“I didn’t mean that”: Pragmatic inference, accountability and deniability.
Differences in speakers’ understandings of utterance meanings are inevitable, as are negotiations on what has been said or what has been meant. In this talk I outline an empirically informed view on ‘speaker meaning’ that focuses on meanings that are put on record through local processes of interactional achievement. Such an approach to the study of meaning allows us to observe speakers’ local processes of negotiating meanings when misunderstandings arise. In turn, we are afforded insights into how speakers draw on inferable aspects of others’ utterances, even when those aspects were not intended to be communicated. Sometimes unintended meanings can turn out to be beneficial to communication if it helps speakers achieve their communicative goals. But other times unintended meanings are also ‘unwanted’: either because the speaker doesn’t want to communicate their content, or because they don’t want to be held accountable for having communicated them. I illustrate how speakers can attempt to deny such unwanted inferences to different degrees of success depending on how explicitly those inferences are made available from prior utterances, while also exploring the extent to which recipients can hold speakers accountable for different kinds of inferences of varying strength. Such issues have ramifications for how legitimately a speaker can ‘take back’ something that was said but not meant, how people handle misfired jokes that inadvertently cause offence, all the way to dealing with microaggressions that negatively target some aspect of a person’s social characteristics, whether intentionally or not.
Rethinking the epistemology of deep disagreements through the lens of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy
Deep disagreements are systematic and persistent disagreements rooted in contrary worldviews where there is no mutually recognized method of resolution. Wittgenstein’s On Certainty has been at the heart of the epistemology of deep disagreements since its inception. Since the metaphor of ‘hinges’ plays a central role in the scholarship of On Certainty, Wittgensteinian Theories of Deep Disagreements (WTDD) have generally been based on Hinge Epistemology (HE) and have characterized deep disagreements as disagreements over the different hinge commitments of one’s world-view. The standard approach of WTDD and HE is marked by putting forward an (allegedly) exclusively correct theory that claims to explain everything essential about deep disagreements and hinge commitments. This has resulted in a stalemate between competing theories with no clear path to a satisfactory resolution. The aim of this paper is to propose a novel Wittgensteinian approach to deep disagreements that overcomes the limitations of the standard approach of WTDD and HE and, thereby, offers a more comprehensive study of deep disagreements and hinge commitments, allowing us to move away from the current stalemate. In particular, it develops a Piecemeal Wittgensteinian Epistemology of Deep Disagreements which seeks to clarify different aspects of deep disagreements and their hinge commitments by means of a variety of more local descriptions. Additionally, it questions whether the hinge-based account of deep disagreements that is assumed by the standard approach of WTDD is the best Wittgensteinian description for deep disagreements in certain fields, such religion, ethics or aesthetics.
Empathy and Psychiatry
Psychiatry is a discipline that studies and treats mental illnesses. What a mental illness is has been much discussed (Fulford, Thornton, and Graham 2006; Foucault 2008). Here I start from the premise that there are people who make use of psychiatric services—whom I will designate as “psychiatric patients  .” This article aims to analyze how psychiatrists know their patients, considering what has been said about the knowledge of others both in Anglo-American Philosophy of Mind and in Phenomenology. This kind of knowledge in psychiatry is not merely intellectual because it will rely on a faculty that is usually termed "empathy." Without wishing to anticipate a definition of empathy, I will say that it is a kind of knowledge that implies a certain experiencing of the other’s mind (Ratcliffe 2017). I take as a paradigmatic situation the face-to-face of two subjects in which they experience each other and interact accordingly. In Psychiatry, knowledge implies a certain care for the other or at least a concern and responsibility for his life. Psychiatric patients in our societies are people who experience communication difficulties with other people and suffer from empathy disorders (Ratcliffe 2017). They often say that others do not understand them and, in turn, they are unable to understand others. The feeling of loneliness is often voiced to psychiatrists. It is also true that most people’s usual ability to comprehend and empathize with psychiatric patients often fails. Psychiatry requires, as we shall see, a special development of openness to the other, infrequent in everyday situations.
 The concept of mental illness is contingent and depends largely on the values of a specific society, and it is difficult to define psychiatric categories applicable to all societies.
Creating Internal Reasons. Bernard Williams’ Participatory Notion of Ethics.
After briefly sketching what I call a participatory understanding of ethics, I discuss what Bernard Williams’ internal account of reasons contributes to it. Internalism allows for interpretive and creative margins that are to be shaped by concrete interactions and thereby makes any ‘ought’ dependent on the process of deliberation. This highlights the value of shared deliberations. Despite the unpredictable routes of practical reasoning, the account still offers a normative grip on what may count as reason. To keep that grip Williams offers a set of qualities the deliberative process and its participants should display. As a result, what is wrong about externalism is not only that it offers a flawed account of reasons, but also suggests personal dispositions that spoil every interactive deliberation.
The Self-Constituting Dynamics of (Culturally Mediated) Interpersonal Distrust: A Case Study from, and Reflection upon, Prison
Prison, Foucault famously argues, is an apparatus for the “fabrication of a delinquency that it is supposed to combat” (1995, 278). Prisons, in other words, constitute people as criminals, transforming them at the level of selfhood and agency, and not merely applying labels to them. Foucault’s own interest is in the ways that institutional architecture, discourse, and practices do this, and he distances himself from phenomenological perspectives, which he takes to presuppose a subjecthood that is in fact produced. However, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological account of personhood as intersubjectively conditioned not only fits with Foucault’s analysis of the workings of prisons and the constitution of selfhood, but also offers deeper insight into how seemingly mundane interpersonal interactions can constitute an individual as a criminal. This presentation takes, as a particular case study, a situation of interpersonal interaction, occurring within a prison, and defined by distrust. Through an elucidation of Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of intersubjectivity and selfhood, and an analysis of this case of interpersonal distrust, I argue that distrust is a dynamical system that comes to be installed between people, and that shapes distrusted individuals’ sense of self, their sense of behavioural possibilities (their “I can”), and their positioning in relation to others, society, and the law. One of the foremost ways in which prisons “fabricate delinquency”, then, is through the distrust that they foster in our interpersonal interactions.
Interaction and subjectivity: An analysis
Broadly, but intersubjectively, speaking, interactions encompass mutual explicit linguistic communication, and lengthier (‘personal’ or other) relationships, just as ‘interaction’ stresses the micro and dynamic character of all concrete intersubjectivity. This last term has the further advantage that it identifies the domain in question as that which concretely goes between subjects as subjects. Our life and language with interaction, including as interactive persons, and in interaction, exhibit some such concept, but how should it be analysed? On my analysis, interacting is a matter of (1) the individuals being involved, one by one; and it is a matter of each of them being (2) concretely (in multiple ways) as a person involved (3) with the other(s) as a person/persons concretely thus involved with them. An interaction between Mia and Liu is a matter of each of them being interactionally engaged with the other person as s/he is engaging with oneself as… and ad infinitum. Interaction is tantamount to a dynamic and indeterminate (interactive) array of the parties’ mutual (rather than similar) interactional engagements. Thus the explication of interaction turns on an explication of the latter concept. Presenting the condensed analysis of interaction and of interactional engagement, this talk aims at elaborating on some of the aspects opened up therein.
Trust, mistrust, and autonomy
Is autonomy – governing yourself – compatible with letting yourself be governed by trust? This paper argues that autonomy is not only compatible with appropriate trust but actually requires it. An autonomous agent treats herself as answerable for her action-guiding commitments, where answerability requires openness to the rational influence of external, critical perspectives on those commitments. Unfortunately, this sort of openness is vulnerable to manipulation, and can be exploited in ways that effectively undermine autonomy instead of supporting it. In some such cases, the agent fails to be appropriately responsive to evidence of untrustworthiness in others. But in others, the manipulation is so sophisticated that there is no evidence of untrustworthiness to which the agent could respond. Given the dialogical structure of autonomy, however, trusting oneself alone is no solution. Openness to rational influence must be apportioned appropriately between trust in self and trust in others. Autonomy, to this extent, depends upon the fostering of appropriate trust relations, and cannot be not fully under the control of individual agents.
Dewey’s notion of situation: Intersubjectivity, Tertiary qualities and communication
Tertiary qualities permeate contexts and situations and are often quickly felt as when something looks Kafkaesque, when an encounter is uncanny, and when a landscape is divine. This presentation is a small contribution for a better understanding of their role in intersubjectivity arguing that these qualities are constant and overarching and play an important role in communication. After putting forward the puzzle of the encounters described as “phenomenon of the stranger in the train” and offer some of the common explanations of the phenomenon it is suggested that the phenomenon holds important key insights for the understanding of intersubjectivity. The proposal is that the phenomenon of the “stranger in the train” can be also explained by appealing to the role of tertiary qualities and their decisive role in perception as well as how they stand as pillars of intimacy. Without dismissing the previous explanations of the phenomenon, the presentation argues that when we combine Simmel’s insights about the type of the stranger with Dewey’s idea of tertiary qualities, we obtain a different description of what might be going on in these situations. Though tertiary qualities are not easily described, precisely because of their underlying presence, they are part of what we share in communication and in collaborative discovery of situations. One way to more easily understand their impact and how they can be transformative when grasped is by seeing how they account for emotional proximity. This means that the emotional landscape may be an important tool to show how people identify tertiary qualities, and explain how they are a crucial part of human communication, empathy, cooperation and joint activity and its misgivings, difficulties and a sense of distance even in close proximity. There are two folded outcomes in the importance of the notion of situation in what concerns tertiary qualities grasped within the emotional space and connection with communication, namely 1. that they are an important part of intersubjectivity and communication and 2. that the immediacy of perception is now understood as also being mediated by culture. Overall it is one more indication that can highlight the importance of emotions for the understanding of the life of the mind.
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University of Lisbon, Humanities building (Faculdade de Letras, FLUL)
29-30/09 11h-20h, Sala B1 (rooms near the ‘biblioteca da FLUL’ library)
Alameda da Universidade, 1600-214 Lisboa
This work is funded by Portuguese national funds through FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P
within the project IF/00493/2015/CP1283/CT003