Does contextualism make communication a miracle?

Manuscrito 32 (1):231-247 (2009)
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Abstract
In this paper, I argue against the thesis suggested by Cappelen and Lepore, according to which if contextualism were true, communication would require many items, and therefore would be fragile; communication is not fragile, and therefore, communication does not demand a large number of conditions, and contextualism is false. While we should grant the robustness of communication, it is not guaranteed by some unchanging conditions, but by different flexible mechanisms that enhance the chances of mutual understanding at a relatively low cost –– this is true, in particular, of different feedback mechanisms and of alternative ways to make the same information mutually available. Communication is not a series of successive, individual and independent actions; dialogues are a kind of joint activity in which misunderstandings are jointly repaired by participants as part of the very activity they are engaged in. Moreover, as we consider the roles of hearers in a conversation, we see that no construal makes Cappelen and Lepore’’s argument both plausible and relevant. The hearer can either be overhearer or a certified participant. If the hearer is an overhearer, it may be the case that he easily misunderstands what is said, but it has no consequence to the understanding of what takes place in a dialogue, since, ex hypothesi, he is not a party to it. If the hearer is a participant, many of the conditions of mutual understanding will be assured in the dialogical activity itself, and both he and the speaker will make efforts to assure that mutual understanding do take place, as part of their responsibilities as parties to a dialogue –– and their argument is not plausible.
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