Seth Yalcin – Bayesian Expressivism

Event Date: 9 January 2012
Senate House
University of London
London WC1E 7HU


The Aristotelian Society


Seth Yalcin (Berkeley) – Bayesian Expressivism

There is a tension between the broadly decision-theoretic view of agents and the received picture of linguistic communication. The received view takes the transmission of nongraded, ‘binary’ belief as the paradigm. What one generally ‘puts into play’, in making an assertion, is a potential object of (nongraded, binary) belief: a proposition. What the compositional semantics of the language is charged with doing, fundamentally, is determining propositions relative to context. From a decision-theoretic perspective, this picture of communication is fixated on the objects of credence and preference, and lacks explicit room for the structure of credence and preference per se. That ultimately makes for a very peculiar bottleneck: to communicate with language, the Bayesian agent must squeeze her decision-theoretically structured state of mind into a binary, ungraded propositional medium for transmission. To remove the bottleneck, we must upgrade the received picture of communication. I describe a way of doing so, by equipping our semantics and pragmatics with decision-theoretic distinctions. The basic intuition behind the technical apparatus developed is expressivist in spirit: just as we can express those aspects of our states of mind which consist in their bearing some representational content, so too can we express `structural’ aspects of our states of mind, such as the ways that they apportion probability and utility.

Seth Yalcin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also a member of the Group in Logic and the Methodology of Science. Prior to that he was an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at New York University. He holds a PhD in philosophy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He works mostly in the philosophy of language, on descriptive and foundational issues in natural language semantics. Lately his work has borrowed ideas from formal epistemology and from metaethical expressivism to develop accounts of the meaning of epistemic and deontic modals, probability operators, conditionals, attitude verbs, and the language of spatial orientation. He also has research interests in metaphysics, on questions about the nature of modality, information, and randomness.





share this entry: