SOPhiA 2022

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Decoding ostension: the metacommunicative file
(Philosophy of Mind, English)

Developmental psychology has devoted much attention to children's early involvement in ostensive communication, i.e., a form of communication relying on the expression and recognition of communicative intentions (Scott-Phillips 2014). According to Csibra (2010), communicative intentions are expressed via specific behavioral cues that are easily decoded by infants. Many studies suggest that infants__ sensitivity to such __ostensive cues__ reveals an early ability to track others' communicative intentions, thus generating specific interpretative bias in children, such as referential expectations, generalization of newly-acquired information, and expectations of trustworthiness.

From a theoretical perspective, these findings raise the question of how to conceptualize the representational apparatus which underlies communicative intentions' recognition. Here, I propose to describe this process through the notion of metacommunicative file.

My proposal draws upon a recent hypothesis in developmental research, according to which children's disposition to be biased by others' mental states is underpinned by flexible structures admitting placeholders for underspecified propositional contents (Kov__cs 2016). Analogously, I describe metacommunicative files as metarepresentational structures made up of two variables, one for the agent acting with communicative intent, the other for the content conveyed through an ostensive act of communication. Crucially, the computation of these variables can be procedurally and temporally distinguished, thus allowing for the content variable to be provisionally tagged by a placeholder and then filled afterwards.

By discussing some scenarios that exemplify the dynamic functioning of this new theoretical construct, I propose to describe the decoding of ostensive cues as the setting up of a metacommunicative file that is bonded to the communicator, and whose informative content is left underspecified or is computed later by further cognitive effort.

Chair: Daniel Weger
Time: 10:00-10:30, 09. September 2022 (Friday)
Location: HS E.002
Remark: (Online Talk)

Edoardo Vaccargiu 
(University of Genoa, Italy)

Testability and Meaning deco