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Vermeulen, Inga. Verbal Disputes and the Varieties of Verbalness
2018, Erkenntnis 83(2): 331-348
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by: Ethan Landes
Abstract: Many philosophical disputes, most prominently disputes in ontology, have been suspected of being merely verbal and hence pointless. My goal in this paper is to offer an account of merely verbal disputes and to address the question of what is problematic with such disputes. I begin by arguing that extant accounts that focus on the semantics of the disputed statement S (Chalmers, Hirsch, Sider) do not capture the full range of cases as they might arise in philosophy. Moreover, these accounts bring in heavy theoretical machinery. I attempt to show that we can capture the full range of cases with an approach that is theoretically lightweight. This approach explains verbal disputes as a pragmatic phenomenon where parties use the same utterance type S with different speaker's meaning. Moreover, it provides an answer to the crucial question Jackson's (Erkenntnis 79:31-54, 2014) pragmatic account leaves, at best, highly implicit. Based on my account, we can distinguish between different ways in which disputes can be verbal and different extents to which they are defective. Distinguishing between these varieties of verbalness furthermore allows us to specify what kind of substantive issues remain to be discussed once the linguistic confusion is resolved.

Comment: Discusses verbal disputes and problems with existing accounts of verbal disputes, ultimately arriving on an account of verbal disputes that rely on speaker meaning. Far more accessible than other papers on the topic, and includes a number of thought examples of people talking past each other. Useful for introduction to the topic, but requires some background in philosophy of language.

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