Philosophy Colloquium
Michael Glanzberg
Rutgers University
Precise Meanings and Loose Concepts: Roles for Underdetermination and Imprecision in Formal Semantics

Standard approaches to formal semantics of natural language operate with a rich ontology of highly precise meanings. Predicates of various sorts are assigned precise extensions, or as we will explore in this paper, precise degree values. On the other hand, cognition is known to show many forms of imprecision. How then can our formal models capture cognitive realistic aspects of meaning? In this paper, I explore how the two aspects of meaning---precise and imprecise---can fruitfully interact, focusing on the case of abstract scale structure. I argue that our linguistic systems can work with precise values where cognition and context provide only underspecified or approximate ones. The precision we see with many semantic values reflects their linguistic roles: expressing linguistically specific content, grammar, and feeding composition. Underdetermination, I propose, comes from the interface with cognition and with context.

Friday, November 13, 2020