From Signaling and Expression to Conversation and Fiction

Grazer Philosophische Studien 96 (3):295-315 (2019)
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This essay ties together some main strands of the author’s research spanning the last quarter-century. Because of its broad scope and space limitations, he prescinds from detailed arguments and instead intuitively motivates the general points which are supported more fully in other publications to which he provides references. After an initial delineation of several distinct notions of meaning, the author considers such a notion deriving from the evolutionary biology of communication that he terms ‘organic meaning’, and places it in the context of evolutionary game theory. That provides a framework for a special type of organic meaning found in the phenomenon of expression, of which the author here offers an updated characterization while highlighting its wide philosophical interest. Expression in turn generalizes to a paradigmatic form of human communication—conversation—and section 4 provides a taxonomy of conversation-types while arguing that attention to such types helps to sharpen predictions of what speakers say rather than conversationally implicate. We close with a view of fictional discourse on which authors of fictional works are engaged in conversation with their readers, and can provide them with knowledge in spite of the fictional character of their conversation. Such knowledge includes knowledge of how an emotion feels and is thus a route to empathy.
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