Subjective attitudes and counterstance contingency

Christopher Kennedy, Malte Willer


Across languages, SUBJECTIVE ATTITUDE VERBS (SAVs), such as English find, differ from ordinary doxastic attitude verbs (such as English believe) in that they require their complement to be subjective in a particular way. The goal of this paper is to develop a semantics for SAVs that predicts this fact but also captures the finer-grained differences between find-type SAVs and consider-type SAVs that make the former more restrictive than the latter. We propose that in terms of their core, at issue content, SAVs are just like believe in expressing a doxastic attitude towards the prejacent. They differ in that they introduce a presupposition that their prejacent is contingent with respect to a distinct set of discourse alternatives that we label COUNTERSTANCES: alternative common grounds that differ only in decisions about how to resolve semantic underdetermination. The larger theoretical significance of our proposal is that it supports a characterization of 'subjective language' as an essentially pragmatic, context-sensitive phenomenon, which does not correlate with semantic type (pace Sæbø) but derives from speakers' recognition of the possibility of counterstance.

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