Assertoric Content, Responsibility, and Metasemantics

Mind and Language (forthcoming)
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That we assert things to one another, and that our doing so is central to our linguistic practice, seems beyond question. When we assert, there is typically something we can be said to have asserted. This is what we might think of as the truth conditional content of our assertion. Yet, as I will illustrate in the earlier portions of this paper, it is not immediately clear what communicative function assertoric content actually plays. I suggest that assertoric content functions as a means for us to track the responsibilities undertaken communicators when they speak. However, this, by itself, is not very illuminating. There any many things we take responsibility for when we speak, and many ways in which we undertake such responsibilities. Not all of the responsibilities we undertake when we assert will correspond to the intuitive notion of assertiotic content. I suggest that assertoric commitments are distinguished by their mode of generation: they obtain directly (either compositionally or via bridge principles) in virtue of the words the speaker uses and their manner of combination. But this raises two further questions: Firstly, why are speakers responsible for the content thus generated? And secondly, why is it important for us to distinguish between communicative commitments in terms of the manner in which they are generated? My primary focus will be on the first question: I argue that a plausible metasemantic theory must be able to make sense of the fact that speakers are committed to the assertoric contents of their utterances. Some metasemantic theories are better equipped to do this than others. I present a metasemantic theory that is particularly well equipped to do so: the value a term receives in context corresponds to the use it is most fitting (i.e. there is the most reason) to hold the speaker to in light of their utterance. I turn to the second question in the conclusion.

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Andrew Peet
University of Leeds


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