Sunday, September 23, 2007

On Being Stalnakered

There is a particular feeling I associate with philosophical enterprises. It comes and goes every now and then. It lurks around my chest when I talk to philosophers about philosophy. (I know this sounds a bit redundant but, believe it or not, some philosophers can in fact talk about other things.) The feeling becomes unbearable, most commonly, when I intend to defend or attack some or other position. Until now I never knew what it was or how to call it. Now I know what it is and will steal a friend’s expression to dub it. I hereby call this the phenomenon and feeling of “being Stalnakered”.

Stalnaker taught us that all participants in a conversation share a common goal: to reduce the context set or the set of shared presuppositions of the conversation. Whoever dares to make an assertion must conform to the following principle: the assertion made must be true in some but not all of the possible worlds in the context set. If it is false in all the worlds it eliminates the context set and, hence, the conversation. If it is true in all the worlds then you’ll be trying to do something that has already been done. If you fail to conform the rule then what you do is either “unreasonable, inefficient, disorderly, or uncooperative.”

Philosophical conversations with philosophers tend to be defective. No one ever agrees upon the context set. There always are divergences that are relevant to the issues at stake. Hence, there is a big chance that you find yourself either saying something that puts an end to the conversation or doing something that has already been done. Most of the time, however, one makes an assertion because one does NOT take what is expressed to be presupposed to be true or false. So whenever your assertions are either presupposed to be false or presupposed to be true by your conversational partners, you do not feel unreasonable, inefficient, disorderly, or uncooperative. You feel conversationally assaulted. You feel Stalnakered!