Conversation_and_collective_belief_paper.doc

Stalnaker on presupposing and common ground in robert

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Romney would not ordinarily be a viable candidate. Stalnaker on presupposing and common ground In Robert Stalnaker’s classic discussions presupposing is something done by an individual participant in a conversation. Thus Stalnaker’s analysandum in an important article is “A speaker presupposes that P at a given moment in a conversation….” (1973: 448). As far as we can tell Stalnaker does not consider the possibility of conversationalists collectively presupposing that such-and-such, where this is distinct from each of them personally presupposing it. According to the NCB this leaves out a crucial dimension of conversation. In this section we briefly relate the notion of collective presupposition just outlined in our discussion of Lewis to the passage from which the above partial quotation from Stalnaker comes. Stalnaker writes, more fully, that “a rough definition might go something like this:” 33
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34 A speaker presupposes that P at a given moment in conversation just in case he is disposed to act, in his linguistic behavior, as if he takes the truth of P for granted, and as if he assumes that his audience recognizes that he is doing so. (Emphasis in the original.) 42 What we would like to note in relation to this is the following. Suppose that speaker S is a member of conversational group G, and the members of G, as such, collectively presuppose that P. Then, roughly, while this collective presupposition remains in effect, and in this conversational setting, it will be incumbent upon S (and the other members of G) to act, in his linguistic behavior, as if he takes the truth of P for granted. Note that the italicized words are also to be found in the quotation from Stalnaker. We say this because acting in his linguistic behavior as if he takes the truth of P for granted is, roughly, what a joint commitment to presuppose that P as a body dictates. 43 More precisely, with the provisos noted, he is to do his part along with the others in emulating a single body that believes that P. Further, this will be common knowledge among the parties who jointly committed themselves to presuppose that P in the first place. It seems just possible, then, that the conversational phenomenon to which Stalnaker is responding in his discussion is in fact the collective phenomenon of collective presupposition. That said, his discussion of conversation overall does not give that impression, though some of the pertinent phrases---such as “shared beliefs” “common beliefs” and “common ground”---can in principle be given a collective interpretation. A proponent of the NCB thesis need not doubt, of course, that in the background of many conversations there are beliefs of the individual parties with the same content, beliefs about these beliefs, and so on, which constitute a species of “common ground”, and that these have an important role to play in what transpires.
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