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Joshua Knobe


This is a very interesting paper -- with lots of helpful suggestions both about cognition and about the law -- but there is one particular aspect of your hypothesis I wanted to ask you about.

You introduce a framework according to which people determine whether or not a given agent acted intentionally by comparing that agent's mental state to a kind of 'baseline.' This strikes me as exactly the right way to go here.

But then you suggest that our tendency to assess the agent by comparing his or her mental states to a baseline is purely pragmatic, hence not a reflection of people's underlying concepts.

I wanted to ask why we should regard the phenomenon as pragmatic in this way. To take an analogous case, we might determine whether an agent counts as 'tall' by comparing that agent's height to some kind of contextually-specified baseline. But we presumably would not take this to be purely a matter of Gricean pragmatics; it appears instead to be a fundamental truth about the semantics of 'tall.' Why not just say precisely the same thing about 'intentionally'?

Lawrence Solan

Right. Pragmatic consdierations play a more limited role in my analysis than you comment suggests, I believe. They serve as a diagnostic through which we can discover baselines. It sounds redundant to say that Joshua intentionally posted an interesting comment, because we already assume that you posted your interesting comment intentionally, so there's no need to mention it. Thus, I am using pragmatics as a reverse-engineering tool to discover the baselines that do form a significant part of my analysis. The comparison of the states of mind in your scenarios to the basines, however, is not a matter of pragmatics, so I'm not sure that we are in disagreement.

Jonathan Piedra A

Dear Larry: I'm from Costa Rica and wanted to ask your permission to translate the text to Spanish, to publish a student magazine specialized in law (or in a journal of philosophy) in future editions

I await your response and I appreciate your help.

Jonathan Piedra A.
Law Student
Universidad de Costa Rica

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