July 11, 2019



In one sentence, the central and general goal/task of this workshop is to question and challenge the “merely” that is often used to qualify meaning or verbal disputes. Frequently, in linguistic communication, the suspicion arises that interlocutors are talking past each other and failing to get their meanings through. Resisting the mereness verdict allows such disruptive events to be used to focus, and render especially salient and urgent, a number of fundamental questions on the nature and processes of linguistic meaning and communication. These include, but are by no means exhausted by: What is it for interlocutors to converge or coordinate on the meaning of the words they exchange, and how is it accomplished? How do meanings persist and change across contexts? To what extent can speakers control constancy and change? To what extent are they even scrutable, traceable or understood? What’s the role of intention and planning in meaning making? What purposes or goals could be served by deliberate intervention on our semantic resources? What norms and criteria govern these processes? What are the limits of reinterpretation? How to distinguish misunderstanding from disagreement?


Pedro Abreu (NOVA University of Lisbon)

Ernest Lepore (Rutgers University)

Marcin Lewinski (NOVA University of Lisbon)

Peter Ludlow (University of Campinas)

Poppy Mankowitz (NOVA University of Lisbon)

Sofia Miguens  (University of Porto)

Erich Rast  (NOVA University of Lisbon)

Nuno Venturinha (NOVA University of Lisbon)


Organization: Pedro Abreu

Part of the Values in Argumentative Discourse project (PTDC/MHC-FIL/0521/2014)

Principal Investigator: Erich Rast








Opening: Erich Rast


11:30 -12:30

Peter Ludlow

Deference and the Dynamic Lexicon


12:45-14:00 Lunch



Erich Rast

Some Remarks on Theory Change and Topic Continuity



Poppy Mankowitz

How to Have a Metalinguistic Dispute


16:00-16:20 Coffee break



Nuno Venturinha

To be announced




11:30 -12:30

Sofia Miguens

Consequences of Forgetting Austin — ‘Merely Contextual’ and Varieties of Contextualism


12:45-14:00 Lunch



Marcin Lewiński (& Pedro Abreu)

Misunderstanding, Disagreement and the Interpretative Work of Argumentation



Pedro Abreu

Disputes, Indeterminacy and the Social Nature of Meaning


16:00-16:20 Coffee break



Ernest Lepore

Nonnegotiable Meanings





Peter Ludlow

Deference and the Dynamic Lexicon

The common view about linguistic deference is that it is a largely passive process in which we automatically defer to defer to domain experts.  In this talk I expand on ideas about the dynamic lexicon in Living Words, in particular ideas about lexical warfare, and argue that deference too is a dynamic process within the control of speakers.  In particular, I argue that we continually issue challenges to putative domain experts using partial knowledge proof procedures, both concerning their expertise and the semantic reach of their expertise. I argue that for domain experts understanding the meaning of an expression is in part the ability to reconstruct this history of challenges, as well as the prior history of the disputes about meaning. For the rest of us, understanding the meaning involves having a strategy for locating and "proving" a path to such experts. I argue that contrary to popular opinion, this view is not internalist, but externalist. Or at least it can be.

Erich Rast

Some Remarks on Theory Change and Topic Continuity

When the circumstances are good, people can follow other people's theories and world views with an almost uncanny precision and are able to adapt their own world views and the meaning of terms they use with ease. How is this possible? Some authors have suggested topic continuity as a way of (partly) explaining why terminological disagreements remain substantive and not merely about words when different theories and world views are changing or are changed. In this talk, I lay out the ‘Tracking View’ of topic continuity and argue that it fares better than other accounts. However, I also argue that topic continuity is not needed for a philosophical justification of the potential fruitfulness of particular endeavours of Conceptual Engineering (Cappelen 2018) and Conceptual Ethics (Burgess & Plunkett 2013ab). Metalinguistic disagreements about a term can - and usually will - be substantive even when there is a good case to be made that the underlying background theories or world views are about different topics. If that is true, then a lack of topic continuity cannot be used as an argument against ameliorative projects.


Poppy Mankowitz      

How to Have a Metalinguistic Dispute

There has been recent interest in the idea that speakers who appear to be having a verbal dispute may in fact be engaged in a metalinguistic negotiation: they are communicating information about how they believe an expression should be used at the relevant context. While many have argued that metalinguistic negotiation is a pervasive feature of philosophical and everyday discourse, the literature currently lacks an account that can be situated within a 'mainstream' view of communication. After identifying a number of adequacy conditions and desiderata, I provide such an account. I claim that individuals reconstruct metalinguistic propositions by means of a pragmatic, Gricean reasoning process.

Sofia Miguens

Consequences of Forgetting Austin — ‘Merely Contextual’ and Varieties of Contextualism

J.L. Austin claimed that  “When we examine what we should say when, what words we should use in what situations, we are looking again not merely at words (or “meanings”, whatever they may be) but also at the realities we use words to talk about”. In this talk I will examine the way Michael Williams follows Austin’s lead in recent exchanges with Duncan Pritchard in order to spell out some (bad) consequences of forgetting Austin when one is a contextualist.

Marcin Lewiński (& Pedro Abreu)

Misunderstanding, Disagreement and the Interpretative Work of Argumentation

Our goal 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 in pertinent cases and argue that pure and pointless verbalness is confined to a specific range of unexciting cases. Our argument stresses the importance of conceptual work in linguistic communication — evident in many argumentative discussions — and is partly inspired by some notes of Davidson (1994) on the intimate link between the dialectical method and problems of interpretation.

Pedro Abreu

Disputes, Indeterminacy and the Social Nature of Meaning

In this talk, I will explore overlooked connections between recent discussions on meaning disputes and the longstanding topics of semantic indeterminacy and the publicness meaning. I will focus on a few examples that, although they tempt us towards a verdict of verbal dispute, still seem to resist resolution via metalinguistic expedients. A detailed inspection of these cases can help us clarify in important ways the nature of the distinction between divergences of meaning and divergences of belief. The elusiveness of this distinction speaks against the myth of ontologically robust meanings; its essential link to linguistic communication is also instructive about the social character of their individuation.


Ernest Lepore

Nonnegotiable Meanings

While tradition teaches us that a precondition on communication is that interlocutors share mutual knowledge of the meanings of expressions of a language, innovative lexical usage suggests this cannot generally be the case. We can engage in a process of lexical innovation effortlessly, introducing novel expression-meaning pairings on the fly. Furthermore, some have argued that not only is it easy to introduce novel expressions, but that the standing meanings of virtually any expression is dynamic, constantly renegotiated by the conversational agents even within the course of a single conversation (in particular, Ludlow; see also Armstrong, Carston, Plunket & Sundell, inter alia). We by contrast will argue that meanings are non-negotiable — they do not (typically) change through reflective or non-reflective negotiation on the part of the conversational agents. However, we shall argue that despite non-negotiable meanings, a requirement of prior knowledge of meaning on the part of conversational agents is problematic — speakers don’t generally have such knowledge in any interesting sense. But how then do they successfully communicate? Drawing on the lessons from our criticism of the dynamic meaning accounts, we sketch our own solution to this problem   




For any questions, please contact pedroabreu@fcsh.unl.pt

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