Evidence in Semantics

VEGA 1/0221/14

Project Leader: prof. PhDr. František Gahér, CSc.
Project Co-Leader: Mgr. Igor Sedlár, PhD.
Co-Researchers: doc. PhDr. Igor Hanzel, CSc., PhDr. Vladimír Marko, PhD., Mgr. Lukáš Bielik, PhD.

Project Description

The project aims at providing a methodological analysis of current research in select disciplines dealing with the semantics of natural language. We shall focus on studying the kinds of data normally used in testing semantic theories. Our hypothesis is that the evidence thus employed is insufficient, since it comes from unreliable sources. Consequently, we claim that alternative methodological criteria should play the key role in assessing semantic theories

Research Goals

Stage one: Assessing theories is a vital part of discussions within philosophy of language and other semantic disciplines (such as philosophical logic or theoretical semantics): one often encounters claims that a specific theory is correct or incorrect. The primary research goal of the project is to deal with methodological questions of theory assessment within semantic disciplines. Hence, the project will contribute to the methodological analysis of current research within these disciplines. The starting point is the question (1) What kinds of data are being used as evidence in justifying assessment-claims (in semantic disciplines)? Our hypothesis is that these are primarily language-intuitions of competent speakers. Semantic discussions proceed by constructing model scenarios and analysing them through the lens of the assessed theories. The result is then compared to the language-intuitions. Our next step is the question of adequacy of the employed kinds of data: (2) Does the evidence used to justify assessments of semantic theories provide a good justification of these assessments? Is the evidence adequate for testing semantic theories? Our hypothesis is that i) language-intuitions are not unanimous, ii) in many cases, the model scenarios may provide justification for various mutually inconsistent claims, iii) one’s construal of the relevant language-intuitions is likely to be heavily influenced by the theory one is assessing using the intuitions.

Stage two: The confirmation of i) – iii) will impugn intuitions as reliable empirical evidence. Hence, many semantic theories will find themselves without any reliable empirical evidence at all. It is assumed however, that some of the more general methodological criteria are perhaps more important in assessing semantic theories than intuitions. The second stage of the project will provide detailed specifications of these criteria: (3) What kinds of evidence are sufficient to provide good justification of assessments of semantic theories? The outline of the main research problems makes it clear that the project will contribute to the discussions concerning the nature and status of semantic disciplines.