Two members of the Reading Philosophy Department, Emma Borg and Nat Hansen, have recently returned from Beijing, where, in collaboration with colleagues Prof. YE Chuang and Dr. LI Qilin at Peking University, they were hosting the first conference held under the auspices of ‘Pervasive Context’ – an AHRC funded international research network. The objective of the network is to explore the way in which features of a context of utterance can influence linguistic or communicated content and the network had already held a number of virtual meetings during 2014-15, but this conference was the first chance for everyone to get together in person. Emma and Nat had a fantastic time in China and were overwhelmed by the generosity and enthusiasm of their hosts. Photos from Beijing conference can be seen at:
The week started with a two and half hour masterclass by Emma on 20th October. The topic was ‘Semantic minimalism and other theories’ and Emma laid out what is at stake between different accounts of the relationship between meaning and context, and tried to show why one might (perhaps) be attracted to so-called ‘minimal semantics’ (the position Emma has argued for in two OUP monographs). Later in the week (on the 23rd), Nat gave his masterclass on ‘Contextualism: Evidence and Explanations’ which introduced debates concerning the empirical foundation of the contextualism-minimalism debate and discussed recent experiments that confirm contextualist judgments about the effects of context on truth value judgments. Both the masterclasses seemed to go very well, with lots of constructive comments and discussion.
However it wasn’t all work: before the conference Chuang, Qilin and other members of the Peking Department very kindly took the conference speakers to visit the Badaling section of the Great Wall – an absolutely amazing sight, made even more splendid by the beautiful autumn colours of the surroundings. (Some of the party decided to make their way down from the Wall via the ‘sliding cars’ – rollercoaster-type chairs which descended by gravity, and which the driver stopped using a manual hand break, an interesting ride!) Throughout the trip, Peking colleagues were incredibly generous with their time and effort, for instance, taking the party on a guided tour of their beautiful Peking campus and treating us all to a huge amount of amazing Chinese food (from a fantastic Mongolian cook-your-own-food buffet to a traditional Peking duck restaurant, where the conference banquet was held).
The conference itself involved leading figures from the semantics-pragmatics debate and included philosophers, linguists and cognitive scientist. It was also a very international programme, with the nationality of speakers including UK, France, Spain, China, New Zealand, Australia, USA and Guatemala. The full programme of speakers and titles was as follows:
Philosophy, University of Reading
|Explanatory roles for minimal content|
Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD), Macquarie, Australia
|The basic meanings of logical words|
Philosophy, University of Reading
|Cross-cultural context sensitivity|
Linguistics, University College London
|Polysemy, pragmatics, and lexicon(s)|
Philosophy, Peking University
|The meaning of hidden indexicals and the character of Kaplanian indexicals|
Philosophy, University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona
|Guillermo Estuardo Del Pinal
Philosophy, ZAS Berlin
|Prototypes, compositionality, and conceptual components|
Philosophy, Institut Jean-Nicod, Paris
|Semantic entry points for speaker’s meaning|
Both Emma and Nat felt the conference was a great success and they would like to extend their thanks to all the speakers, to the conference audience and to everyone at Peking who worked so hard on the event. Next summer, 25-26th June, the second Pervasive Context conference will take place at the University of Reading; details of the programme will be advertised here soon. Anyone who would like to attend this event should contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Emma and Nat also hope to produce a volume of conference papers with OUP in the future, title yet to be decided, so those interested in this topic but unable to attend should still be able to read selected papers from the network conferences.
The AHRC Pervasive Context network is just one of many recent collaborations between Reading University’s Philosophy Department and colleagues in China, including joint research work between Nat Hansen and Jing Zhu at Sun Yat-sen University, and collaboration between Emma and colleagues at Jilin University who translated her book Pursuing Meaning into Chinese.
Early in 2015 John Preston was asked to be the Director of this year’s Summer Institute on Philosophy of Science, at Huaqiao University, Fujian province, China, to which he contributed ten lectures, ten seminars and four evening sessions. He taught there for three weeks, but also, as its Director, dealt with organisational aspects of the summer school. In recognition of his work there he was, in July 2015, formally made a visiting Professor at Huaqiao University. Preston subsequently arranged for an award-winning Chinese student of Philosophy, Ms. Zhao Yang, to spend the Spring term 2016 studying in our Department. He also invited Dr. Shi Yugang, from Shaanxi University of Technology, China, to be with us as a visiting academic during the 2015-16 academic year. Preston now has links with staff and/or graduate students at all the following Chinese Universities: Peking and Renmin Universities, Beijing, Beijing Normal University, East China University of Science and Technology (Shanghai), Xiamen University, Shaanxi University of Technology, Shenzen University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Hubei University.
In mid-November, John Preston and Max de Gaynesford will both be speaking at a major conference in Guangzhou, China, on the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Preston will then travel on to the Chinese University of Hong Kong, to give another paper to a seminar there.