The Institute of Philosophy, RCH, cordially invites you to the upcoming talk

Zoltán Gendler Szabó (YALE)

How specific should I be?

The talk will be online.


You can’t normally utter ‘I like that car’ out of the blue when there is no car around. The standard view in philosophy of language is that this is because the sentence fails to express a specific proposition in such a context, and hence, there is nothing specific you can say in uttering it. On the other hand, if you point at a car nearby your utterance is unproblematic: it is true or false depending on whether you like the car you pointed at. Alas, the standard view does not predict this – your gesture does not differentiate between the car type and the car token, so there is still no specific proposition for the sentence to expresses, and still nothing specific for you to say in uttering it.

This is the phenomenon Jeff King has dubbed felicitous underspecification. He argues it is ubiquitous. It is felicitous to utter ‘Vicky is smart’ without there being some specific scale of smartness context supplies; it is felicitous to utter ‘Yesterday was cold’ without there being some contextually salient cut-off point on the temperature scale for coldness; it is felicitous to utter ‘Only Ted Cruz compares himself to Galileo’ without there being some specific class of contextual alternatives. In all these cases, the sentence expresses something specific enough for the purposes at hand. The question I will discuss in my talk is this: how radically we have to revise the standard view to accommodate this phenomenon.

Commentator: Zsuzsanna Kondor (Institute of Philosophy, RCH)

Date: 6 April 2021 (Tuesday), 2pm

You can join by clicking on the link below.

The Zoom Meeting ID for this talk is 978 8727 2056 and Passcode is 000000

The recording can be accessed via the following link: