Dan Sperber’s blog

Easy pieces on hard issues.

Ostension, insistence, and harassment

Last week, the “Social Minds: Coordination, Communication, and Cultural Transmission” project was having a five-day workshop at the Burn, a manor in the Scottish Highlands. Elizabeth Warren (a PhD student working with Josep Call at St Andrews) presented her work on ostension in chimpanzees, with videos.


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Are routine actions rational?

In “Actions, Reasons, and Causes” (1963) Donald Davidson famously argued that actions are both ‘rationalized’ and caused by the agent’s reasons. Here is the tritest illustration of this “standard account” of actions: When Brett wants a beer and believes there is beer in the fridge, this gives him a reason to open the fridge and causes him to do so.

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No “Thank You!”

When beginning my fieldwork among the Dorzé of Southern Ethiopia many years ago, I thought that it would be better, at least initially, to be too polite rather than not polite enough.  I would say

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Rethinking ostension: (2) Attention manipulation

I believe we relevance theorists missed something important in considering ostension only in the context of what we called ostensive-inferential communication. Ostension, I want to suggest, is more diverse and widespread.

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Rethinking ostension: (1) A terminological issue

Relevance theory was developed in the 1970s and 80s. Over the years, there have been a various modifications—hopefully improvements. In this and in posts to follow, I want to engage in some further rethinking. Today, I start, as a warm-up, with a terminological issue. In in our 1986 book, Relevance: Communication and cognition, Deirdre and I drew a sharp contrast between two forms of communication, which we called “coded communication” and “ostensive-inferential communication.”

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