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 contextsensitivity 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)
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 contextsensitivity to show that the scope of contextsensitivity 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.
According to cognitivist truth-theoretic accounts of semantic competence, aspects of our linguistic behavior can be explained by ascribing to speakers cognition of truth theories. It's generally assumed on this approach that, however much contextsensitivity speakers' languages contain, the cognized truththeories themselves can be adequately characterized context insensitively—that is, without using in the metalanguage expressions whose semantic value can vary across occasions of utterance. In this paper, I explore some of the motivations for and problems and consequences (...) of dropping this assumption. (shrink)
We describe a pattern acquisition algorithm that learns, in an unsupervised fashion, a streamlined representation of linguistic structures from a plain natural-language corpus. This paper addresses the issues of learning structured knowledge from a large-scale natural language data set, and of generalization to unseen text. The implemented algorithm represents sentences as paths on a graph whose vertices are words. Signiﬁcant patterns, determined by recursive context-sensitive statistical inference, form new vertices. Linguistic constructions are represented by trees composed of signiﬁcant patterns (...) and their associated equivalence classes. An input module allows the algorithm to be subjected to a standard test of English as a Second Language proﬁ- ciency. The results are encouraging: the model attains a level of performance considered to be “intermediate” for 9th-grade students, despite having been trained on a corpus containing transcribed speech of parents directed to small children. (shrink)
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 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.
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)
The target article criticises reductionist programs in cognitive science for failing to take into account important explanatory features of the organism's physical embodiment and task environment. My aim in this commentary is to show how such features are increasingly being taken seriously by researchers in cognitive neuroscience, who describe the functional activity of neural structures in terms that are context-sensitive rather than intrinsic. This approach can allow us to take seriously the concerns presented in Gallagher’s  target article without (...) having to completely give up on neuroscientific explanations of human behaviour. (shrink)
Contextualists and relativists about predicates of personal taste, epistemic modals, and so on (“CR-expressions”) agree that the interpretation of these expressions depends, in some sense, on context. Relativists claim that the sort of context-sensitivity exhibited by CR-expressions is importantly different from that exhibited by paradigm context-sensitive expressions. This bifurcation is often motivated by the claim that the two classes of expressions behave differently in patterns of agreement and disagreement. I provide cases illustrating that the same sorts (...) of discourse phenomena that have been thought problematic for contextualists can arise with paradigm context-sensitive expressions. These cases motivate a more unified treatment of paradigm context-sensitive expressions and the expressions that have figured in recent contextualism/relativism debates. (shrink)
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 paper outlines the major topics addressed in my book Description of Situations: An Essay in Contextualist Epistemology, anticipates some possible misunderstandings and discusses issues that warrant further investigation.
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)
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 contextsensitivity 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)
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.
Aristotle in the central chapters of his Sophistical Refutations gives advice on how to counter unfair argumentation by similar means, all the while taking account not only of the adversary's arguments in themselves, but also of his philosophical commitments and state of mind, as well as the impression produced on the audience. This has offended commentators, and made most of them, medieval and modern alike, pass lightly over the relevant passages. A commentary that received the last touch in the very (...) early 13th century is more perceptive because, it is argued, the commentator had lived in a 12th-century environment of competing Parisian schools that was in important respects similar to the one of Aristotle's Athens. (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)
Performance on the Wason selection task varies with content. This has been taken to demonstrate that there are different cognitive modules for dealing with different conceptual domains. This implication is only legitimate if our underlying cognitive architecture is formal. A non-formal system can explain content-sensitive inference without appeal to independent inferential modules.
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)
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)
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 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)
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)
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.
Larry Temkin challenged what seems to be an analytic truth about comparatives: if A is Φ-er than B and B is Φ-er than C, then, A is Φ-er than C. Ruth Chang denies a related claim: if A is Φ-er than B and C is not Φ-er than B, but is Φ to a certain degree, then A is Φ-er than C. In this paper I advance a context-sensitive semantics of gradability according to which the data uncovered by Temkin (...) and Chang leave both statements intact. (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.
The association of resilience-related factors with frailty is a recent research topic. Dispositional optimism and contextsensitivity are two psychological factors that differently contribute to individual resilience. This study aimed at investigating whether dispositional optimism and contextsensitivity might contribute to a multifactorial model of frailty, together with established relevant factors such as cognitive and physical factors. This cross-sectional study involved 141 elderly outpatients aged ≥65 years, who were referred to the Geriatrics and Multidimensional Evaluation Clinic (...) of the University Hospital of Messina. We used the following measures: the Mini-Mental State Examination to screen for global cognitive functioning; 4-m gait speed and handgrip strength to measure physical performance; a 35-item Frailty Index to evaluate patients’ frailty status; the revised Life Orientation Test to gauge dispositional optimism; and the ContextSensitivity Index to measure contextsensitivity. We found that LOT-R, CSI, and MMSE were all significantly associated with FI. Gait speed was only marginally associated with FI. The present study showed a novel association of dispositional optimism and contextsensitivity with frailty among elderly outpatients. These preliminary findings support a multidimensional approach to frailty in which even peculiar psychological features might provide a significant contribution. (shrink)
There are three main metaphysical positions on race. Anti-realists do not believe there are any races. Natural kind approaches find sub-groups of homo sapiens that have scientific importance and label those groups races, generally taking them to be biological categories. This book argues that anti-realism is false, and the groups natural kind theorists point to, if real, are not the groups we care about in ordinary discussions of race. This book defends, instead, a social kind view, which considers races to (...) exist because of contingent social practices. I argue for a social kind view that recognizes that biological features we use to classify people racially do not make races natural kinds. Racial groups could theoretically exist independently of any social constructions, since they are just groups of people, but social constructions single out certain groups of people as races, give them social importance, and allow us to name them as races. This book also identifies several kinds of context-sensitivity in our racial classification and sees that context-sensitivity as central to how racial categorization works. In terms of our moral response to these metaphysical realities, we need racial categories to identify problems in how our racial constructions are formed, including addressing harmful effects, rather than seeking to eliminate the categories in any direct way, but we should also make efforts to change the conditions that generate those problematic elements, with a goal of retaining only the unproblematic aspects. (shrink)
The paper is primarily concerned with laying out the space of positions that purport to account for semantic contextsensitivity of natural language expressions and with making a prima facie case for relativism. I start with distinguishing between pre-semantic, semantic and post-semantic contextsensitivity. 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 contextsensitivity 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 contextsensitivity, 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)
It’s intuitively plausible to suppose that there are many things that we can be rationally certain of, at least in many contexts. The present paper argues that, given this principle of Abundancy, there is a Preface Paradox for credence. Section 1 gives a statement of the paradox, discusses its relation to its familiar counterpart for belief, and points out the congeniality between Abundancy and broadly contextualist trends in epistemology. This leads to the question whether considerations of context-sensitivity might (...) lend themselves to solving the Preface for credence. Sections 2 and 3 scrutinize two approaches in this spirit—one mimicking Hawthorne’s Semantic Contextualist approach to an epistemic version of the Preface, the other one analogous to Clarke’s Sensitivist approach to the doxastic version—arguing that neither approach succeeds as it stands. (shrink)
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