></ul></ul>
  20. 21. Where is the straw man <ul><li>The straw man fallacy happens only when it is unfair to attribute commitment to S on P (P being targeted). This happens if H’s attributing commitment of S to P is not predictable given the utterance and the context. </li></ul><ul><li>This raises however a problem: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>some interpretations are more risky than others. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The more contextual information it requires, the more the inference is speculative. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Therefore in a number of cases, the alledged maker of a straw man fallacy has in fact correctly infered what the speaker meant, but since the commitment can be attributed only weakly, S’s responsibility for the content is simply easier to lift. </li></ul></ul>
  21. 22. <ul><li>Thank you for your attention </li></ul>