Familiarity Inferences, Subjective Attitudes and Counterstance Contingency: Towards a Pragmatic Theory of Subjective Meaning

Christopher Kennedy and Malte Willer

Subjective predicates have two interpretive and distributional characteristics that have resisted a comprehensive analysis. First, the use of a subjective predicate to describe an object is in general felicitous only when the speaker has a particular kind of familiarity with relevant features of the object; characterizing an object as tasty, for example, implies that the speaker has experience of its taste. Second, subjective predicates differ from objective predicates in their distribution under certain types of propositional attitude verbs. The goal of this paper is to argue that these features can be explained in a uniform way and within a broadly truth-conditional approach to semantic content, given a view of subjective language as an essentially pragmatic, context-sensitive phenomenon. Specifically, we propose that what renders an issue subjective in discourse is speakers' awareness of counterstance contingency: contingency relative to information states that represent alternative pragmatic stances.