The Acquaintance Inference — Linguistic and Philosophical Perspectives

University of Konstanz, October 20-21, 2022

Organizers: Natasha Korotkova and Jochen Briesen; funded by the DFG

Workshop Program

All talks take place in Y0311. Here is the campus map for the unitiated, and here is the workshop description for the curious.

Thursday, October 20

9:45—10:00 Introduction by Jochen Briesen and Natasha Korotkova

10:00—11:15 Jochen Briesen (University of Konstanz)

"The Acquaintance Inference and hybrid expressivism"

Abstract: In this talk I will focus on aesthetic statements such as "X is beautiful, elegant, graceful". These statements give rise to the acquaintance inference. Franzen (2018) explains this acquaintance inference via recourse to expressivism. Expressivism with respect to aestehtic statements, however, has a whole set of serious problems that severely limit the persuasiveness of such an expressivist explanation. First, I will argue for a particular form of hybrid expressivism to resolve these problems, thereby defending the expressivist explanation of the acquaintance inference. Second, I will discuss the extent to which the proposed form of hybrid expressivism is also plausible in terms of the metaphysics of aesthetic properties as well as the epistemology of aesthetic beliefs.

Coffee break

11:45—13:15 Linguistics Department Colloquium: Elsi Kaiser (University of Southern California)

"On the role of experience and evidence: Experimental investigations"

Abstract: In this talk I present a series of psycholinguistic experiments exploring how we interpret linguistic expressions involving different kinds of subjective experiences. It has been noted that some subjective expressions trigger an Acquaintance Inference, i.e., that the speaker has direct firsthand experience with the object of predication. So, if someone says ‘This cake is delicious,’ we infer that they have tasted the cake. Our work explores three facets of the Acquaintance Inference, with the aim of exploring how it interfaces with other linguistic and cognitive phenomena. First, is the Acquaintance Inference influenced by the nature of the experience – namely, its sensory modality? Subjective experiences in different sensory modalities differ in perceived subjectivity (e.g. vision is argued to be more ‘phenomenally objective’ than taste or smell) and in how the relevant perceptual experience is accessed (e.g. vision is a distal sense; taste is a very proximal sense). We explore whether and how differences between sensory modalities – as signaled by adjectives and verbs – influence the strength of the Acquaintance Inference. Second, we test whether the Acquaintance Inference influences how we interpret another dimension along which a speaker’s experience can vary – namely its (in)directness. We do this by investigating a language with evidential marking, Korean, which allows us to test consequences of direct, hearsay and inferential evidential markers on how we interpret sentences describing subjective experiences. Third, we ask whether properties of the speaker reporting their firsthand experience (e.g. wine experts or meteorologists vs. laypeople) influences how we interpret subjective language, and if so, what the implications are for the status of the Acquaintance Inference. Put together, these experimental investigations point to a highly context-sensitive process, yet one that is constrained in principled ways by semantic and real-world factors.


14:30—15:45 Katharina Felka (University of Graz)

"An epistemic account of the acquaintance requirement"

Abstract: Statements of personal taste appear to be subject to an acquaintance requirement. A sentence like ‘The cake is tasty’, for instance, can only be uttered legitimately if the speaker has tried the cake. Various authors have argued that the acquaintance requirement is due to peculiarities in the semantics or pragmatics of predicates of personal taste. In the paper we critically discuss these proposals and reject them in favour of an epistemic account (in the style of Ninan 2014), and rebut possible objections.

Coffee break

16:15—17:45 Fabrizio Cariani (University of Maryland)

"Evidential grounding everywhere"

Abstract: In their account of the acquaintance inference and related phenomena, Willer & Kennedy (2022) introduce the concept of (typically evidential) “grounding” — lexically specified requirements on predication to the effect that the speaker has the right kind of basis for their assertions. Similar requirements, though not with the language of “grounding” are imposed in related presuppositional treatments of the AI, such as Pearson (2013) and Anand and Korotkova (2018). Leveraging my own analysis of a puzzle recently discovered by Dilip Ninan (forthcoming), I argue (i) that such grounding phenomena pervade non-subjective predication as well and (ii) that the projection behavior of grounding constraints is systematic enough to deserve its own projection analysis.

Friday, October 21

09:45—11:00 Hazel Pearson (Queen Mary University of London)

"Impersonal pronouns and the acquaintance inference"

Abstract: According to one view on predicates of personal taste, they take as their covert Experiencer argument an impersonal pronoun whose meaning is akin to that of generic one (Moltmann 2010, 2012; Pearson 2013). In this talk, I will provide a further argument for this claim: certain generic sentences with impersonal subjects give rise to inferences of first-person experience that pattern with the well-known acquaintance inference for PPTs. The data pose a challenge for the epistemic view on the AI (Ninan 2014), and suggest the need for an analysis that takes into account the semantic properties of generic sentences.

Coffee break

11:30—12:45 Dilip Ninan (Tufts University)

"The problem of factive obviation"

Abstract: In the literature on the acquaintance inference, it is sometimes argued that “I know that the cake is tasty” does not give rise to an acquaintance inference, even when “The cake is tasty” does. This is often taken to be an objection to epistemic explanations of the acquaintance inference, which maintain that one cannot know that the cake is tasty without having tasted it. But given the factivity of knowledge, the idea that one could be in a position to ascribe knowledge of P to oneself without being in a position assert P leads to a violation of a certain attractive closure principle, which says that if P follows from something one is in a position to assert, then one is in a position to assert P. Theories that violate this principle lead to unwelcome predictions when we consider conversations in which someone is pressed to accept the acknowledged consequences of their utterances. These observations motivate a re-examination of epistemic accounts of the acquaintance inference.


14:00—15:15 Chris Kennedy and Malte Willer (University of Chicago)

"Decomposing acquaintance"

Abstract: It has been frequently observed that judgment ascriptions involving subjective attitude verbs such as English ‘find’ require the subject to be distinctly familiar with the object under consideration. ‘Mary finds the Eiffel Tour beautiful,’ for instance, implies that Mary has actually seen the Eiffel Tour (in contrast, ‘Mary believes the Eiffel Tour to be beautiful’ does not carry such an implication). The goal of this talk is to arrive at a more fine-grained understanding of the (broadly speaking) evidential requirements that subjective attitude attributions put into play, focusing not only on English ‘find’ but also on its very interesting cousin ‘consider.’ The upshot of this discussion will be that these requirements constitute a rich multidimensional phenomenon that resists a simple categorization in terms such as ‘direct acquaintance.’ We will then critically explore the prospects of deriving these complexities from the very fact that the attitudes ascribed are marked as subjective.

Coffee break

15:45—17:00 Pranav Anand (UC Santa Cruz) and Natasha Korotkova (University of Konstanz and University of Utrecht)

"Acquaintance content and judgment types"

Abstract: This talk examines the peculiar "direct" inferential requirements that predicates like 'find' in English and other languages place on their subject's doxastic state with respect to their complements (Korotkova and Anand 2022). Viewing find as a variety of categorical judgment, we demonstrate how this approach allows us to explain which elements in the complement of 'find' require "direct" inference.