Ancestors of this essay were presented at the Society for Philosophy and Psychology meetings in Edmonton, Alberta, June 2002; at the Pacific Division meetings of the American Philosophical Association in San Francisco, CA, March 2003; and at the University of Connecticut. I am indebted to all three groups and particularly to the commentators: David Sanford (at the SPP) and Marga Reimer (at the APA). Thanks also to the following for helpful comments or discussion (inclusive): Fred Adams, Andre Ariew, Paul Bloom, Michael Devitt, Berent Enc, Christopher Gaulker, Michael Lynch, Ruth Millikan, Joel Pust, Elliott Sober, Robert Stalnaker, Dennis Stampe, and Sam Wheeler. Three anonymous referees and the editors of this journal offered numerous improvements. The errors that remain are of course my own.
Modified Occam's Razor: Parsimony, Pragmatics, and the Acquisition of Word Meaning
Article first published online: 1 JUN 2005
Mind & Language
Volume 20, Issue 3, pages 288–312, June 2005
How to Cite
Bontly, T. D. (2005), Modified Occam's Razor: Parsimony, Pragmatics, and the Acquisition of Word Meaning. Mind & Language, 20: 288–312. doi: 10.1111/j.0268-1064.2005.00286.x
- Issue published online: 1 JUN 2005
- Article first published online: 1 JUN 2005
Abstract: Advocates of linguistic pragmatics often appeal to a principle which Paul Grice called Modified Occam's Razor: ‘Senses are not to be multiplied beyond necessity’. Superficially, Grice's principle seems a routine application of the principle of parsimony (‘Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity’). But parsimony arguments, though common in science, are notoriously problematic, and their use by Griceans faces numerous objections. This paper argues that Modified Occam's Razor makes considerably more sense in light of certain assumptions about the processes involved in language acquisition, and it describes recent empirical findings that bear these assumptions out. The resulting account solves several difficulties that otherwise confront Grice's principle, and it draws attention to problematic assumptions involved in using parsimony to argue for pragmatic accounts of linguistic phenomena.