Provincialism in Pragmatics

Philosophical Perspectives 32 (1):5-40 (2018)
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The central claim of my paper is that pragmatics has a wider scope of application than has been generally appreciated. In particular, I will argue that many discussions of pragmatics are guilty of a problematic form of provincialism. The provincialism at issue restricts the class of target systems of study to those involving groups of developmentally typical humans (or slightly idealized versions thereof), either explicitly as a matter of principle or implicitly as consequence of how it construes the underlying pragmatic notions. In what follows, I will argue that this kind of provincialism is problematic because there are patterns of non-human animal social interaction that cannot be properly explained without recourse to the theoretical tool-kit of pragmatics. Crucially, rejecting provincialism about pragmatics does not entail that there are not important theoretical differences between human and non-human systems of pragmatics. It does, however, require that our core philosophical theories of social interaction and communication be centered on features independent not merely of those at work in human languages but also of uniquely human features of cognition and sociality more generally.

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Josh Armstrong
University of California, Los Angeles


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