Evidence, Experiment and Argument in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language

by Martin Hinton (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 218 Pages


This volume is concerned with issues in experimental philosophy and experimental linguistics. Examining experiments in language from a variety of perspectives, it asks what form they should take and what should count as evidence. There is particular focus on the status of linguistic intuitions and the use of language corpora. A number of papers address issues of methodology in experimental work, while other contributions examine the use of thought experiments and what the hypothetical can tell us about the actual. The aim of this collection is to bring together the work of linguists and philosophers in order that they may learn from one another, and to help both groups understand how the use of experimental methods can affect the arguments they employ and the claims they make.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of contributors
  • Martin Hinton - Introduction
  • Geoffrey Sampson - Two Ideas of Creativity
  • Katarzyna Paprzycka - Methodological Reflections on Academic and Experimental Philosophy: The Case of the Omissions Account
  • Mark Pinder - Folk Semantic Intuitions, Arguments from Reference and Eliminative Materialism
  • Anna Drożdżowicz - Speakers’ Intuitions about Meaning Provide Empirical Evidence – towards Experimental Pragmatics
  • Roland Bluhm - Corpus Analysis in Philosophy
  • Leszek Szymański - The Interaction of Negated Must and Grammatical Aspect in Contemporary American English – an Empirical Contribution to Aspect-modality Interaction Studies
  • Martin Hinton - Lies, Damned Lies and Linguistic Intuitions
  • Martin Vacek - Possible Worlds and Advanced Modalizing Problems
  • Lukáš Bielik - Thought Experiments in Semantics
  • Arkadiusz Gut & Michał Wilczewski - The Role of Language in the Emergence of Mature Belief Reasoning and Social Cognition
  • Index

| 7 →

List of Contributors

Lukáš Bielik

Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovakia


Roland Bluhm


Anna Drożdżowicz

University of Oslo, Norway


Arkadiusz Gut

John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland


Martin Hinton

University of Łódź, Poland


Katarzyna Paprzycka

University of Warsaw, Poland


Mark Pinder

University of Hertfordshire, UK


Geoffrey Sampson

University of Sussex, UK


Leszek Szymański

University of Zielona Góra, Poland

L.Szymanski@in.uz.zgora.pl ← 7 | 8 →

Martin Vacek

Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovakia


Michał Wilczewski

University of Warsaw, Poland


| 9 →


The line distinguishing Linguistics from the Philosophy of Language is a difficult one to draw, and far too porous to be considered a solid border. While the background and approach may vary at times, the subject matter: language, and the raw material of research: sounds, words, utterances, and sentences, are the same. Indeed, as the papers in this volume make clear, philosophers are increasingly looking to actual uses of language as an aid in their deliberations, and, in this way, moving closer to the methodologies of the linguists. That is one of the key assumptions of this whole series: that linguists and philosophers of language, sharing a medium of study, have many common interests and, crucially, much to learn from each other.

This volume focuses on the area where there is, perhaps, the smallest difference of all between the two disciplines, that of experimentation. The papers contained herein approach the theme from different perspectives; some are theoretical discussions of what experimentation should look like; others examine what should be counted as evidence, with particular attention paid to the debate over the value of linguistic intuitions; still others are examples of the employment of experimental techniques in examining areas of linguistic and philosophical curiosity, the conclusions of which may illustrate the relevance or otherwise of such methods.

For my own part, I take particular interest in how the use of experiment and the acceptance of some or other phenomenon as valid evidence affect the process of argumentation about language. Evidence-based argumentation, of the type used in the natural sciences, is clearly different from the usual analysis of concepts, intuitions and possibilities of philosophical debate. What is interesting is to say how it is different, how it is better, and indeed, how the two can be brought together to provide researchers in language with the widest possible selection of tools for the analysis of language and what it can tell us about our world and our minds.

For that task, this volume can only serve as a starting-point; experimental philosophy is in its infancy and linguists, while they have been working with language corpora for longer, have yet to find agreement amongst themselves on these issues. The papers detailed below, however, have all got something to contribute to our understanding of experimentation with language and can all help us to make small steps forward in our methodology and practice.

In his work ‘Two ideas of Creativity’, Geoffrey Sampson explores how linguistic argumentation can go awry when there is confusion over the meaning of the terms used. It might seem odd that professional linguists can fall foul of fallacies ← 9 | 10 → of ambiguity, but Sampson argues that the use of the word ‘creative’ to describe the production of new sentences within a particular class is confused in Chomskyan linguistics with the general idea of ‘creativity’, whereby something not previously imagined is constructed. This essay provides an excellent first step, as it forces us to consider the process of linguistic argumentation from its most fundamental point: the meaning of the words we use.

In her contribution, ‘Methodological Reflections on Academic and Experimental Philosophy: The Case of the Omissions Account’, Katarzyna Paprzycka focuses on the Knobe effect, the experimental discovery that people’s ascriptions of intentionality to actions depend on moral or normative factors which, she claims, has led to the rise of experimental philosophy. While experimental philosophers sometimes take themselves to study people’s real concepts rather than relying on philosophers’ intuitions about them, Paprzycka shows that the omissions account of the Knobe effect, the epistemic side-effect effect, and related puzzles, complicate this picture. On the omissions account, there are reasons to believe that ‘α intentionally φs’ is systematically ambiguous between an ascription of an intentional action of φing (a default attribution) and an ascription of an intentional omission not to φ (when there is a reasonable expectation of α that she not φ). The central asymmetry in the Knobe effect is thus not about intentional action, but about intentional omission. From this, lessons are drawn for both academic and experimental philosophy.

Mark Pinder’s article ‘Folk Semantic Intuitions, Arguments from Reference and Eliminative Materialism’ is one of several to consider the role of intuitions. He examines a critique of arguments from reference; namely that, due to cross-cultural variation in semantic intuitions giving rise to methodological problems in the theory of reference, all arguments from reference have an unjustified assumption. Pinder cites an important example of an argument from reference, an argument of Churchland’s in support of eliminative materialism, and suggests that extant responses to the critique are unsatisfactory; before providing an alternative response: that one might justify the assumption of a theory of reference in an argument from reference by appealing to an appropriate explication of the relevant common-sense concepts.

Continuing the study of intuitions, Anna Drożdżowicz, ‘Speakers’ Intuitions about Meaning Provide Empirical Evidence – Towards Experimental Pragmatics’, discusses a variety of questions concerning their use in linguistic debate, including: what is the nature of such intuitions and what kind of evidence do they provide? She argues that speakers’ intuitive judgements about the meanings of utterances provide empirical evidence. In particular, such intuitive judgements can ← 10 | 11 → be systematically probed by the use of experimental methods and, therefore, provide systematic empirical evidence. This claim is supported by an overview of research in experimental pragmatics involving the use of such intuitive judgements, which shows that there can be better and worse methods of probing intuitive judgements, and it is noted that there is an important trend towards experimental designs with increasing ecological validity, i.e. those which increasingly reflect the processes involved in real-life utterance comprehension.

Roland Bluhm, ‘Corpus Analysis in Philosophy’, on the other hand, favours the use of language corpora over reliance on intuitions. He points out that the experimental philosophy movement advocates the use of empirical methods in philosophy, and that the methods most often discussed, and in fact employed, in experimental philosophy are appropriated from the experimental paradigm in psychology. There are, however, a variety of other empirical methods from various disciplines which could be used in philosophy. The paper explores the application of corpus analysis to philosophical issues, noting that although the method is well-established in linguistics, philosophers have made only a few tentative attempts to utilise it. Examples are introduced and the merit of corpus analysis is compared to that of using general internet search engines and questionnaires for similar purposes.

In the following paper, ‘The Interaction of Negated Must and Grammatical Aspect in Contemporary American English – an Empirical Contribution to Aspect-modality Interaction Studies’, Leszek Szymański gives an example of the use of language corpora in the field of linguistics. His work deals with modality as a linguistic issue. The study is an attempt to investigate the interaction of the semantic field of modality with grammatical aspect, a phenomenon exemplified here with the negated form of the English modal auxiliary verb must. After an initial explanation of linguistic modality, there is a description of the model of the three-dimensional semantic field of modal expressions. This leads to certain methodological remarks as far as the types of modality are concerned, and the division into ROOT and EPISTEMIC modal readings is presented. The said theoretical considerations are further tested with the use of concordance analyses based on the Corpus of Contemporary American English. With this methodology, instances of matrix predicates including the negated modal verb must (not) are excerpted and examined. Eventually, attempts are made to show how clausal negation and verbal aspect combined, influence modal readings of the studied modal auxiliary verb.

In my own paper, ‘Lies, Damned Lies and Linguistic Intuitions’, I attempt to draw together the main themes of the volume. I consider the vital question of ← 11 | 12 → what counts as evidence for those who are concerned with the study of language, discuss the ways in which they might obtain it through experimentation, and, finally, consider what effect such decisions have on the forms of argumentation available to them. By way of illustration, the paper also includes a brief description of a small-scale experiment: an experiment conducted in order to look at the process of experimentation rather than to find evidence of any particular linguistic phenomenon.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (June)
Experimental Philosophy .Linguistic Intuitions Language Corpora Thought Experiments
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 218 pp., 2 b/w fig., 3 tables

Biographical notes

Martin Hinton (Volume editor)

Martin Hinton is a lecturer at the Institute of English at the University of Łódź. He graduated in philosophy from the University of St Andrews before completing a second masters degree and a doctorate in linguistics in Łódź. He combines these two fields with research work on argumentation theory and the methodology of linguistics.


Title: Evidence, Experiment and Argument in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language
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218 pages