van Rooij and Schulz (2020) on typicality

van Rooij, Robert and Katrin Schulz (2020). Generics and typicality: A bounded rationality approach. Linguistics and Philosophy 43, 83-117.

Traditionally, a category was defined in terms of a critical set of attributes the possession of which was taken to be both necessary and sufficient to be a member of the kind. But this traditional conception of categories is now largely abandoned. Typicality plays an important role in more recent theories of categorization and it will play a crucial role in our analysis of generic statements as well. One of the main claims of this paper is that a generic of the form ‘Gs are f ’ is true if f is a typical feature of Gs, or that typical members of the category G have feature f. Typicality is well studied in cognitive psychology. According to prototype theory, groups (or categories) are represented by typical members, rather than by all of them and only them, or by typical features, rather than by necessary and sufficient features, because agents have limited attention and limited recall of examples. But what are a group’s typical members or features? According to Rosch (1973), it is the central, or average members of the group, or the features most members have. Centrality is determined in terms of a notion of similarity, which is taken to be based, in one way or another on frequency and correlation information. Barsalou (1985) experimentally showed on the basis of a thorough correlational analysis, however, that at least for goal-derived artificial categories, the typical members are instead the category’s ideal members; those that best satisfy the goal. For example, the ideal of the category ‘things to eat on a diet’ presumably is ‘zero calories,’ which clearly is not a common, but rather an extreme value for members of the category. Idealness can be defined as the extent to which a certain object displays a quality that is directly related to the goal. More recent empirical findings (e.g. Lynch et al. 2000; Palmeri and Nosofsky 2001; Burnett et al. 2005; Ameel and Storms 2006) show that extreme members of a group are also considered typical for many, if not most, other types of categories, namely if categorization is performed in a contrastive way. Typical members of a category when defined contrastively have features that distinguish them from members of other categories; as such, they highlight, or exaggerate, real differences between groups (p. 93-94).

Dever and Schilling (forthcoming) on modality

Dever, Josh and Henry Ian Schiller (forthcoming). This paper might change your mind. Noûs.

Work in formal semantics often posits complex structures as conversational scoreboards. As scoreboards components proliferate, though, theoretical underdetermination worries increase. Consider question under discussion (QUD) structure in conversational scoreboards. It’s plausible enough that conversations are often guided and shaped by a dynamically developing sequence of topical questions. But when, for example, we attempt to codify this plausible fact using a question stack as a component of the conversational scoreboard, and then to extract Gricean relevance facts as downstream consequences of the evolving QUD, there’s a real worry that it’s really the relevance facts that are fixing the QUD facts, or that the QUD facts are being ad hoc extracted from incomplete discourse descriptions to fit the relevance facts. In such cases it’s not clear that the QUD is a genuinely explanatory component of the semantic theory, or that the proposed conversational scoreboard will be properly constrained by data. To avoid such worries, it’s then helpful to tie specific scoreboard components to specific linguistic phenomena (p. 36).

Wright (1973) on functions

Wright, Larry (1973). Functions. The Philosophical Review 82, 139–168.

We have seen that no matter how useful it is for X to do Z, or what contribution X‘s doing Z makes within a complex system, these sorts of consideration are never sufficient for saying that the function of X is Z. It could still turn out that X did Z only by accident. But all of the accident counterexamples can be avoided if we include as part of the analysis something about how X came to be there (wherever): namely, that it is there because it does Z-with an etiological “because.” The buckle, the heart, the nose, the engine nut, and so forth were not there because they stop bullets, throb, support glasses, adjust the valve, and all the other things which were falsely attributed as functions, respectively (p. 156).

When we give a functional explanation of X by appeal to Z (“X does Z”), Z is always a consequence or result of X’s being there (in the sense of “is there” sketched above). So when we say that Z is the function of X, we are not only saying that X is there because it does Z, we are also saying that Z is (or happens as) a result or consequence of X’s being there. Not only is chlorophyll in plants because it allows them to perform photosynthesis, photosynthesis is a consequence of the chlorophyll’s being there. Not only is the valve—adjusting screw there because it allows the clearance to be easily adjusted, the possibility of easy adjustment is a consequence of the screw’s being there. Quite obviously, “consequence of” here does not mean “guaranteed by.” “Z is a consequence of X,” very much like “X does Z” earlier, must be consistent with Z’s not occurring (p. 160).