Knowledge and Belief Seminar
Guest Speaker: Rachel Dudley (CEU)
Title; 'The Pragmatics of Knowing'
"Children’s understanding of propositional attitude reports (and their understanding of others’ minds) has played a central role in the study of cognitive development for several decades. Over the years, an orthodox perspective emerged whereby children fail to understand attitude reports, with sources of difficulty being syntactic, semantic or even conceptual in nature. This orthodoxy has also been ported over into other fields such as epistemology and philosophy of mind. However, a wave of findings from new methods and analyses has cast this orthodoxy into doubt. These new findings suggest that even infants have a greater understanding of mental state concepts than we once suspected, and that the apparent difficulties in later childhood stem from pragmatic sources. Resolving the conflict between these new findings and the orthodox perspective is critical to understanding the development of children’s minds and their language faculties, but the debate is far from settled.
In this talk, I’ll discuss my research on children’s understanding of the attitude verbs "know" and "think" and how it relates to the broader conflict. While both verbs can be used to describe beliefs, there are subtle differences between them. As a factive verb, "know" only felicitously describes true beliefs about propositions which we take for granted. In contrast, the non-factive "think" can describe false beliefs or beliefs which we do not take for granted. Using a combination of behavioral methods and corpus analyses, I investigate how children come to master this subtle contrast. Results from this line of research highlight the importance of pragmatic cues to the language acquisition process, particularly from the different kinds of discourse moves that adults make in everyday conversation (e.g., I think it's time for bed, Do you know where my keys are?). Results also suggest that we are sensitive to related pragmatic factors even much later in development. Ultimately, this supports a broader picture where older children’s errors with attitude reports are pragmatic performance errors and not deeper conceptual or semantic errors, highlighting the need for more research on the interplay between semantic and pragmatic development in early development."