On Unidirectionality in Precisification

Peter Klecha (University of Connecticut)

4 Dec, 2pm, LH 302.

This talk provides a formal pragmatic analysis of (im)precision which accounts for its essential properties, but also for Lewis’s (1979) observation of asymmetry in how standards of precision may shift in a given discourse: Only up, not down. I propose that shifts of the kind observed and discussed by Lewis are in fact cases of underlying disagreement about the standard of precision, which is only revealed when one interlocutor uses an expression which signals their adherence to a higher standard than the one adhered to be the other interlocutor(s). I show that a modest formal pragmatic analysis along the lines of game-theoretic approaches by Franke (2009), Jaeger (2012) and others can easily capture the natural asymmetry in standard-signaling that gives rise to Lewis’s observation, so long as such an account is enriched with a notion of relevance. If there’s time, I’ll also discuss how this approach can be helpful for understanding a longstanding puzzle in the semantics of counterfactuals, namely the issue of Sobel Sequences and their reversals.