Three alternatives on Context

In Diego Marconi (ed.), Knowledge and Meaning. Mercurio (2000)
Abstract
Context is a concept used by philosophers and scientists with many different definitions. Since Dummett we speak of "context principle" in Frege and Wittgenstein: "an expression has a meaning only in the context of a sentence". The context principle finds an extension in some of Wittgenstein's ideas, especially in his famous passage where he says that "to understand a sentence is to understand a language". Given that Wittgenstein believes that "the" language does not exist but only language games exist, we should conclude that he is speaking of the need to consider any sentence always in the context of a language game1. This general attitude is certainly attuned with the contemporary tendency to place contextual restrictions to the interpretations of our sentences. However we find so many kinds and forms of restrictions that this general attitude is not enough to give us a viable tool to find an order in the web of so many different theories of context. To look for an order or, at least a clarification, we may start with two contrasting paradigms of theories: the "objective" theory of contexts, where context is a set of features of the world, and the "subjective" theories of context, where context is the cognitive background of a speaker or agent in respect to a situation2. We have here not only two different ways of using the term "context" but also two different conceptions of semantics and philosophy. The different conceptions are normally associated, respectively, with the classical paradigm of model theoretic semantics (Kaplan, Lewis Stalnaker) on one hand and with the A.I. paradigm (McCarthy, Buvac, Giunchiglia) on the other hand. For sake of simplicity I will restrict my attention3 mainly to Kaplan 1989 and to McCarthy 1993 and Giunchiglia 1993. The two different conceptions can be summarised with the following schema: a) context as: set of features of the world..
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