Cooperation & Determining When Merely Verbal Disputes…

Cooperation and Determining When Merely Verbal Disputes are Worthwhile

Teresa Kouri Kissel

Merely verbal disputes are often thought to be disputes about language that are not worthwhile. Recent work suggests that some merely verbal disputes may not be problematic in this way (see, for example, Balcerak Jackson (2014), Belleri (2020) and Mankowitz (2021)). In this paper, I propose that this recent work misses one crucial point: interlocutors have to cooperate in the right kinds of ways in order for a dispute to be worthwhile. Using the question-under-discussion framework developed in Roberts (2012), I provide a form of cooperation which I show can distinguish between merely verbal disputes which are and are not worthwhile.

If this paper is correct that sometimes what makes disputes about language worthwhile is that the interlocutors are willing to cooperate in the right kinds of ways, then there is a critical upshot: interlocutors can control whether their dispute is worth their time. That is, if interlocutors decide to treat what each other is saying as true for the purposes of the conversation, or if they manage to come to some compromise about some things they are both willing to accept as true, then they can go from having a worthless dispute to having a worthwhile one.