VALUE IN LANGUAGE
March 29-31, 2021
Slovak Academy of Sciences
Many expressions in natural language are used to convey how we value parts of the world – things, events, actions, people. We use them to express our own opinions, but they also help us gain insight into what others think. Value and valuing is a crucial part of our lives: it guides us into action, it categorizes the world around us, it shapes our identity. The workshop focuses on issues in the semantics of natural language expressions that are used to express value and valuing. Evaluative expressions (moral terms like “good”, “bad” or “ought to”, aesthetic adjectives like “beautiful”, “ugly”, “balanced”, predicates of taste like “tasty”, “disgusting”, ”boring”, thick terms like “courageous” or “generous”), slurs like “boche” and expressives like “damn” are among the expressions that involve, in some way or another, valuing and value. Among the questions this workshop aims at tackling are the following:
- How do languages encode value (if at all)?
- Should value be part of the semantics of a language or of pragmatics (or neither)?
- What are the best arguments for the main approaches to these expressions in the literature?
- How to accommodate non-orthodox uses of the expressions at stake (e.g., non-derogatory uses of slurs)?
- How is disagreement involving the expressions in question to be accounted for?
- What is the connection between the semantics of these expressions and the social milieus in which they are used?
- How are the most prominent linguistic features of those expressions (e.g., the “hyper-projectivity” of slurs) to be treated?
The workshop is organized by Matteo Pascucci, Mirco Sambrotta and Dan Zeman, as part of a S.A.I.A. Initiative Project (“Slovak-Austrian Philosophy of Language Network”, no. 2019-10-15-007) and hosted by the Department of Analytic Philosophy, Slovak Academy of Sciences.
The invited speakers at the workshop are Bianca Cepollaro (Vita-Salute San Raffaele University), Stefano Predelli (University of Nottingham) and Pekka Väyrynen (University of Leeds). Their papers will be distributed in advance and pre-read, with a lengthy discussion in the workshop. Please write to danczeman[at]gmail.com, matteopascucci[at]yahoo.com or mirco.sambrotta[at]gmail.com if you want to participate.
(All times are CEST)
MONDAY, MARCH 29
11.30-12.45: Nils Franzén (University of Uppsala) & Andrés Soria Ruiz (Universidade Nova de Lisboa): "Moral and Moorean Incoherencies"
14.00-15.15: Julia Zakkou (Bielefeld University): "Conventional Evaluativity"
15.30-16.45: Camil Golub (University of Leeds/Rutgers University): "Quasi-Naturalism and the Problem of Alternative Normative Concepts"
17.00-18.00: Pekka Väyrynen (University of Leeds), "Normative Naturalism, on Its Own Terms" [pre-read session]
TUESDAY, MARCH 30
10.00-11.15: Zuzanna Jusińska (University of Warsaw): "Slur Reclamation: Polysemy, Echo, or Both?"
11.30-12.45: Justina Berškytė & Graham Stevens (University of Manchester): "Slurs and Slurring Metaphors"
14.00-15.15: Gillian Gray (University of Michigan): "Not-So-Neutral Counterparts"
15.30-16.45: Leopold Hess (University of Krakow): "What's in a Slur? Expressing Values and Evaluating Expressions"
17.00-18.00: Bianca Cepollaro (Vita-Salute San Raffaele University), "The Moral Status of the Reclamation of Slurs" [pre-read session]
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31
14.00-15.15: Natalia Karczewska (University of Warsaw): "Illocutionary Disagreement in Faultless Disagreement"
15.30-16.45: Victor Carranza (University of Milan & Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris): "The Expressive Creation Problem"
17.00-18.00: Stefano Predelli (University of Nottingham), "Unmentionables. Some Remarks on Taboo" [pre-read session]
Justina Berškytė & Graham Stevens (University of Manchester), "Slurs and Slurring Metaphors"
We consider arguments that gendered slurs, unlike racial slurs, lack neutral correlates. We reject those arguments and argue that although gendered slur's neutral counterpart carries an evaluative component this does not prevent it from being neutral in the way that seems to be relevant in the literature. We show, however, that the arguments against the neutral correlates of slurs lead to some interesting consequences - namely they highlight what seem to be metaphorical uses of slurs. In the last part of the talk, we will present a metaphorical account of slurs that is compatible with the dominant views in the literature.
Victor Carranza (University of Milan & Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris), "The Expressive Creation Problem"
Expressives, i.e. terms such as 'fucking', 'bloody' and 'damn' are standardly studied as encoding affective meaning. In this talk, I will address what might be called 'The Expressive Creation Problem', i.e. the problem of how terms come to be expressives, from two perspectives. First, from a diachronic perspective, I will address the hypothesis that expressive meaning arises as conversational implicatures that, due to their high frequency, become conventionalized. I will argue that this hypothesis is too broad to account for the Expressive Creation Problem and should be supplemented by observations about the phonological properties of expressives. Second, from a synchronic perspective, I will formulate a new hypothesis that accounts for expressive meaning in terms of non-restrictive modification. The intuition is that expressive meaning arises because non-restrictive modifiers are required to provide affective information in order to be felicitous. Then, I will present some problems with the idea that expressives are a sub-product of the pragmatic function of non-restrictive modification and argue that expressivity cannot be reduced to a single factor.
Bianca Cepollaro (Vita-Salute San Raffaele University), "The Moral Status of the Reclamation of Slurs"
While prototypical uses of slurs often express contempt for targets, some reclaimed uses of such epithets are often associated with positive evaluation of the target class. This practice – let’s call it 'pride reclamation' – may raise concerns and criticism. In this paper I defend the legitimacy of this kind of reclamation from what I dub the Warrant Argument (WA), according to which what is problematic with standard pejorative uses of slurs is that they assume an unwarranted connection between descriptive properties (such as being gay, being Italian, being Jewish and so on) and value judgements (being bad, being worthy of contempt and the like). According to the WA, when reclaimed uses of slurs express pride and/or a positive evaluation of their targets, they fail to challenge such a wrong link between descriptive properties and value judgements, and merely manage to reverse the polarity of the value judgement from negative to positive, from contempt to pride; so, the WA concludes, reclaimed uses of slurs expressing a positive evaluation of the slur’s targets make the same moral error as ordinary derogatory uses of slurs (Sections 1-2). The WA could lead us to condemn or ban pride reclamation, just like derogatory uses of slurs. To resist this conclusion, I draw a parallel with the mechanisms of affirmative action in order to argue that it can be morally permissible to balance an existing form of injustice by temporarily introducing a countervailing one: the analogy with affirmative action suggests that, even if the WA were right, right now it wouldn’t constitute an argument against the moral permissibility of pride reclamation (Section 3). Finally, I show how these line or argument in defense of pride reclamation may also serve to debunk the myths of reversed racism and reversed sexism (Section 4).
Nils Franzén (University of Uppsala) & Andrés Soria Ruiz (Universidade Nova de Lisboa), "Moral and Moorean Incoherencies"
According to metaethical expressivists, moral claims express non-cognitive states, such as disapproval, in a similar manner to how descriptive claims express the speaker's beliefs. This view makes the following prediction: just as the right combinations of sentences and belief ascriptions generate Moore paradoxes such as (1), the right combinations of moral sentences and ascriptions of non-cognitive attitudes ought to generate analogously unacceptable constructions, as in (2):
1. # It is raining but I don’t think that it is raining.
2. ?? Eating meat is wrong but I don’t disapprove of it.
Woods (2014) claims that this prediction is not borne out, as constructions like (2) are not unacceptable in the same way as (1) is. He argues that this constitutes a major blow to expressivism. By contrast, other theorists, like Coop (2009), have claimed that sentences like (2) are in fact unacceptable. In this paper, we set out to investigate empirically whether sentences like (2) are (un)acceptable through a series of experimental studies.
Camil Golub (University of Leeds/Rutgers University), "Quasi-Naturalism and the Problem of Alternative Normative Concepts"
The following scenario seems possible: a community uses concepts that play the same role in guiding actions and shaping social life as our normative concepts, and yet refer to something else. As Eklund (2017) argues, this apparent possibility poses a problem for any normative realist who aspires to vindicate the thought that reality itself favors our ways of valuing and acting. How can realists make good on this idea, given that anything they might say in support of the privileged status of our normative concepts can be mirrored by the imagined community as well? E.g., the realist might claim that using our concepts is what we ought to do if we are to describe normative facts correctly, but members of the other community can claim the same about their concepts, using their own concept of ought. A promising approach to this challenge is to rule out the possibility of alternative normative concepts in the first place, by arguing that any concepts that have the same normative role must share a reference as well. (Eklund calls this referential normativity.) In this paper I argue that normative quasi-naturalism, a view that combines expressivism about normative discourse with a naturalist metaphysics of normativity, provides a metasemantic picture that supports referential normativity and solves the problem of alternative normative concepts.
Gillian Gray (University of Michigan), "Not-So-Neutral Counterparts"
In this paper, I argue that further consideration of the often-assumed-neutral counterparts of slurs can help us to better understand if and how slurs are uniquely harmful. Drawing on work in social metaphysics, I discuss three ways in which so-called neutral counterparts are not as morally, politically, or socially neutral as we might think. I then consider the explanatory upshots of identifying these features of so-called neutral counterparts as well as the implications my account might have in the debate on slurs.
Leopold Hess (University of Krakow), "What's in a Slur? Expressing Values and Evaluating Expressions"
Slurs have striking linguistic properties, especially their hyper-projectivity, but arguably cannot be distinguished from other pejoratives on purely linguistic grounds - instead, their special status depends on socio-political factors. The aim of my talk is to account for this interaction of social and linguistic aspects by construing derogatory meanings of slurs as context-structuring devices which increase the salience of certain (value-laden and offensive) background assumptions.
Zuzanna Jusińska (University of Warsaw), "Slur Reclamation: Polysemy, Echo, or Both?"
In this talk I will focus on the issue of slur reclamation. I start with presenting two seemingly opposing accounts of slur reclamation, Jeshion’s (2020) Polysemy view and Bianchi’s (2014) Echoic view. Then, using the data provided by linguists, I discuss the histories of reclamation of slurs "queer" and "nigger" which bring me to presenting arguments against the Polysemy and Echoic views. I argue that while both of them provide valuable insights, neither can fully account for the slur reclamation process. I propose the Combined view of slur reclamation which postulates meaning change while fleshing out the pragmatic mechanisms necessary for it to occur.
Natalia Karczewska (University of Warsaw), "Illocutionary Disagreement in Faultless Disagreement"
The faultless disagreement debate has greatly influenced recent debates on semantic theories and inspired lots of novel accounts of disagreement (pragmatic, conflict of attitudes etc.). In my talk I claim that even though the existent proposals explain a lot of disagreement data by specifying various ways in which speakers may use subjective predicates, neither provides a plausible unitary account which would explain what all the subjective disagreements have in common. In particular, what is lacking is the explanation of the persistent autocentric cases, i.e. disagreements in which each speaker expresses a subjective judgment while openly and knowingly occupying his or her own perspective. In this talk I offer an explanation of the autocentric disagreement data by invoking the speech act theoretic nomenclature.
Stefano Predelli (University of Nottingham), "Unmentionables: Some Remarks on Taboo"
This paper discusses the phenomenon of linguistic taboo. It contrasts that phenomenon with the truth-conditional and non-truth-conditional dimensions of meaning, paying particular attention to slurs and coarseness. It then highlights the peculiarities of taboo and its meta-semantic repercussions: taboo is a meaning-related feature that is nevertheless directly associated with the tokening process. In the conclusion, it gestures to the role of taboo within a theory of linguistic action and the standard framework for conversational exchanges.
Pekka Väyrynen (University of Leeds), "Normative Naturalism, on Its Own Terms"
Normative naturalism is primarily a metaphysical doctrine: there are normative facts and properties, and these fall into the class of natural facts and properties. But many objections to naturalism rely on additional assumptions about language or thought - often without adequate consideration of just how normative properties would have to figure in our thought and talk if naturalism were true. In the first part of the paper, I explain why naturalists needn't say that normative properties can be represented in wholly non-normative terms, and highlight some broader implications of this. In the second part, I consider the objection that normative properties are "just too different" from (other) natural properties to themselves be natural properties. I argue that naturalists have no distinctive trouble making sense of thought and talk involving forms of "genuine" or "authoritative" normativity which can drive a non-question-begging form of the objection.
Julia Zakkou (Bielefeld University), "Conventional Evaluativity"
Some expressions, such as 'generous' and 'stingy', are used to not only describe the world around us. They are used to also evaluate the things they are applied to. In this paper, I suggest a novel account of how this evaluation is conveyed: the conventional triggering view. It partly agrees and partly disagrees both with the standard semantic view and its popular pragmatic contender. Like the former and unlike the latter, it has it that the evaluation is conveyed due to the conventional meaning of the sentences in question. Unlike the former and much like the latter, it suggests that the evaluation is a secondary rather than a primary content.