The verbal dispute about verbal disputes

  • Niklas Becker

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (MPhil)


Whether a dispute is verbal is important to figure out because it appears to make a huge difference for how the dispute should be resolved. To figure out whether individual disputes are verbal and to figure out how to resolve them, it is crucial to answer what it is for a dispute to be verbal. I defend a pluralistic answer to the question of what verbal disputes are: There are at least two phenomena that equally deserve to be called “verbal dispute”. The first phenomenon is the phenomenon of “talking past each other”, which I analyse in pragmatic terms. The second phenomenon is the phenomenon of “not really disagreeing”, which I analyse in doxastic terms. Both notions of “verbalness” respect certain features, but not others of how the expression “verbal dispute” is used. Furthermore, both notions are important to use since both make a difference for how best to proceed if a dispute is “verbal” in the sense in question.

In section 1, I outline why it is important to develop a good analysis of what verbal disputes are. In short, it is important because whether a dispute is verbal appears to make a difference for how to best resolve them. And resolving disputes in philosophy and academic disciplines more broadly is important to make progress. In section 2, I outline the method I use to establish my analyses of verbalness and argue for adopting this method for arguing for (and against) analyses of verbalness. In section 3, I consider a range of phrases typically used to describe what is distinctive about verbal disputes and boil them down to two central markers of verbal disputes: “talking past each other” and “not really disagreeing”. In section 4, I argue that both markers come apart and one may be present without the other, so these two markers of verbalness do in effect express two independent phenomena. In section 5, I consider existing approaches to the question of what verbal disputes are, consider which of the two phenomena these existing analyses are meant to capture and how well they do indeed capture the phenomenon in question. Building on how these existing approaches can be improved, I argue in section 6 for my analyses of pragmatic verbalness (“talking past each other”) and doxastic verbalness (“not really disagreeing”). In section 7, I argue that the dispute about verbal disputes is itself pragmatically and doxastically verbal. In section 8, I reply to a range of potential objections to my account of verbal disputes.
Date of Award13 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorPatrick Michael Greenough (Supervisor), Jessica Anne Brown (Supervisor) & Peter M. Sullivan (Supervisor)

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