The Projects and their Members
Current and Future Activities
Activities up to now
Project 1: Reconstructing Speech Act Theory
Project 2: Pragmatic Implications
Project 3: Speech Act and Interpretation
Project 4: Explanatory Coherence
Project 5: Computational Dialectics
The basic idea of our project consists in a generalization of speech act
theory to an analysis of communicative and cooperative actions in general, of
linguistic acts in particular. This generalization takes, however, a
In order to distinguish ‘classical’ speech act theory in the tradition of
Austin and Searle from our generalized approach, we would like to call the
latter a "pragmatic analysis of the form(s) of communicative and joint actions"
or, shorter, "form analysis of communication". Classical speech act theory
presupposes propositional content and conventional linguistic meaning as
already understood. It believes in a method of making some implicit rules of
human actions explicit. Pragmatic form analysis, on the other hand, does not
start with believes in a concept of preestablished meaning. It does not
presuppose contents of expressions or of speech acts that are only actualized
in a particular utterance. Nor do we take the distinction between types and
token as already understood. It is only a
distinction: a particular attempt to perform a communicative act is even as a
particular token always to be ‘understood’ as a type. The hearer’s reactions
must be of the ‘right type’, and this concept of correctness refers to a
certain way of attributing a type to what the speaker S is doing. The
attribution of types and the judgements of correctness take place in a realm of
cooperation, joint actions and joint normative judgements.
Moreover, we have to distinguish between explicit attribution of types by
naming them and implicit re-actions of the hearer H that fit to the (type of)
action of S. That is, the implicit or explicit attribution of types to singular
actions takes place in a common and open realm. The implicit or explicit
judgement of the correctness of such an‘understanding’, as it is shown in H’s
re-action, takes place in a kind of joint jury. Neither the speaker’s
judgements nor the hearer’s nor any mere appeal to ‘usual’ or ‘normal’ meanings
and understandings alone will be sufficient. But, of course, conventional
attributions of ‘types’, normal rules of ‘inferences’, conventional rules of
language use, for instance, help a lot and are, therefore, accepted as implicit
norms of correctness of understanding a communicative action. They are used
also as explicit appeal courts in disputes about the ‘correctness’ (and about
the ‘entitlements’) of H’s understanding as it is shown in his (verbal or
In order to describe ‘norms’ and ‘rules’ in joint interactions, it is indeed a
good idea to distinguish with Robert Brandom very generally between norms and
commitment and of entitlement
. The distinction of these two kinds of ‘rules’ are quite well explained in
the context of Lorenzen’s
. Rules of commitment of a ‘proponent’ P tell us what an ‘opponent’ O
P to do (later) or what O is
to do – given the commitments of P. Rules of entitlement say what P or O is
to do. Of course, O and P change places in the course of a dialogue such as
speakers and hearers do. And, of course, there is a kind of jury or
score-keeping presupposed by which ‘we’ judge if the players played the
dialogical game of commitments and entitlements ‘correctly’.
By liberalizing the metalevel ‘rules’ of judgements about the correctness of
dialogical games of giving and asking for reasons in particular, and of acting
and reacting in appropriate ways in general interactions, our approach accepts
certain criticisms against the‘conventionalism’ or ‘regularism’ brought forward
by intentional semantics in the tradition of Paul Grice. On the other hand, we
try to name and avoid shortcomings in an intentionalistic ‘theory’ of
communicative actions, as it was formally worked out, for example, by Georg
Meggle. These shortcomings consist, we believe, in a "speaker-centered"
approach to the concept of understanding and the corresponding implicit
mentalism. This mentalism consists, we claim, in a lack of reflection on or
analysis of the basic concepts of intending something and believing something.
These concepts are presupposed in Meggle’s definitional reconstruction of the
concept of communicative actions.
Basic problems of conventionalism and formal and mental intentionalism
How do we think one must and can avoid conventionalism and intentionalism in a
theory of communicative actions at the same time? The answer is, roughly, this.
Communicative or cooperative actions cannot be understood just as
instantiations of regular action types or as mere rule following behaviour.
Even if we assume a principle of expressibility according to which anything we
can mean can be expressed in principle in a possible language, we still have to
take the paradox of analysis into account: Verbal explications
that use, for example, (re)constructions of types and rules and conventions of
behaviour do not say that what was done
was ‘really’ done in view of what is said about it later. Or rather, it is not
too clear what it means to accept such reconstructions and what it means to
accept Searle’s principle of expressibility.
The concept of communicative actions cannot be explained sufficiently, either,
if we just presuppose a concept of definite intention on the side of the
speaker S and of definite understanding on the side of the hearer H. If we
presuppose "intending" and "understanding" as basic, we presuppose the most
crucial terms and explain by them the easy terms "communicative action".
In a way, the usual procedure is similar to that of axiomatic arithmetic. One
believes that an axiomatic system could ‘define’ at least the relative use of
the words or ‘concepts’ occurring in the axioms in an exact, formal, way. But
the Hilbertian and Carnapian belief that the (Peano-)axioms ‘define’ and
‘ground’ arithmetics puts things upside down. In reality, the choices of axioms
are justified by the theorems we wish to deduce, not the other way round. This
was already seen by Frege. It is, however, not easily understood why it is an
age-old myth to believe that the theorems are ‘justified’ by the axioms and
that the axioms are just a kind of shorthand for describing
true statements. (Of course, we can use axiomatic and algebraic systems in
order to talk about many ‘models’ or ‘individual structures’ at once.
Nevertheless, the axioms are justified by the ‘models’ we are interested in.
Things get blurred linguistically by a use of the word "structure" in the sense
of individual structures.)
In our case, too, we would put things upside down if we presupposed a vague
concept of intention and understanding. Precisely these concepts, more
precisely: the family resemblance of their different uses, are to be laid out.
For this it is not enough to put the words into a system of axioms. We should
distinguish, for example, between a vague concept of being in an intentional
state on one side form a definite concept of intending or meaning X rather than
Y or Z. The question is, as Robert Brandom puts it: What makes meaning and
We should also take into account that any explication of such an X aims at
being ‘correctly’ understood by a speaker S as well as by a hearer H. In other
words, definite meanings not only of words and sentences but of utterances and
communicative actions must already be
and they must not be ‘finer’ than what ‘can be understood’ by more than one
There is another idea which in part goes back to Robert Brandoms approach:
Judgements about a correct understanding of a communicative act are made from
some neutral perspective. Neither has the speaker an absolute knowledge or
authority with respect to what he means or intends to do in his (attempt of a)
communicative act, nor with respect to what he judges as a correct reaction on
the side of the hearer. The latter ‘correctness’ refers to a judgement of being
understood well, i.e. to the satisfaction condition that turns a mere attempt
of a communicative act into a successful one.
Such a success does not entail that all ‘perlocutionary’ intentions of S must
be fulfilled. In fact, it is not too clear how to judge if the satisfaction
conditions of ‘understanding’ an attempt of a communicative act are fulfilled
not just insofar as H knows that S has made an attempt of communication, but
that it was an attempt with definite content X and not Y or Z. The question
concerns the status, the definiteness and openness of such satisfaction
conditions. How are they connected with and how do they differ from the mere
feeling of S or H that the communicative act was successful as such?
Our proposal is to say that any judgement about a success of an attempt of a
communicative act refers on some kind of third perspective, to a view of
umpires or score keepers that can be S and H themselves, but only if they
change their ‘immediate’ attitude and cooperate or interact in playing the role
reflecting referees about their own intentions and understandings. In other
words, the very concept of a successful communicative act of content X rather
than Y or Z and the very concept of understanding an act as an attempt to
communicate the content X refers to a ‘shared’ point of view and to a concept
of joint actions that goes conceptually beyond what can be described in a
framework of intentionalism as a branch of methodical individualism.
In fact, a very basic feature of human behaviour is the establishment of a
joint perspective – at first on external things, but then, also, on ones own
It is in our view a
to describe such a joint perspective, as in the proposals of David Lewis, as
nested intentions and believes about each others intentions and believes. The
very concept of a definite intention or belief already presupposes a
of judgements about the identity of its contents.
On the other hand, regularism can be defended only so far as it expresses
doubts against a reconstruction of conventions in a mere intentionalistic
framework (as proposed by David Lewis and supported by Meggle). It cannot be
defended if it is read as the belief that any intention to communicate a
content X presupposes a possible expression x in a possible language L that
represents the content X in an invariant and context-independent way.
Hence, regularism is to be replaced by an analysis of how joint understandings
of forms or types or contents X of (attempts of) actions are constituted even
when no invariant expression x of these forms or contents are already available.
The idea is to describe what it means to understand a particular content or
type or form X by describing a general form of interaction in which we determine
what it is to understand X ‘as it was meant’ or what it is ‘to have an
intention’ Y and not Z. This form is, roughly, speaking, the form of judgement
of a jury of referee who judges between what a speaker does and what he claims
to do (in an explicit self-description of his intentions) and what a hearer H
does in a kind of ‘consequence’ of the speaker’s act and what he claims to have
understood about the intentions (‘meanings’) of S.
It is important to add, in distinction to what can be found in Brandoms book,
that we play multiple roles in communicative interactions ‘at the same time’.
We are speakers and hearers, actors and spectators, and we ourselves are
scorekeepers and referees with respect to normative judgements of right or
wrong. Such judgements say, for example, if the act A of S
to his possible description of his intentions or if H’s re-action to A draws
to S’s doing A. This re-action can be a verbally expressed partial
‘interpretation’ of A or just a behaviour. Understanding is a normative insofar
as there is a distinction and judgement between right or wrong understanding.
It would be wrong to cut off some of these of roles. If we do so, the analysis
of intending and understanding (communicative) acts will not be sufficient.
talk about intentions and meanings, beliefs and expectations is highly
. In using variables for definite intentions and definite beliefs, we often
neglect the real constitution of the idealised objects the variables refer to.
In doing so, we talk from a God’s perspective. From such a high perspective, the
constitution and ‘
of intending and understanding cannot be fully understood, just as the concept
of a geometrical form cannot be fully understood from the ideal perspective of
pure mathematics that transcends all question about impure, but real, figures,
gestalts, and measurements.
Our analysis wants to be more down to earth than any formal and hence ideal
analysis can be. Hence, we must be sceptical against any formalist approach.
Such an approach cannot but presuppose ideal meanings and intentions and
beliefs and expectations as given and allegedly already well defined values of
variables that occur in formal expressions.
Hence, our leading questions are the following: What does it mean to speak of
the content of an attempt of a communicative act? What do we refer to if we
talk about speakers intention or ‘what he wants to say’? What has an addressee
really to do in order to ‘understand’ what a speaker means?
Many approaches to an analysis of communication take a (psychological) concept
of subjective intention and a concept of subjective understanding for granted.
We want to confront these analyses with a really pragmatic reconstruction of
what we do when we talk about intention and understanding.