Adjectives in Context

0. Abstract In this paper, I argue that although the behavior of adjectives in context poses a serious challenge to the principle of compositionality of content, in the end such considerations do not defeat the principle. The first two sections are devoted to the precise statement of the challenge; the rest of the paper presents a semantic analysis of a large class of adjectives that provides a satisfactory answer to it. In section 1, I formulate the context thesis, according to which the content of a complex expression depends on the context of its utterance only insofar as the contents of its constituents do. If the context thesis is false, the content of some complex expression is not compositionally determined. In section 2, using an example due to Charles Travis, I construct an objection to the context thesis based on the behavior of the adjective ‘green’. In section 3 and 4, I look at some of the difficulties surrounding the semantics of ‘good’, which provide the motivation for the thesis that most adjectives are contextually incomplete one-place predicates. In section 5, I discuss how ‘green’ and other color adjectives can be treated within such a semantic theory. Since this theory is compatible with the context thesis, the objection against the compositionality of content looses its force.
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