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Creating a common ground

Scarafone, A. (2022) Creating a common ground. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00115264


According to a well-established tradition, communicating in a language is, necessarily, a matter of reasoning about psychological states. Recently, it has been argued that for learning a language, and for communicating in the ways they do, infants must be capable of reasoning about their own and others’ intentions and beliefs. The overarching aim of this thesis is to show that the orthodox explanatory strategy gets things back to front. There are at least two good reasons to embark on this enterprise. First, I argue, there is no convincing evidence that infants engage in the required kind of psychological reasoning. Second, I argue, the orthodox strategy leads, in general, to a problematic picture of the psychology of communicators. The alternative I propose is inspired by Bart Geurts’ works. I argue that prelinguistic communication is better thought of in terms of normative practices. In interactions, commitments and entitlements are created, fulfilled, or reneged. Interactants may act in light of the commitments that they share without knowing that this is what they are doing. It is generally possible to learn how to play a game before knowing its rules, and this is how the early stages of language acquisition will look like in the present work. The complexity of the interactions in which they participate is not something that infants understand. It is something that they grow into. Once stable forms of action coordination enabled by the sharing of commitments are achieved, and a rich enough language has thus been acquired, the road to psychological reasoning is paved. Competence in playing the manifold games they play with others makes it possible, for them, to discern and negotiate the whys of others’, as well as of their own, sayings and doings.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Borg, E.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Humanities
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Philosophy
ID Code:115264
Date on Title Page:September 2021


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