Arthur Merin

Information Relevance and Social Decisionmaking:
Some Principles and Results of Decision-Theoretic Semantics

Arbeitspapiere des SFB 340, Bericht Nr. 100 (1997), 46pp.
DVI (175kb); Postscript (445kb)1-up; Postscript gzip-komprimiert (134kb) 1-up , 2-up.


This paper submits an approach to meaning with a focus on broadly non-truth-conditional aspects of natural language. `Pragmatics' is interpreted not as a label for aspects of meaning left residual by `semantics', but substantively, in the way of C.S. Peirce and F.P. Ramsey, as a synonym for decision-theory. We outline (i) basic assumptions, (ii) some relations to other approaches, (iii) a range of results wide enough to justify the term `approach'. The phenomena addressed include those widely treated under labels `conversational implicature' (both particularized and generalized with applications to `or' and to the Jespersen/Ducrot/Horn facts on negation in scalar predicate contexts) and `conventional implicature' (`but', `even'), as well as `presupposition' (`King-of-X'-sentences, `stop' and `also'). A key notion is `relevance', explicated as a measure of epistemic context-change potential and related to information in the traditional, stochastic way. Another is the notion of `negotiation'---i.e. of a social situation in which persons with locally incompatible preferences with respect to an issue attempt to influence each other. Assumptions guaranteeing compositionality (additivity) of relevance are seen to militate for dichotomous issues.

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