On Successful Communication, Intentions and False Beliefs

Theoria 87 (1):167-186 (2021)
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I discuss a criterion for successful communication between a speaker and a hearer put forward by Buchanan according to which there is communicative success only if the hearer entertains, as a result of interpreting the speaker's utterance, a thought that has the same truth conditions as the thought asserted by the speaker and, furthermore, does so in virtue of recognizing the speaker's communicative intentions. I argue, against Buchanan, that the data on which it is based are compatible with a view involving Fregean modes of presentation. In the second part of the article I critically discuss Unnsteinsson's claim that communicative success depends on the absence of contextually salient false distinctness beliefs about the subject matter of the conversation. I argue that this thesis leads to clearly counterintuitive consequences and that no fundamental role must be given to the presence or absence of false distinctness beliefs in one's account of successful communication. The upshot is that we should stick with Buchanan's criterion. I conclude by employing Strawson and Recanati's concepts of linking and merging to show how the criterion I favour is compatible with the fact that, when subjects hold no relevant false distinctness beliefs, communicative success does not seem to be disrupted by the hearer seemingly failing to recognize the speaker's intentions.

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Matheus Valente
Universitat de Barcelona


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