In this paper, I take issue with an idea that has emerged from recent relativist proposals, and, in particular, from Lasersohn (Linguistics and Philosophy 28: 643–686, 2005), according to which the correct semantics for taste predicates must use contents that are functions of a judge parameter (in addition to a possible world parameter) rather than implicit arguments lexically associated with such predicates. I argue that the relativist account and the contextualist implicit argument-account are, from the viewpoint of semantics, not much (...) more than notational variants of one another. In other words, given any sentence containing a taste predicate, and given any assignment of values to the relevant parameters, the two accounts predict the same truth value and are, in that sense, equivalent. I also look at possible reasons for preferring one account over the other. The phenomenon of “faultless disagreement” (cf. Kölbel, Truth without objectivity, 2002) is often believed to be one such reason. I argue, against Kölbel and Lasersohn, that disagreement is never faultless: either the two parties genuinely disagree, hence if the one is right then the other is wrong, or the two parties are both right, but their apparent disagreement boils down to a misunderstanding. What is more, even if there were faultless disagreement, I argue that relativism would fail to account for it. The upshot of my paper, then, is to show that there is not much disagreement between a contextualist account that models the judge parameter as an implicit argument to the taste predicate, and a relativist account that models it as a parameter of the circumstances of evaluation. The choice between the two accounts, at least when talking about taste, is thus, to a large extent, a matter of taste. (shrink)
What I am calling New Age Relativism is usually proposed as a thesis about the truth-conditions of utterances, where an utterance is an actual historic voicing or inscription of a sentence of a certain type. Roughly, it is the view that, for certain discourses, whether an utterance is true depends not just on the context of its making—when, where, to whom, by whom, in what language, and so on—and the “circumstances of evaluation”—the state of the world in (...) relevant respects—but also on an additional parameter: a context of assessment. Vary the latter and the truth-value of the utterance can vary, even though the context of its making and the associated state of the world remain fixed. (shrink)
I think that there are good reasons to adopt a relativist semantics for epistemic modal claims such as ``the treasure might be under the palm tree'', according to which such utterances determine a truth value relative to something finer-grained than just a world (or a <world, time> pair). Anyone who is inclined to relativise truth to more than just worlds and times faces a problem about assertion. It's easy to be puzzled about just what purpose would (...) be served by assertions of this kind, and how to understand what we'd be up to in our use of sentences like ``the treasure might be under the palm tree'', if they have such peculiar truth conditions. After providing a very quick argument to motivate a relativist view of epistemic modals, I bring out and attempt to resolve this problem in making sense of the role of assertions with relativist truth conditions. Solving this problem should be helpful in two ways: first, it eliminates an apparently forceful objection to relativism, and second, spelling out the relativist account of assertion and communication will help to make clear just what the relativist position is, exactly, and why it's interesting. (shrink)
Relativism, in the sense at issue here, is a view about the meaning of knowledge attributions—statements of the form “S knows that p.” Like contextualism, it holds that the truth of knowledge claims is sensitive to contextual factors, such as which alternatives are relevant at the context, or how high the stakes are. For the relativist, however, the relevant context is the context from which the knowledge claim is being assessed, not the context at which it was (...) made. (shrink)
This paper argues against relativism, focusing on relativism based on the semantics of predicates of personal taste. It presents and defends a contextualist semantics for these predicates, derived from current work on gradable adjectives. It then considers metasemantic questions about the kinds of contextual parameters this semantics requires. It argues they are not metasemantically different from those in other gradable adjectives, and that contextual parameters of this sort are widespread in natural language. Furthermore, this paper shows that (...) if such parameters are rejected, it leads to an unacceptably rampant form of relativism, that relativizes truth to an open-ended list of parameters. (shrink)
Recently a number of writers have argued that a new form of relativism involves a form of semantic context-dependence which helps it escape the perhaps most common objection to ordinary contextualism; that it cannot accommodate our intuitions about disagreement. I argue: (i) In order to evaluate this claim we have to pay closer attention to the nature of our intuitions about disagreement. (ii) We have different such intuitions concerning different questions: we have more stable disagreement intuitions (...) class='Hi'>about moral disputes than about, say, disputes about matters of taste. (iii) The new form of relativism does not vindicate the stable intuitions about disagreement. (iv) It does a better job explaining the unstable intuitions than contextualism. But, pace some relativists, it is not clear that assertion-truth rather than just proposition-truth has to be relativized to accomplish this. (shrink)
Herman Cappelen and John Hawthorne’s Relativism and Monadic Truth presses a number of worries about relativistic content. It forces one to think carefully about what a relativist should mean by saying that speakers disagree or contradict one another in asserting such content. My focus is on this question, though at points (in particular in Sect. 4) I touch on other issues Cappelen and Hawthorne (CH) raise.
In the paper we argue that truth-relativism is potentially hostage to a problem of exhibiting witnesses of its own truth. The problem for the relativist stems from acceptance of a trumping principle according to which there is a dependency between ascriptions of truth of an utterance and ascriptions of truth to other ascriptions of truth of that utterance. We argue that such a dependency indeed holds in the case of future contingents and the case (...) of epistemic modals and that, consequently, the relativist about these domains cannot exhibit witnesses to his relativism. In the appendix we provide some results on the relation between trumping and multi-order relativism. (shrink)
Cappelen and Hawthorne tell us that the most basic, explanatory notion of truth is a monadic property of propositions. Other notions of truth, including those applying to sentences, are to be explained in terms of it. Among them are those found in Kripkean, Montagovian, and Kaplanean semantic theories, and their descendants – to wit truth at a context, at a circumstance, and at a context-plus-circumstance. If these are to make sense, the authors correctly maintain, they must be (...) explained in terms of the monadic notion of truth. (1-2) I thought that this was the received view, but the authors indicate otherwise. They describe possible-worlds semantics as making it “very natural to think of the foundational mode of evaluation for propositions as truth relative to worlds.”(7) I disagree. The natural way to understand possible worlds-semantics is to take world-states to be certain kinds of properties, and to take the truth of p at w to be the fact that p would be true (i.e. would instantiate monadic truth) were the universe to instantiate w. The authors add that it is somewhat natural to take “the actual truth of a proposition as [being] a matter of the proposition getting the value ‘true’ relative to a distinguished world -- the actual world.” (7) If this means that being actually true is being true at the actual world-state @, this isn’t just natural, it is unassailable -- as long as one doesn’t erroneously identify being true with being actually true. Since Cappelen and Hawthorne don’t do this, I take us to be on more or less the same page. Others, apparently, aren’t. We are told that “a number of the participants in the relevant disputes [aboutrelativism] seem to take it for granted that philosophical semantics has somehow shown that the semantic value of sentences cannot be evaluated for truth or falsity simpliciter, since truth and falsity hold of a proposition relative to a world.” (77-8) We are also told: 1 Contemporary Analytic relativists reason as follows: ‘Lewis and Kaplan have shown that we need to relativize truth to triples of .. (shrink)
Both context relativists and circumstance-of-evaluation relativists agree that the traditional semantic interpretation of some sentence-types fails to deliver the adequate truth-conditions for the corresponding tokens. But while the context relativists argue that the truth-conditions of each token depend on its context of utterance—each token being thus associated with a distinct intension—circumstance-of-evaluation relativists preserve a unique intension for all the tokens by placing circumstances of evaluations under the influence of a certain ‘point of view’. The main difference between the (...) two approaches is that only the former can operate locally. It is shown that, for this reason, circumstance-of-evaluation relativism makes erroneous semantic predictions about (relative) gradable adjectives. (shrink)
This essay argues that relativist semantics provide fruitful frameworks for the study of the relationships between meaning and truth-conditions, and consequently for the analysis of the logical properties of expressions. After a discussion of the role of intensionality and indexicality within classic double-indexed semantics, I explain that the non-relativistic identification of the parameters needed for the definition of truth and for the interpretation of indexicals is grounded on considerations that are irrelevant for the assessment of the relationships between (...) meaning and truth. (shrink)
I want to discuss a puzzle about the semantics of epistemic modals, like “It might be the case that” as it occurs in “It might be the case that Goldbach’s conjecture is false.”1 I’ll argue that the puzzle cannot be adequately explained on standard accounts of the semantics of epistemic modals, and that a proper solution requires relativizing utterance truth to a context of assessment, a semantic device whose utility and coherence I have defended elsewhere for future contingents (...) (MacFarlane.. (shrink)
Data about attitude reports provide some of the most interesting arguments for, and against, various theses of semantic relativism. This paper is a short survey of three such arguments. First, I’ll argue (against recent work by von Fintel and Gillies) that relativists can explain the behaviour of relativistic terms in factive attitude reports. Second, I’ll argue (against Glanzberg) that looking at attitude reports suggests that relativists have a more plausible story to tell than contextualists about the division (...) of labour between semantics and meta-semantics. Finally, I’ll offer a new argument for invariantism (i.e. against both relativism and contextualism) about moral terms. The argument will turn on the observation that the behaviour of normative terms in factive and non-factive attitude reports is quite unlike the behaviour of any other plausibly context-sensitive term. Before that, I’ll start with some taxonomy, just so as it’s clear what the intended conclusions below are supposed to be. (shrink)
Recent years have brought relativistic accounts of knowledge, first-person belief, and future contingents to prominence. I discuss these views, distinguish non-trivial from trivial forms of relativism, and then argue against relativism in all of its substantive varieties.
Epistemic modals are standardly taken to be context-dependent quantifiers over possibilities. Thus sentences containing them get truth-values with respect to both a context and an index. But some insist that this relativization is not relative enough: `might'-claims, they say, only get truth-values with respect to contexts, indices, and—the new wrinkle—points of assessment (hence, CIA). Here we argue against such "relativist" semantics. We begin with a sketch of the motivation for such theories and a generic formulation of them. Then (...) we catalogue central problems that any such theory faces. We end by outlining an alternative story. (shrink)
It has recently been argued that certain areas of discourse, such as discourse about matters of taste, involve a phenomenon of ‘‘faultless disagreement’’ that rules out giving a standard realist or contextualist semantics for them. Thus, it is argued, we are left with no choice but to consider more adventurous semantic alternatives for these areas, such as a semantic account that involves relativizing truth to perspectives or contexts of assessment. I argue that the sort of faultless disagreement present (...) in these cases is in fact compatible with a realist treatment of their semantics. Then I briefly consider other considerations that might be thought to speak against realism about these areas of discourse. I conclude with the tentative suggestion that realism about matters of taste is far more plausible (at least in some cases) than most philosophers believe today. (shrink)
Richard on truth and commitment Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-9 DOI 10.1007/s11098-011-9795-1 Authors John MacFarlane, Department of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA Journal Philosophical Studies Online ISSN 1573-0883 Print ISSN 0031-8116.
I set out and defend a view on indicative conditionals that I call “indexical relativism”. The core of the view is that which proposition is (semantically) expressed by an utterance of a conditional is a function of (among other things) the speaker’s context and the assessor’s context. This implies a kind of relativism, namely that a single utterance may be correctly assessed as true by one assessor and false by another.
In this paper, I argue that there are good motivations for a relativist account of the domain-sensitivity of quantifier phrases. I will frame the problem as a puzzle involving what looks like a logically valid inference, yet one whose premises are true while the conclusion is false. After discussing some existing accounts, literalist and contextualist, I will present and argue for an account that may be said to be relativist in the following sense: (i) a domain of quantification is required (...) for determining truth value, but is idle in determining semantic content, and (ii) the same sentence, as used on one and the same occasion, may receive different truth values relative to different domains. (shrink)
Propositions are generally thought to have a truth-value only relative to some parameter or sequence of parameters. Many apparently straightforward notions, like what it is to disagree or retain a belief, become harder to explain once propositional truth is thus relativized. An account of disagreement within a framework involving such ‘stoic’ propositions is here presented. Some resources developed in that account are then used to respond to the eternalist charge that temporalist propositions can't function as belief contents because (...) they don't allow us to make adequate sense of what belief retention amounts to. (shrink)
By “epistemic modals,” I mean epistemic uses of modal words: adverbs like “necessarily,” “possibly,” and “probably,” adjectives like “necessary,” “possible,” and “probable,” and auxiliaries like “might,” “may,” “must,” and “could.” It is hard to say exactly what makes a word modal, or what makes a use of a modal epistemic, without begging the questions that will be our concern below, but some examples should get the idea across. If I say “Goldbach’s conjecture might be true, and it might be false,” (...) I am not endorsing the Cartesian view that God could have made the truths of arithmetic come out differently. I make the claim not because I believe in the metaphysical contingency of mathematics, but because I know that Goldbach’s conjecture has not yet been proved or refuted. Similarly, if I say “Joe can’t be running,” I am not saying that Joe’s constitution prohibits him from running, or that Joe is essentially a non-runner, or that Joe isn’t allowed to run. My basis for making the claim may be nothing more than that I see Joe’s running shoes hanging on a hook. (shrink)
A great deal of discussion in recent philosophy of language has centered on the idea that there might be hidden contextual parameters in our sentences. But relatively little attention has been paid to what those parameters themselves are like, beyond the assumption that they behave more or less like variables do in logic. My goal in this paper is to show this has been a mistake. I shall argue there are at least two very different sorts of contextual parameters. One (...) is indeed basically like variables in logic, but the other is very different, and much more like overt referring expressions. This result is of interest in its own right, to those of us who are concerned to map out the details of the semantic and pragmatic workings of language. But it will have some wider morals as well. One of the important issues behind the debate over hidden parameters has been how we can posit hidden structure in language, and how far such structure can stray from the intuitive forms and contents speakers see in communication. I shall argue that one sort of hidden parameter is surprisingly close to the contents and forms speakers find intuitive, while another is more remote. I shall show that the.. (shrink)
Predicates of personal taste (fun, tasty) and epistemic modals (might, must) share a similar analytical difficulty in determining whose taste or knowledge is being expressed. Accordingly, they have parallel behavior in attitude reports and in a certain kind of disagreement. On the other hand, they differ in how freely they can be linked to a contextually salient individual, with epistemic modals being much more restricted in this respect. I propose an account of both classes using Lasersohn’s (Linguistics and Philosophy 28: (...) 643–686, 2005) “judge” parameter, at the same time arguing for crucial changes to Lasersohn’s view in order to allow the extension to epistemic modals and address empirical problems faced by his account. (shrink)
Demonstrative noun phrases (e.g. this; that guy over there ) are intimately connected to the context of use in that their reference is determined by demonstrations and/or the speaker's intentions. The semantics of demonstratives therefore has important implications not only for theories of reference, but for questions about how information from the context interacts with formal semantics. First treated by Kaplan as directly referential , demonstratives have recently been analyzed as quantifiers by King, and the choice between these two (...) approaches is a matter of ongoing controversy. Meanwhile, linguists and psychologists working from a variety of perspectives have gathered a wealth of data on the form, meaning, and use of demonstratives in many languages. Demonstratives thus provide a fruitful topic for graduate study for two reasons. On the one hand, they serve as an entry point to foundational issues in reference and the semantics–pragmatics interface. On the other hand, they are an especially promising starting point for interdisciplinary research, which brings the results of linguistics and related fields to bear on the philosophy of language. Author Recommends Kaplan, David. 'Demonstratives.' 1977. Themes from Kaplan . Ed. J. Almong, J. Perry, and H. Wettstein. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989. 481–563. The seminal work on the semantics of demonstratives and indexicals, such as I, here , and now . Kaplan introduces a distinction between content (which maps from possible circumstances to extensions) and character (which maps from possible contexts to contents). He argues that demonstratives and indexicals are directly referential : given a possible context, their character fixes their extension. Kaplan, David. 'Afterthoughts.' Themes from Kaplan . Ed. J. Almong, J. Perry, and H. Wettstein. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989. 565–614. An elaboration on the theory developed in 'Demonstratives.' Kaplan considers the connection between direct reference and rigid designation; raises the issue of whether demonstratives depend on demonstrations or speaker intentions; and discusses implications of the analysis for formal semantics and for epistemology. King, Jeffrey C. Complex Demonstratives . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001. In perhaps the most influential challenge to date to the direct reference theory of demonstratives, King argues that complex demonstratives (i.e. demonstrative determiners with nominal complements) are best analyzed as quantifiers. Braun, David. 'Complex Demonstratives and Their Singular Contents.' Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (2008): 57–99. This recent Kaplanian analysis of complex demonstratives shows the 'state of the art' of direct reference approaches and responds to some of the objections to such approaches raised by King. Elbourne, Paul. 'Demonstratives as Individual Concepts.' Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (2008): 409–466. The most recent analysis of demonstratives as individual concepts, contrasting with both the direct reference and quantificational approaches. Fillmore, Charles. Lectures on Deixis . Stanford, CA: CSLI, 1997. In this collection of lectures, originally delivered in 1971, Fillmore considers demonstratives and indexical expressions in many languages to describe the types of information about the context (e.g. locations in space, time, and discourse) that are encoded in natural language. Gundel, Jeanette K., Nancy Hedberg, and Ron Zacharski. 'Cognitive Status and the Form of Referring Expressions in Discourse.' Language 69 (1993): 274–307. Perhaps the most detailed pragmatic alternative to formal semantic theories of demonstratives and other referring expressions. The authors argue that demonstratives are best described as imposing a condition of use in which the referent of the demonstrative has a certain level of salience for the interlocutors. Online Materials http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/indexicals/ Indexicals (David Braun) http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/reference/ Reference (Marga Reimer) http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rigid-designators/ Rigid designators (Joseph LaPorte) http://philpapers.org/browse/indexicals-and-demonstratives/ Online bibliography of papers on indexicals and demonstratives Sample Syllabus The following syllabus can be used in entirety for a survey course on demonstratives; in addition, each of the three units is self-contained and can be used alone. Unit 1: Demonstratives and Indexicality Week 1: Indexicals 1. Kaplan, Demonstratives 2. Kaplan, Afterthoughts Week 2: Issues for Indexical Reference 1. Reimer, Marga. 'Do Demonstrations Have Semantic Significance?' Analysis 51 (1991): 177–83. 2. Bach, Kent. 'Intentions and Demonstrations.' Analysis 52 (1992): 140–46. 3. Nunberg, Geoffrey. 'Indexicality and Deixis.' Linguistics and Philosophy 16.1 (1993): 1–43. Week 3: Optional detour: Monsters 1. Schlenker, Philippe. 'A Plea for Monsters.' Linguistics and Philosophy 26 (2003): 29-120. Week 4: Demonstratives as Quantifiers 1. King. Complex Demonstratives , chapters 1–3. Week 5: Indexical and Non-Indexical Demonstratives 1. Braun, David. 'Complex Demonstratives and Their Singular Contents.' Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (2008): 57–99. Optional additional reading 2. Roberts, Craige. 'Demonstratives as Definites.' Information Sharing . Ed. Kees van Deemter and Roger Kibble. Stanford, CA: CSLI Press, 2002. 3. Wolter, Lynsey. 'That's That: The Semantics and Pragmatics of Demonstrative Noun Phrases.' Diss. University of California, Santa Cruz, 2006, chapters 2–3. 4. Elbourne, Paul. 'Demonstratives as Individual Concepts.' Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (2008): 409–66. Unit 2: Demonstratives, Proximity, Salience Week 6: Demonstratives and Proximity 1. Fillmore, Charles. 'Deixis I.' in Lectures on Deixis . Stanford, CA: CSLI, 1997. 59–76. 2. Fillmore, Charles. 'Deixis II.' in Lectures on Deixis . Stanford, CA: CSLI, 1997. 103–26. Optional additional reading 3. Prince, Ellen. 'On the Inferencing of Indefinite- this NPs.' Elements of Discourse Understanding . Ed. Aravind K. Joshi, Bonnie L. Weber, and Ivan A. Sag. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981. 231–50. Week 7: Demonstratives and Salience 1. Gundel, Jeanette K., Nancy Hedberg, and Ron Zacharski. 'Cognitive Status and the Form of Referring Expressions in Discourse.' Language 69 (1993): 274–307. Optional additional reading 2. Brown-Schmidt, Sarah, Donna K. Byron, and Michael K. Tanenhaus. 'Beyond Salience: Interpretation of Personal and Demonstrative Pronouns.' Journal of Memory and Language 53 (2005): 292–313. Note: readers new to psycholinguistics should concentrate on the Introduction. Unit 3: Demonstratives and Copular Sentences Week 8: Background on the Typology of Copular Sentences 1. Higgins, F. Roger. 'The Pseudo-Cleft Construction in English.' Diss. MIT, 1973, chapter 5. Week 9: Demonstratives in Copular Sentences 1. Mikkelsen, Line. 'Specifying Who: On the Structure, Meaning, and Use of Specificational Copular Clauses.' Diss. University of California, Santa Cruz, 2004, chapter 8.2 (Truncated Clefts). 2. Heller, Daphna and Lynsey Wolter. ' That is Rosa : Identificational Sentences as Intensional Predication.' Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 12 . Ed. Atle Grønn. Oslo: Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages, University of Oslo, 2008. Week 10: Demonstratives, Copular Sentences, Modals 1. Birner, Betty J., Jeffrey P. Kaplan, and Gregory Ward. 'Functional Compositionality and the Interaction of Discourse Constraints.' Language 83 (2007): 317–43. Focus Questions 1. Which of the following expressions are indexicals? Which are demonstratives? Why? (a) a pencil (b) the pencil (c) this pencil (d) Mary Smith (e) Mary's pencil (f ) my pencil (g) we (h) you (i) here (j) there (k) now (l) then 2. Do demonstratives ever interact with scope-taking operators to give rise to two or more truth-conditionally distinct readings? If so, under what circumstances? 3. (a) If demonstratives (sometimes or always) interact with scope-taking operators to give rise to two or more truth-conditionally distinct readings, to what extent can a direct reference theory of demonstratives be maintained? (b) If demonstratives never interact with scope-taking operators to give rise to two or more truth-conditionally distinct readings, to what extent can a quantificational theory of demonstratives be maintained? 4. What kind of thing is a demonstration? Is it a pointing gesture? An indication of the speaker's focus of attention? Something more abstract? 5. What information do English demonstratives convey about proximity? What is 'proximity'– physical closeness to the speaker, or something more abstract? What is the status of this information: is it entailed, presupposed, or something else? 6. Do demonstratives that are accompanied by a physical gesture of demonstration have the same semantic value as anaphoric demonstratives, such as that in (a)? Why or why not? (a) John made a peanut butter sandwich and ate it quickly. Next he took an apple from the fridge. He ate that more slowly. (shrink)
(Shoshana Smith now goes by her married name, Shoshana Brassfield: http://philpapers.org/profile/37640) Descartes famously claims that everything we perceive clearly and distinctly is true. Although this rule is fundamental to Descartes’s theory of knowledge, readers from Gassendi and Leibniz onward have complained that unless Descartes can say explicitly what clear and distinct perception is, how we know when we have it, and why it cannot be wrong, then the rule is empty. I offer a detailed analysis of clear and distinct perception, (...) showing how Descartes answers these questions. Many doubts about the usefulness of the clarity and distinctness rule arise from the mistaken assumption that in clear and distinct perception, like sense perception, we must be able to establish a correspondence between perception and reality before we can have knowledge. I show that Descartes has a different metaphysical picture of clear and distinct perception. Clear and distinct perception is direct perception, typically of essences. On this view, by relying on the intellect instead of the senses, we can have direct perception not only of our own ideas, but also of a mind-independent reality. Because clear and distinct perception is direct perception, problems of correspondence do not arise. My account of clear and distinct perception also yields unique insight into other issues in Descartes, such as the Cartesian Circle and the doctrine of the free creation of the eternal truths. Completed at the University of California, 2005. Dissertation advisers: Janet Broughton, Hannah Ginsborg, Anthony A. Long. ProQuest UMI: 3187156. (shrink)
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: the notion is exhausted by a given, specified, mass of 'platitudes', each to the effect that if words said (say) things to be thus, things must be that way. (The thought that thus-and-so is true iff thus-and-so.) These platitudes, and so deflationism, miss that aspect of truth that determines meaning's role. Truth requires words to have the uses which, given what they mean, they should have in the circumstances of their speaking. Through this link with use, when words would be true is a factor fixing what it is they said. (shrink)
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.
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 the work of Charles Travis. Travis argues that structurally isomorphic sentences containing color adjectives can shift truth value from context to context depending on how they are used and in the absence of effects of vagueness or ambiguity/polysemy, and concludes that a deterministic mapping from structures to truth conditions is impossible. The goal of this paper is to provide a linguistic perspective on this issue, which we believe defuses Travis’ challenge. We provide empirical arguments that color adjectives are in fact ambiguous between gradable and nongradable interpretations, and that this simple ambiguity, together with independently motivated options concerning scalar dimension within the gradable reading accounts for the Travis facts in a simpler, more constrained, and thus ultimately more successful fashion than recent contextualist analyses such as those in Szabó (Perspectives on semantics, pragmatics and discourse: A festschrift for Ferenc Kiefer, 2001) or Rothschild and Segal (Mind Lang, 2009). (shrink)
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 references to a location, it takes place for pragmatic reasons and casts no light on the semantics of meteorological predicates. Since then, several authors have reanalysed the counter-example, so as to make it compatible with the standard view. I discuss those attempts and argue that my account is superior. (shrink)
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 to them in terms of covert indexicality and unspecific meanings. I argue that the last option is the best for most of the cases I consider. I conclude by stressing, as against Horwich and Fodor and Lepore, that the appropriate question concerns the extent to which compositionality obtains in a natural language, rather than whether it obtains or not, so that the answer is essentially messy, requiring detailed consideration of a wide range of examples. (shrink)
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.
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 taken into account by the customary treatment of natural languages. (shrink)
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 (...) relation between meaning and use for both the inference rules that govern logical connectives and the relation between truth and its recognition. It is less often noted that Dummett has a further argument against classical logic, one based on the semantic and set-theoretic paradoxes. That is the topic of this paper. (shrink)