Workshop: Misunderstanding, disagreement, manipulation

June 22, 2018


Misunderstanding, disagreement, manipulation

ArgLab, IFILNOVA, Lisbon, Friday, 22 June 2018, 10:00-16:00

Room T9, Torre B, Piso 3, NOVA FCSH, Avenida de Berna 26, Lisbon

Part of the Values in argumentative discourse project (PTDC/MHC-FIL/0521/2014) Principal Investigator: Erich Rast



The idea of the workshop is to explore the blurred lines between disagreement, mis-understanding and manipulation in verbal exchanges. The questions to be investigated are: How do we know which of the three is at stake in a given case? How can we tell “pointless” or “defective” verbal disputes from substantive ones? What is the role of rationality in the inferential processes involved in verbal communication? To what extent and how do we correct for possible mistakes? More specifically, which inferential processes overrule the semantic code component to produce a reasonable interpretation? What is the role played by various forms of pragmatic inference here? How can manipulation enter into the process? What are the roles of both (all) speakers in this process of correction / error detection / manipulation detection? How can public argumentative processes resolve / complicate these phenomena?







Opening: Erich Rast & Marcin Lewiński (Philosophy, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, PT)



Didier Maillat (Linguistics, University of Fribourg, CH)

Weakly communicated meaning vs. not-communicated meaning:

The pragmatics of misunderstanding, miscommunication, and manipulation


This paper constitutes an attempt at a pragmatic cartography of communicative derailments. Adopting a post-Gricean, cognitivist approach to meaning elaboration (Carston 2002, Wilson & Sperber 2012), I will review the various types of miscommunication that can take place during verbal interaction, be they intentional or accidental. In doing so, I will address the definitional conundrum of arriving at a notion of communicative breakdown in a non-deterministic view of communicated meaning. I will question the centrality of speaker intention in establishing communicative disruptions. Finally, following a relevance-theoretic typology of inferential meaning, I will investigate how communicative breakdown (Bara 2010) can be described for non-truth-conditional meaning.



Steve Oswald (Linguistics, University of Fribourg, CH)

On some pragmatic puzzles about insinuation


Insinuation can be said to have a hybrid communicative status that is problematic for contemporary pragmatic accounts: on the one hand, its content is supposed to be recognised by the audience, but on the other the speaker’s intention to have its content recognised by the audience should not be manifest (according to the overwhelming majority of extant accounts). In other words, insinuation is communicatively covert – and most pragmatic models deal with overt communication.

This talk (i) outlines the main challenges that pragmatic research needs to overcome to account for insinuation, (ii) assesses the relevance of recent work on covert meaning to deal with this issue and (iii) discusses the possibility of a pragmatic account of insinuation in terms of the concepts of commitment attribution, intention satisfaction and intention fulfilment.


11:45-12:00 Coffee break



Javier Gonzalez de Prado Salas (Philosophy, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, PT)

No (social) norm for implicature


It has become popular to claim that assertion is governed by an epistemic norm, for instance William-son’s knowledge norm. One may wonder whether the non-assertoric, indirect communication of contents via implicatures is also subject to analogous epistemic norms. Adam Green has recently proposed that there is such a norm for implicatures, although it is weaker than the norm of assertion (‘An Epistemic Norm for Implicature’, The Journal of Philosophy, 2017). In this talk I offer reasons to resist the idea that implicated contents are governed by similar (perhaps weaker) norms to those regulating assertoric communication. Speaker can always reject recording merely implicated contents in the public conversational score, and in this way they can try to get their message across while avoiding the responsibility to vindicate a publicly undertaken commitment.


12:45-14:00 Lunch



Pedro Abreu & Marcin Lewiński (Philosophy, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, PT)

Misunderstanding, disagreement, and successful communication 


The goal of the paper is to investigate and eventually abandon the idea of a sharp dichotomy between “defective” verbal disputes induced by misunderstandings and substantive disputes grounded in genuine disagreements. The scope and philosophical value of the category of merely-verbal-and-hence-pointless-dispute has been greatly exaggerated in a wave of recent papers (Chalmers 2011; Jenkins 2014; Rott 2015; Van Laar & Krabbe 2018; Vermeulen 2018). While others argue that at least some verbal disputes are actually worth having (Balcerak Jackson 2014; Ludlow 2014; Plunkett 2015; Plunkett & Sundell 2013), we question the very discernibility between verbal and substantive issues and argue that pure and pointless verbalness is confined to a specific range of unexciting cases.



Dima Mohammed (Philosophy, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, PT)

Disagreement network and misunderstanding. The #MeToo controversy as a case in point


In today’s ‘networked’ public sphere, countless controversies roam out there creating a challenge for arguers and analysts alike. Keeping under control the contribution one’s arguments make to the different interrelated issues requires careful craft. This is no easy task: often, misunderstandings occur and apologies follow. In this talk, I discuss the #MeToo controversy as an example. In order to capture what is at stake, I suggest to examine the argument as emerging to manage the disagreement (Jackson & Jacobs 1980) as part of a complex network where distinct lines of disagreement in relation to different issues crisscross and overlap (Lewiński & Mohammed 2015).


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