Colloque en l’honneur de Dan Sperber
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L’Institut Jean Nicod organise un colloque en l’honneur de Dan Sperber du 12 au 15 décembre 2012, avec la participation de spécialistes reconnus en philosophie, anthropologie, psychologie et linguistique.
Aperçu du Programme
Are concepts modules ?
Maybe Dan Sperber was right after all.
The case of ownership intuitions
This is an attempt to show that we can infer the conceptual repertoire of organisms from the kinds of selective pressure that shaped their cognitive systems. I will illustrate this focusing on human intuitions and reflections in the domain of possession and ownership. We tend to assume that various notions about property, gifts, tranfers, etc., require a unified concept of ownership. However, psychological evidence also shows great uncertainty (and many contradictions) in people’s explicit understanding of the notion, as well as many discrepancies between explicit understandings and intuitions. I propose that people do not actually entertain a unified ’ownership’ concept, but a set of heuristics about use and exclusion, which stem from different domain constrains (e.g. exclusivity in mates is not the same as in objects), and constitute most of what humans need (in terms of conceptual structure) to manage coordinated use of resources with others.
Human infants expect kind-referring signs in ostensive communication
All human languages allow for making generic statements about kinds, which fosters the acquisition of generic knowledge by linguistic communication. I present recent findings that suggest that non-verbal ostensive communication may also induce the expectation of generic content already in pre-verbal infants. In particular, our studies demonstrate that, when the objects are deictically referred by a communicator, 9-month-old infants, like adults, tend to encode potentially kind-relevant properties, like shape and colour, of the objects while ignoring their incidental properties, such as location and numerosity, which are restricted to the particular objects in the situation. One interpretation of these findings is that, by default, non-verbal demonstratives are expected to refer the object kind, rather than to the particular objects present in the scene. In a further series of studies using electrophysiological measures we have found that as soon as infants start to learn words for objects, they assume that verbal labels refer to object kinds rather than to individuals or object features. Furthermore, seeing pictures of familiar objects activate the representation of the corresponding kind concepts in the infant brain only when the objects are presented in an ostensive-referential context. I propose that these phenomena reflect an expectation of genericity elicited by ostensive communication, and such a bias facilitates the learning of generic knowledge from others.
How Darwinian is cultural evolution ?
Sperber has been perhaps the most insightful critic of the memetics approach to cultural evolution, and some of his objections have pointed to major problems with the more facile versions of memetics, but once the objections are placed in the perspective of Godfrey Smith’s Darwinian Spaces, one can see that some of them are not so much problems for memetics as considerations that move the phenomena of cultural evolution into a different region of the space of (proto-, semi-, quasi-) Darwinian phenomena, and none the worse for it. Many other biological phenomena occupy intermediate positions ; we must eschew essentialism and be good Darwinians about Darwinism itself.
Evolution and the Epistemology of Testimony
Is Human Argument a Spandrel ?
Did language evolve because it made argument possible or because it made complex thought possible ?
The Ontology of Communication
I propose a purely referential theory of the meanings of almost all extensional terms in a language. No information whatever about the thing being talked about is automatically transferred from speaker to hearer when such a word is used correctly by the speaker and understood correctly by the hearer. Nor is anything carried by the language itself for the hearer to use as a base for "inference," say, to uncover explicatures or discover implicatures. How then does language work ? The tie from word to hearer understanding is always indirect, passing through and supported entirely by the contingent structure of the actual world in so far as it happens to be grasped by the hearer. Pragmatics goes all the way down.
Beneath the Relevance Inference
Ostensive-inferential communication only works with organisms that are fundamentally cooperative. This insight clarifies several aspects of the Relevance Theory approach, especially concerning the evolutionary origins and ontogenetic emergence of this uniquely human form of communication.
Irony, hyperbole, jokes and banter
In the last ten years, following the collapse of standard definitions of irony as a matter of saying one thing and meaning the opposite, a range of disparate phenomena including hyperbole, banter, understatement and rhetorical questions have been commonly treated as forms of irony in the experimental literature (Gibbs 2000, Leggitt & Gibbs 2000). Drawing on recent work by Wilson & Sperber (2012), I will argue that these phenomena display none of the distinctive features of irony in most of their uses, and that new theoretical accounts and experimental paradigms are needed to prise them apart.
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