Presuppositions and Relevance


In this paper, I offer a novel pragmatic account of presupposition. On the view I present, presuppositions are not properties of sentences (as in the traditional semantic account) nor are they primarily properties of speakers (as in the widely held Stalnakerian account). Rather, presuppositions are properties of utterances. The view I will outline takes the presuppositions of an utterance to be those propositions which guarantee its relevance, where relevance is understood in the Relevance Theoretic sense. The presuppositions of a given utterance may arise from purely pragmatic inferencing, driven by the assumption that the utterance is intended to be maximally relevant to the addressee. But presuppositions may also be triggered by presupposition generating items. On this view, the role of presupposition triggers is to mark certain elements of content as relevance-establishers.

In the paper, I first set out the view, providing some intuitive justification for it. Then I argue that some of the standard properties of presupposition are naturally accounted for if the phenomenon is understood in this way. In the remainder of the paper, I spell out some further consequences of the view, including some difficulties which must be addressed.