The Evolutionary Foundations of Common Ground

In Bart Geurts & Richard Moore (eds.), Evolutionary Pragmatics. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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(Penultimate Draft). I consider common ground in its evolutionary context and argue for several claims. First, common ground is widely (though not universally) distributed among social animals. Second, the use of common ground is favored (i.e. is predicted to emerge and subsequently persist) among populations of animals whose members face recurrent interdependent decision-making problems in which the benefit of their courses of action are contingent on the variable choices of their stable social partner(s). Third, humans deploy cognitive and social mechanisms for establishing and updating common ground that are not deployed by other living animals—the use of common ground has not only persisted within the human lineage but been amplified as well. Finally, I suggest that some of these points count against the iterative construal of common ground. In its place, I propose an alternative psychological construal of common ground in terms of what I will call reciprocal responsiveness.

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Josh Armstrong
University of California, Los Angeles


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