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Summary There is some debate among philosophers and linguists over the role of context in fixing the satisfaction conditions or extension of predicates. The central questions concern the extent to which context plays a role, and how, if at all, such context-sensitivity can be accommodated within truth conditional semantic theories.
Key works Perhaps the most radical position is that of Charles Travis, who presents various examples designed to show that the truth of what one says in using a predicate to describe an object is not fixed by the meaning of the predicate, even as a function of specifiable parameters of the occasion of use. See the papers collected in Travis 2008. Responses to the sorts of examples Travis describes vary. One option is to argue that the examples do not involve any variation in truth-value across contexts (see Lepore & Cappelen 2005); another is to argue that, while there is variation in truth-value, it can be understood as a form of indexicality (see Szabo 2001 and Rothschild & Segal 2009). (Sainsbury 2001 argues for a mixture of these two approaches.) A different strategy is to concede that there is variation, but that it is a form of nonindexical context-dependence, which can nevertheless be accommodated within traditional truth conditional semantics (see Predelli 2005Predelli 2005, MacFarlane 2007, and MacFarlane 2009).
Introductions Travis 1997 Recanati 2004
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  1. Maria Bittner, Amele Switch Reference as Temporal Recentering.
    Amele (Papuan, New Guinea) is a tense-mood-based language (in the typology of Bittner 2014) with an elaborate system of clause chaining, including switch reference (SR) and serial verb constructions (SVC). This draft analyzes two interlinear Amele texts (from Roberts 2007) in Update with Centering of Bittner (2014). The basic idea is that an SR-chain is a topic-comment sequence about a 'topical development' — i.e. a topic time framing a chain of causally linked events. In contrast, an SVC is a chain (...)
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  2. Herman Cappelen & John Hawthorne (2007). Locations and Binding. Analysis 67 (294):95–105.
    It is natural to think that the relationship between ‘rain’ and the location of rain is different from the relationship between ‘dance’ and the location of dancing. Utterances of (1) are typically interpreted as, in some sense, being about a location in which it rains. (2) is, typically, not interpreted as being about a location in which the dancing takes place.
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  3. Anthony Corsentino (2012). Predicates in Perspective. Synthese 187 (2):519-545.
    A familiar strategy of argument to the effect that natural-language predicates are semantically context dependent rests on constructing what I term Travis cases: different contexts for the use of a predicate are imagined in which its semantic (typically, truth-conditional) properties are claimed to differ. I propose an account of the semantic properties of predicates that give rise to Travis cases; I then argue that the account underwrites a genuine alternative to the standard explanations of Travis cases to be found in (...)
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  4. Christopher Gauker (2012). What Tipper is Ready For: A Semantics for Incomplete Predicates. Noûs 46 (1):61-85.
    This paper presents a precise semantics for incomplete predicates such as “ready”. Incomplete predicates have distinctive logical properties that a semantic theory needs to accommodate. For instance, “Tipper is ready” logically implies “Tipper is ready for something”, but “Tipper is ready for something” does not imply “Tipper is ready”. It is shown that several approaches to the semantics of incomplete predicates fail to accommodate these logical properties. The account offered here defines contexts as structures containing an element called a proposition (...)
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  5. Nat Hansen (forthcoming). Just What Is It That Makes Travis's Examples So Different, So Appealing? In J. Collins A. Davies & T. Dobler (eds.), Themes from Charles Travis: On Language,Thought and Perception. Oxford University Press.
    Odd and memorable examples are a distinctive feature of Charles Travis's work: cases involving squash balls, soot-covered kettles, walls that emit poison gas, faces turning puce, ties made of freshly cooked linguine, and people grunting when punched in the solar plexus all figure in his arguments. One of Travis's examples, involving a pair of situations in which the leaves of a Japanese maple tree are painted green, has even spawned its own literature consisting of attempts to explain the context sensitivity (...)
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  6. Nat Hansen (2011). Color Adjectives and Radical Contextualism. Linguistics and Philosophy 34 (3):201-221.
    Radical contextualists have observed that the content of what is said by the utterance of a sentence is shaped in far-reaching ways by the context of utterance. And they have argued that the ways in which the content of what is said is shaped by context cannot be explained by semantic theory. A striking number of the examples that radical contextualists use to support their view involve sentences containing color adjectives ("red", "green", etc.). In this paper, I show how the (...)
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  7. John Hawthorne (2007). Context-Dependency and Comparative Adjectives. Analysis 67 (295):195–204.
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  8. J. Heal (1997). Indexical Predicates and Their Uses. Mind 106 (424):619--640.
    Indexicality is a feature of predicates and predicate components (verbs, adjectives, adverbs and the like) as well as of referring expressions. With classic referring indexicals such as 'I' or 'that' a distinctive rule takes us from token and context to some item present in the content which is the semantic correlate of the token. Predicates and predicate components may function in an analogous fashion. For example 'thus' is an indexical adverb which latches onto some manner of performance present in its (...)
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  9. Christopher Kennedy & Louise McNally (2010). Color, Context, and Compositionality. Synthese 174 (1):79--98.
    Color adjectives have played a central role in work on language typology and variation, but there has been relatively little investigation of their meanings by researchers in formal semantics. This is surprising given the fact that color terms have been at the center of debates in the philosophy of language over foundational questions, in particular whether the idea of a compositional, truth-conditional theory of natural language semantics is even coherent. The challenge presented by color terms is articulated in detail in (...)
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  10. Ernest Lepore & Herman Cappelen (2005). Insensitive Semantics: A Defense of Semantic Minimalism and Speech Act Pluralism. Blackwell Pub..
    Insensitive Semantics is an overview of and contribution to the debates about how to accommodate context sensitivity within a theory of human communication, ...
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  11. John MacFarlane (2009). Nonindexical Contextualism. Synthese 166 (2):231--250.
    Philosophers on all sides of the contextualism debates have had an overly narrow conception of what semantic context sensitivity could be. They have conflated context sensitivity (dependence of truth or extension on features of context) with indexicality (dependence of content on features of context). As a result of this conflation, proponents of contextualism have taken arguments that establish only context sensitivity to establish indexicality, while opponents of contextualism have taken arguments against indexicality to be arguments against context sensitivity. Once these (...)
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  12. John MacFarlane (2007). Semantic Minimalism and Nonindexical Contextualism. In Gerhard Preyer & Georg Peter (eds.), Context-Sensitivity and Semantic Minimalism: New Essays on Semantics and Pragmatics. Oxford University Press. 240--250.
    According to Semantic Minimalism, every use of "Chiara is tall" (fixing the girl and the time) semantically expresses the same proposition, the proposition that Chiara is (just plain) tall. Given standard assumptions, this proposition ought to have an intension (a function from possible worlds to truth values). However, speakers tend to reject questions that presuppose that it does. I suggest that semantic minimalists might address this problem by adopting a form of "nonindexical contextualism," according to which the proposition invariantly expressed (...)
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  13. Stefano Predelli (2005). Contexts: Meaning, Truth, and the Use of Language. Clarendon Press.
    Stefano Predelli comes to the defense of the traditional "formal" approach to natural-language semantics, arguing that it has been misrepresented not only by its critics, but also by its foremost defenders. In Contexts he offers a fundamental reappraisal, with particular attention to the treatment of indexicality and other forms of contextual dependence which have been the focus of much recent controversy. In the process, he presents original approaches to a number of important semantic issues, including the relationship between validity and (...)
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  14. Stefano Predelli (2005). Painted Leaves, Context, and Semantic Analysis. Linguistics and Philosophy 28 (3):351 - 374.
    This essay aims at neutralizing the contextualist challenge against traditional semantics. According to contextualism, utterances of non-elliptical, non-ambiguous, and non-indexical sentences may be associated with contrasting truth-conditions. In this essay, I grant the contextualist analysis of the sentences in question, and the contextualist assessment of the truth-conditions for the corresponding utterances. I then argue that the resulting situation is by no means incompatible with the traditional approach to semantics, and that the evidence put forth by the contextualists may easily be (...)
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  15. F. Recanati (2007). It is Raining (Somewhere). Linguistics and Philosophy 30 (1):123--146.
    The received view about meteorological predicates like ‘rain’ is that they carry an argument slot for a location which can be filled explicitly or implicitly. The view assumes that ‘rain’, in the absence of an explicit location, demands that the context provide a specific location. In an earlier article in this journal, I provided a counter-example, viz. a context in which ‘it is raining’ receives a location-indefinite interpretation. On the basis of that example, I argued that when there is tacit (...)
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  16. Francois Recanati (2004). Literal Meaning. Cambridge University Press.
    According to the dominant position among philosophers of language today, we can legitimately ascribe determinate contents (such as truth-conditions) to natural language sentences, independently of what the speaker actually means. This view contrasts with that held by ordinary language philosophers fifty years ago: according to them, speech acts, not sentences, are the primary bearers of content. François Recanati argues for the relevance of this controversy to the current debate about semantics and pragmatics. Is 'what is said' (as opposed to merely (...)
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  17. Daniel Rothschild & Gabriel Segal (2009). Indexical Predicates. Mind and Language 24 (4):467--493.
    We discuss the challenge to truth-conditional semantics presented by apparent shifts in extension of predicates such as 'red'. We propose an explicit indexical semantics for 'red' and argue that our account is preferable to the alternatives on conceptual and empirical grounds.
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  18. R. M. Sainsbury (2001). Two Ways to Smoke a Cigarette. Ratio 14 (4):386–406.
    In the early part of the paper, I attempt to explain a dispute between two parties who endorse the compositionality of language but disagree about its implications: Paul Horwich, and Jerry Fodor and Ernest Lepore. In the remainder of the paper, I challenge the thesis on which they are agreed, that compositionality can be taken for granted. I suggest that it is not clear what compositionality involves nor whether it obtains. I consider some kinds of apparent counterexamples, and compositionalist responses (...)
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  19. Zoltán Gendler Szabó (2010). Adjectives in Context. In Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel (eds.), Arguing About Language. Routledge. 119--146.
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  20. Zoltan Gendler Szabo (2001). Adjectives in Context. In Robert M. Harrish & Istvan Kenesei (eds.), Perspectives on Semantics, Pragmatics, and Discourse. John Benjamins Publishing Company.
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  21. C. Travis (1996). Meaning's Role in Truth. Mind 105 (419):451-466.
    What words mean plays a role in determining when they would be true; but not an exhaustive one. For that role leaves room for variation in truth conditions, with meanings fixed, from one speaking of words to another. What role meaning plays depends on what truth is; on what words, by virtue of meaning what they do are requied to have done (as spoken) in order to have said what is true. There is a deflationist position on what truth is: (...)
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  22. Charles Travis (2008). Occasion-Sensitivity: Selected Essays. Oxford University Press.
    Charles Travis presents a series of essays in which he has developed his distinctive view of the relation of thought to language. The key idea is "occasion-sensitivity": what it is for words to express a given concept is for them to be apt for contributing to any of many different conditions of correctness (notably truth conditions). Since words mean what they do by expressing a given concept, it follows that meaning does not determine truth conditions. This view ties thoughts less (...)
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  23. Charles Travis (1997). Pragmatics. In Bob Hale & Crispin Wright (eds.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Language. Blackwell. 87--107.
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  24. Pekka Väyrynen (2013). Thick Concepts and Underdetermination. In Simon Kirchin (ed.), Thick Concepts. Oxford University Press.
    Thick terms and concepts in ethics (e.g. selfish, cruel and courageous) somehow combine evaluation and non-evaluative description. The non-evaluative aspects of thick terms and concepts underdetermine their extensions. Many writers argue that this underdetermination point is best explained by supposing that thick terms and concepts are semantically evaluative in some way such that evaluation plays a role in determining their extensions. This paper argues that the extensions of thick terms and concepts are underdetermined by their meanings in toto, irrespective of (...)
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  25. Agustin Vicente (forthcoming). The Green Leaves and the Expert: Polysemy and Truth-Conditional Variability. Lingua.
    Polysemy seems to be a relatively neglected phenomenon within philosophy of language as well as in many quarters in linguistic semantics. Not all variations in a word’s contribution to truth-conditional contents are to be thought as expressions of the phenomenon of polysemy, but it can be argued that many are. Polysemous terms are said to contribute senses or aspects to truth-conditional contents. In this paper, I will make use of the notion of aspect to argue that some apparently wild variations (...)
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  26. Timothy Williamson (1998). Indefinite Extensibility. Grazer Philosophische Studien 55:1-24.
    Of all the cases made against classical logic, Michael Dummett's is the most deeply considered. Issuing from a systematic and original conception of the discipline, it constitutes one of the most distinctive achievements of twentieth century British philosophy. Although Dummett builds on the work of Brouwer and Heyting, he provides the case against classical logic with a new, explicit and general foundation in the philosophy of language. Dummett's central arguments, widely celebrated if not widely endorsed, concern the implications of the (...)
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