The paper is primarily concerned with laying out the space of positions that purport to account for semantic context sensitivity of natural language expressions and with making a prima facie case for relativism. I start with distinguishing between pre-semantic, semantic and post-semantic context sensitivity. In the following section I briefly present the classic picture of indexicals due to David Kaplan and assess some arguments for the introduction of certain parameters in the circumstances of evaluation (specifically, time). In section III I (...) envisage two views that purport to expand semantic context sensitivity beyond expressions from “the basic set”: indexicalism and contextualism. In section IV, by means of an example taken from John Perry, I draw attention to a specific form of semantic context sensitivity, namely that in which what is affected by context are the circumstances of evaluation of utterances rather than their content. The example leads to the necessity of distinguishing between two roles of context: a content-determinative one and a circumstance-determinative one. In section V I introduce relativism as the view incorporating the claim that context has a circumstance-determinative role and contrast it with the two views presented before. In the final section I analyze a certain type of argument usually adduced in favor of contextualism (the so-called “context-shifting arguments”) and show that in order to work it has to rule out relativism. I conclude by claiming that the battle must be fought by giving arguments to the effect that a certain parameter should or should not be part of the circumstances of evaluation rather than the content of utterances. (shrink)
This thesis has two parts. In Part I there is an argument for the conclusion that a linguistic phenomenon known as (radical) context-sensitivity is to be expected given the limitations of those who use language to reason about empirical states of affairs. The phenomenon arises as a consequence of a process that must be performed to use language to reason validly. In Part II it is explained why the phenomenon, understood in light of the discussion of Part I, does (...) not threaten the possibility of communication. Some potential readers might be interested to know that in Part I there's a fair amount of exegesis of arguments for the existence of (radical) context-sensitivity put forward by Charles Travis. Some potential readers might be interested to know that in Part II use is made of work by Erving Goffman and some conversation analysts. (shrink)
One aim of this essay is to contribute to understanding aesthetic communication—the process by which agents aim to convey thoughts and transmit knowledge about aesthetic matters to others. Our focus will be on the use of aesthetic adjectives in aesthetic communication. Although theorists working on the semantics of adjectives have developed sophisticated theories about gradable adjectives, they have tended to avoid studying aesthetic adjectives—the class of adjectives that play a central role in expressing aesthetic evaluations. And despite the wealth of (...) attention paid to aesthetic adjectives by philosophical aestheticians, they have paid little attention to contemporary linguistic theories of adjectives. We take our work to be a first step in remedying these lacunae. In this paper, we present four experiments that examine one aspect of how aesthetic adjectives ordinarily function: the context-sensitivity of their application standards. Our results present a prima facie empirical challenge to a common distinction between relative and absolute gradable adjectives because aesthetic adjectives are found to behave differently from both. Our results thus also constitute a prima facie vindication of some philosophical aestheticians’ contention that aesthetic adjectives constitute a particularly interesting segment of natural language, even if the boundaries of this segment might turn out to be different from what they had in mind. (shrink)
Epistemologists typically assume that the acquisition of knowledge from testimony is not threatened at the stage at which audiences interpret what proposition a speaker has asserted. Attention is instead typically paid to the epistemic status of a belief formed on the basis of testimony that it is assumed has the same content as the speaker’s assertion. Andrew Peet has pioneered an account of how linguistic context sensitivity can threaten the assumption. His account locates the threat in contexts in which an (...) audience’s evidence under-determines which proposition a speaker is asserting. I argue that Peet’s epistemic uncertainty account of the threat is mistaken and I propose an alternative. The alternative locates the threat in contexts that provide factors that give audiences a mistaken psychological certainty or confidence that a speaker has asserted a proposition she has not. (shrink)
In medical ethics, business ethics, and some branches of political philosophy (multi-culturalism, issues of just allocation, and equitable distribution) the literature increasingly combines insights from ethics and the social sciences. Some authors in medical ethics even speak of a new phase in the history of ethics, hailing "empirical ethics" as a logical next step in the development of practical ethics after the turn to "applied ethics." The name empirical ethics is ill-chosen because of its associations with "descriptive ethics." Unlike descriptive (...) ethics, however, empirical ethics aims to be both descriptive and normative. The first question on which I focus is what kind of empirical research is used by empirical ethics and for which purposes. I argue that the ultimate aim of all empirical ethics is to improve the context-sensitivity of ethics. The second question is whether empirical ethics is essentially connected with specific positions in meta-ethics. I show that in some kinds of meta-ethical theories, which I categorize as broad contextualist theories, there is an intrinsic need for connecting normative ethics with empirical social research. But context-sensitivity is a goal that can be aimed for from any meta-ethical position. (shrink)
This paper studies the logical context-sensitivity of Aristotelian diagrams. I propose a new account of measuring this type of context-sensitivity, and illustrate it by means of a small-scale example. Next, I turn toward a more large-scale case study, based on Aristotelian diagrams for the categorical statements with subject negation. On the practical side, I describe an interactive application that can help to explain and illustrate the phenomenon of context-sensitivity in this particular case study. On the theoretical side, (...) I show that applying the proposed measure of context-sensitivity leads to a number of precise yet highly intuitive results. (shrink)
This paper defends the claim that although ‘Superman is Clark Kent and some people who believe that Superman flies do not believe that Clark Kent flies’ is a logically inconsistent sentence, we can still utter this sentence, while speaking literally, without asserting anything false. The key idea is that the context-sensitivity of attitude reports can be - and often is - resolved in different ways within a single sentence.
According to contextualist accounts, the truth value of a given knowledge ascription may vary with features of the ascriber's context. As a result, the following may be true: "X doesn't know that P but Y says something true in asserting 'X knows that P'". The contextualist must defend his theory in the light of this unpleasant but inevitable consequence. The best way of doing this is to construe the context sensitivity of knowledge ascriptions not as deriving from an alleged indexicality (...) of the word "know" nor from its vagueness or ambiguity, but rather from a distinct semantic feature of the word "know", namely its unspecificity. (shrink)
The central issue of this essay is whether contextualism in epistemology is genuinely in conflict with recent claims that ‘know’ is not in fact a contextsensitive word. To address this question, I will first rehearse three key aims of contextualists and the broad strategy they adopt for achieving them. I then introduce two linguistic arguments to the effect that the lexical item ‘know’ is not context sensitive, one from Herman Cappelen and Ernie Lepore, one from Jason Stanley. I find these (...) and related arguments quite compelling. In particular, I think Cappelen and Lepore (2003, 2005a) show pretty definitively that ‘know’ is not like ‘I’/‘here’/‘now’, and Stanley (2004) shows that ‘know’ is not like ‘tall’/‘rich’.1 One could try to find another model for ‘know’. Instead, I consider whether one can rescue ‘‘the spirit of contextualism in epistemology’’—that is, achieve its aims by deploying a strategy of appealing to speaker context—even while granting that ‘know’ isn’t a context-sensitive word at all. My conclusion, in a nutshell, is this: If there are pragmatic determinants of what is asserted/stated, and contextualism can overcome independent problems not having to do specifically with the context-sensitivity of the word ‘know’, then the spirit of contextualism can be salvaged. Even though, for reasons sketched by the aforementioned authors, ‘know’ doesn’t actually belong in the class of context-sensitive words. (shrink)
In this paper, I argue that Contextualist theories of semantics are not undermined by their purported failure to explain the practice of indirect reporting. I adoptCappelen & Lepore's test for context sensitivity to show that the scope of context sensitivity is much broader than Semantic Minimalists are willing to accept. Thefailure of their arguments turns on their insistence that the content of indirect reports is semantically minimal.
Meaning and Context-Sensitivity Truth-conditional semantics explains meaning in terms of truth-conditions. The meaning of a sentence is given by the conditions that must obtain in order for the sentence to be true. The meaning of a word is given by its contribution to the truth-conditions of the sentences in which it occurs. What a speaker … Continue reading Meaning and Context-Sensitivity →.
Context-sensitivity raises a metasemantic question: what determines the value of a context-sensitive expression in context? Taking gradable adjectives as a case study, this paper argues against various forms of intentionalist metasemantics, i.e. that speaker intentions determine values for context-sensitive expressions in context, including the coordination account recently defended by King :219–237, 2014a; in: Burgess, Sherman Metasemantics: New essays on the foundations of meaning, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 97–118, 2014b). The paper argues that all intentionalist accounts face the speaker (...) authority problem, that speaker intentions are just the wrong sorts of things to determine the standards for gradable adjectives in context. The problem comes to light when we look at cases in which speakers have idiosyncratic, false beliefs that cause their proper communicative intentions to come apart from the non-intentional features of context like the question under discussion, facts about the world, practical goals, and prior linguistic discourse. (shrink)
Retributivism may seem wholly uninterested in the fit between penal policy and public opinion, but on one rendition of the theory, here called ‘popular retributivism,’ deserved punishments are constituted by the penal conventions of the community. This paper makes two claims against this view. First, the intuitive appeal of popular retributivism is undermined once we distinguish between context sensitivity and convention sensitivity about desert. Retributivism in general can freely accept context sensitivity without being committed to the stronger notion of convention (...) sensitivity. Second, it is not obviously a merit of popular retributivism that it admits a gradual lowering of punishments by softening public opinion. Retributivists have reason to be skeptical of softening public opinion if it comes at the price of undermining the extent to which offenders are thought to deserve censure. In sum, in this paper, I argue that there are ways of making retributivism sensitive to public opinion without arriving at the conclusion that popular penal conventions should govern retributive justice itself. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to show that tests for semantic context-sensitivity are of no help in the debate between semantic contextualists and minimalists. Two kinds of context-sensitivity tests are discussed: Cappelen & Lepore's says-that tests and Cappelen & Hawthorne's agreement-based tests. It is shown that Cappelen & Lepore's tests are unreliable because they are based on unstable data. Then it is argued that although the data of Cappelen & Hawthorne's tests is more reliable, contextualists and minimalists (...) alike can explain this data. The paper ends by pointing to ways in which the debate might be moved forward without context-sensitivity tests. (shrink)
Conditionals give rise to stand-offs that have become well known from Gibbard’s initial Sly Pete example. The stand-offs can be seen as evidence for the context-sensitivity of conditionals and arguably do not involve disagreement. I claim that the latter feature lends credibility to an indexical treatment of indicatives.
This paper classifies a family of grammar formalisms that extendcontext-free grammar by talking about tuples of terminal strings, ratherthan independently combining single terminal words into larger singlephrases. These include a number of well-known formalisms, such as headgrammar and linear context-free rewriting systems, but also a new formalism,(simple) literal movement grammar, which strictly extends the previouslyknown formalisms, while preserving polynomial time recognizability.The descriptive capacity of simple literal movement grammars isillustrated both formally through a weak generative capacity argument and ina more practical (...) sense by the description of conjunctive cross-serialrelative clauses in Dutch. After sketching a complexity result and drawing anumber of conclusions from the illustrations, it is then suggested that thenotion of mild context-sensitivity currently in use, that depends on therather loosely defined concept of constant growth, needs a modification toapply sensibly to the illustrated facts; an attempt at such a revision isproposed. (shrink)
Cappelen and Lepore claim that the English language contains a basic and limited set of context-sensitive expressions, as only expressions within this set pass the truth-related tests that they propose to single out context-sensitive from context-insensitive words. In this paper, I argue that racial and ethnic slurs also pass Cappelen and Lepore’s context sensitivity tests and that, as a result, slurs should also be seen as context-sensitive expressions in a truth-related sense.
We argue there is a clash between the standard treatments of context sensitivity and presupposition triggering. We use this criticism to motivate a defense of an often-discarded view about how to represent context sensitivity, according to which there are more lexically implicit items in logical form than has been appreciated.
The Agreement-Based Tests for Context Sensitivity In my paper, I present and discuss Cappelen and Lepore's context sensitivity tests, which appeal to says-that reports. In Relativism and Monadic Truth Cappelen and Hawthorne criticize those tests and propose agreement-based tests instead. I argue that such tests do not fare much better. The original Cappelen and Lepore's tests presupposed a minimal notion of says-that. One might postulate a parallel notion of "thin" agreement, according to which people agree that p if they all (...) believe the minimal proposition that p. In this sense we might say - as opposed to what Cappelen and Hawthorne say - that A and B agree that Nicola is smart, even though A thinks that she is smart because she stands way back against strong servers, while B thinks that she is smart because she invested all her money in penny stocks. The paper ends with a critical gloss concerning the case in which Joe Coach predicates tall of people who are over six-foot-eight and Joe Normal, who applies tall to anyone over six-foot tall. I conclude that agreement and disagreement tests are poor indicators of context sensitivity, since their result depends on the prior theoretical standpoint one adopts. (shrink)
Drawing upon research in philosophical logic, linguistics and cognitive science, this study explores how our ability to use and understand language depends upon our capacity to keep track of complex features of the contexts in which we converse.
This paper investigates, formulates and proves an indexical barrier theorem, according to which sets of non-indexical sentences do not entail (except under specified special circumstances) indexical sentences. It surveys the usual difficulties for this kind of project, as well some that are specific to the case of indexicals, and adapts the strategy of Restall and Russell's "Barriers to Implication" to overcome these. At the end of the paper a reverse barrier theorem is also proved, according to which an indexical sentence (...) will not, except under specified circumstances, entail a non-indexical one. (shrink)
This review discusses recent work on foundational questions about concepts. The first of these questions is whether concepts are context-independent bodies of knowledge, or context-dependent constructs, created on the fly. The second question is whether concepts are abstract, amodal representations, or whether they are embedded within the sensory-motor system. I discuss these two questions in light of empirical data from psychology and neuroscience, as well as theoretical considerations, and examine their implications for theories of concepts.
In classical India, Jain philosophers developed a theory of viewpoints ( naya-vāda ) according to which any statement is always performed within and dependent upon a given epistemic perspective or viewpoint. The Jainas furnished this epistemology with an (epistemic) theory of disputation that takes into account the viewpoint in which the main thesis has been stated. The main aim of our paper is to delve into the Jain notion of viewpoint-contextualisation and to develop the elements of a suitable logical system (...) that should offer a reconstruction of the Jainas’ epistemic theory of disputation. A crucial step of our project is to approach the Jain theory of disputation with the help of a theory of meaning for logical constants based on argumentative practices called dialogical logic . Since in the dialogical framework the meaning of the logical constants is given by the norms or rules for their use in a debate, it provides a meaning theory closer to the Jain context-sensitive disputation theory than the main-stream formal model-theoretic semantics. (shrink)
This paper is a partial review of the literature on ‘social preferences'. There are empirical findings that convincingly demonstrate the existence of social preferences, but there are also studies that indicate their fragility. So how robust are social preferences, and how exactly are they context dependent? One of the most promising insights from the literature, in my view, is an equilibrium explanation of mutually referring conditional social preferences and expectations. I use this concept of equilibrium, summarized by means of a (...) figure, to discuss a range of empirical studies. Where appropriate, I also briefly discuss a couple of insights from the (mostly parallel) evolutionary literature about cooperation. A concrete case of the Orma in Kenya will be used as a motivating example in the beginning. (shrink)
We introduce and study a natural extension of Marcus external contextual grammars. This mathematically simple mechanism which generates a proper subclass of simple matrix languages, known to be mildly context-sensitive ones, is still mildly context-sensitive. Furthermore, we get an infinite hierarchy of mildly context-sensitive families of languages. Then we attempt to fill a gap regarding the linguistic relevance of these mechanisms which consists in defining a tree structure on the strings generated by many-dimensional external contextual grammars, and investigate some related (...) issues. Several open problems are finally discussed. (shrink)
This article discusses multisensorial aesthetic experience of environmental materiality via a craft process. The locally situated study investigates the interrelations of humans and environment through soil. In focus is how craft practitioners use their material sensitivity to reflect the idea of interdependency in the context of the contemporary environmental discourse. This is done through presenting an artistic research project in which craft is used to explore the human imprint in a particular geological environment, the Venice Lagoon. The case study Traces (...) from the Anthropocene: Working with Soil combines environmental research methods of contaminated soil and artistic research in the field of ceramic art. Craft making provides an embodied way to engage with the local environment. The cultural value and environmental disruption of the lagoon area forms a context for reflecting the aesthetic experience to better understand how we are active participants, in continuous flux with our material environment. (shrink)
Why do predicates like know embed both declarative and interrogative clauses, whereas closely related ones like believe only embed the former? The standard approach following Grimshaw to this issue has been to specify lexically for each predicate which type of complement clause it can combine with. This view is challenged by predicates such as be certain, which embed interrogative clauses only in certain contexts. To deal with this issue, this paper proposes a novel, unified semantics for declarative and interrogative embedding (...) and a theory where embedding is constrained by semantic considerations. The reason for the apparent unembeddability of an interrogative clause under a given predicate is the resulting trivial meaning of the sentence. Such triviality manifests itself in unacceptability. Crucially, it is affected by both the lexical meaning of the predicate and the polarity of the sentence as a whole. (shrink)
Can one and the same quotation be used on different occasions to quote distinct objects? The view that it can is taken for granted throughout the literature (e.g. Goddard & Routley 1966, Christensen 1967, Davidson 1979, Goldstein 1984, Jorgensen et al 1984, Atlas 1989, Clark & Gerrig 1990, Washington 1992, García-Carpintero 1994, 2004, 2005, Reimer 1996, Saka 1998, Wertheimer 1999). Garcia-Carpintero (1994, p. 261) illustrates with the quotation expression ''gone''. He says it can be used to quote any of the (...) following items. (shrink)
Most linguists think that there are infinitely many sentences, that languages are productive and systematic. Maybe the most remarkable achievement of our lives is that we learn this thing with infinite power. But the whole thing hangs on those sentences being built up out of their components, which are words. So it’s not even clear what one of the more striking theses in the development of linguistics over the last half century signifies or means without an account of the atoms, (...) so to speak, out of which we build these things. (shrink)