We advocate and develop a states-based semantics for both nominal and adjectival confidence reports, as in "Ann is confident/has confidence that it's raining", and their comparatives "Ann is more confident/has more confidence that it's raining than that it's snowing". Other examples of adjectives that can report confidence include "sure" and "certain". Our account adapts Wellwood's account of adjectival comparatives in which the adjectives denote properties of states, and measure functions are introduced compositionally. We further explore the prospects of applying these (...) tools to the semantics of probability operators. We emphasize three desirable and novel features of our semantics: (i) probability claims only exploit qualitative resources unless there is explicit compositional pressure for quantitative resources; (ii) the semantics applies to both probabilistic adjectives (e.g., "likely") and probabilistic nouns (e.g., "probability"); (iii) the semantics can be combined with an account of belief reports that allows thinkers to have incoherent probabilistic beliefs (e.g. thinking that A & B is more likely than A) even while validating the relevant purely probabilistic claims (e.g. validating the claim that A & B is never more likely than A). Finally, we explore the interaction between confidence-reporting discourse (e.g., "I am confident that...") and belief-reports about probabilistic discourse (e.g.,"I think it's likely that.."). (shrink)
According to influential arguments from several branches of philosophy, there exist some gradable natural language expressions that violate the following principle: if x and y are both F to some degree, then either x is at least as F as y or y is at least as F as x. Dorr, Nebel and Zuehl (2022) (DNZ), who refer to this principle as ‘Comparability’, respond to these arguments and offer a systematic case in support of Comparability. In this paper, I respond (...) to DNZ and develop an opposing case against Comparability that (i) buttresses previous criticisms of the principle, (ii) identifies two new arguments against the principle, and (iii) rebuts DNZ’s prospective arguments in favour of the principle. (shrink)
A long-standing tension in semantic theory concerns the reconciliation of positive gradable adjective (GA) ascriptions and comparative GA ascriptions. Vagueness-based ap- proaches derive the comparative from the positive, and face non-trivial challenges with incommensurability and non-GA comparatives. Classic degree-based approaches effectively derive the positive from the comparative, out of sync with the direction of evidence from morphology, and create some difficulties in accounting for GA scale-mates with differing thresholds (e.g., cold ∼ warm ∼ hot). We propose a new reconciliation that (...) capitalizes on recent proposals analyzing GAs as predicates of states. On our account, GAs lexically involve both a threshold property and a background state structure. Positive occurrences of GAs make use of the threshold property, while comparative occurrences make use of degrees representing elements of the background structure. Our approach preserves the virtues of classic degree-based approaches while offering a natural account of scale-mates, and without appeal to covert morphemes like POS or related devices. As we show, it is possible to inject our solution back into the classic degree-based approach, but we find reasons to prefer our states-based account. (shrink)
This paper examines an hypothesis put forward by Pettit and Knobe 2009 to account for the Knobe effect. According to Pettit and Knobe, one should look at the semantics of the adjective “intentional” on a par with that of other gradable adjectives such as “warm”, “rich” or “expensive”. What Pettit and Knobe’s analogy suggests is that the Knobe effect might be an instance of a much broader phenomenon which concerns the context-dependence of normative standards relevant for the application of gradable (...) expressions. I adduce further evidence in favor of this view and go on to examine the predictions one obtains when assuming that “intentional” involves a two-dimensional scale, which implies evaluating how much an action or outcome is desired on the one hand, and how much it can be foreseen as a consequence of one’s actions on the other. (shrink)
Is anything good simpliciter? And can things count as ‘good’ independent of the context in which ‘good’ is used? Traditionally, a number of meta-ethicists have given positive answers. But more recently, some philosophers have used observations based on natural language to argue that things can only count as ‘good’ relative to ends and contextual thresholds. I will use work from contemporary linguistics to argue that ‘good’ is ambiguous, and that it has a moral disambiguation that attributes a fixed degree of (...) goodness. This implies that things can count as ‘good’ simpliciter, independent of context. Not only does this result provide support for the traditional view, but it also vindicates some aspects of the more recent view. (shrink)
The project of this paper is to deliver a semantics for a broad subset of bare plural generics about racial kinds, a class which I will dub 'Type C generics.' Examples include 'Blacks are criminal' and 'Muslims are terrorists.' Type C generics have two interesting features. First, they link racial kinds with socially perspectival predicates (SPPs). SPPs lead interpreters to treat the relationship between kinds and predicates in generic constructions as nomic or non-accidental. Moreover, in computing their content, (...) interpreters must make implicit reference to socially privileged perspectives which are treated as authoritative about whether a given object fits into the extension of the predicate. Such deference grants these authorities influence over both the conventional meaning of these terms and over the nature of the objects in the social ontology that these terms purport to describe, much the way a baseball umpire is authoritative over the meaning and metaphysics of 'strike'/ strike . Second, terms like 'criminal' and 'terrorist' receive default racialized interpretations in which these terms conventionally token racial or ethnic identities. I show that neither of these features can be explained by Sarah-Jane Leslie's influential 'weak semantics' for generics, and show how my own 'socially perspectival semantics' fares better on both counts. Finally, I give an analysis of 'Blacks are criminal' which explores the semantic mechanisms that underlie default racialized interpretations. (shrink)
The gradation of know-how is a prominent challenge to intellectualism. Know-how is prima facie gradable, whereas know-that is not, so the former is unlikely to be a species of the latter. Recently, Pavese refuted this challenge by explaining the gradation of know-how as concerning either the quantity or the quality of practical answers one knows to a question. Know-how per se remains absolute. This paper argues, however, that in addition to the quantity and quality of practical answers, know-how also differs (...) in how reliably the agent is supposed to fulfil the task given her default constitution. Intellectualism is still troubled by the gradability challenge. (shrink)
We argue that all comparative expressions in natural language obey a principle that we call Comparability: if x and y are at least as F as themselves, then either x is at least as F as y or y is at least as F as x. This principle has been widely rejected among philosophers, especially by ethicists, and its falsity has been claimed to have important normative implications. We argue that Comparability is needed to explain the goodness of several patterns (...) of inference that seem manifestly valid, that the purported failures of Comparability would have absurd consequences, and that the influential arguments against Comparability are less compelling than they may have initially seemed. (shrink)
Is a human more conscious than an octopus? In the science of consciousness, it’s oftentimes assumed that some creatures (or mental states) are more conscious than others. But in recent years, a number of philosophers have argued that the notion of degrees of consciousness is conceptually confused. This paper (1) argues that the most prominent objections to degrees of consciousness are unsustainable, (2) examines the semantics of ‘more conscious than’ expressions, (3) develops an analysis of what it is for a (...) degreed property to count as degrees of consciousness, and (4) applies the analysis to various theories of consciousness. I argue that whether consciousness comes in degrees ultimately depends on which theory of consciousness turns out to be correct. But I also argue that most theories of consciousness entail that consciousness comes in degrees. (shrink)
Critics across the political spectrum have worried that ordinary uses of words like 'racist', 'sexist', and 'homophobic' are becoming conceptually inflated, meaning that these expressions are getting used so widely that they lose their nuance and, thereby, their moral force. However, the charge of conceptual inflation, as well as responses to it, are standardly made without any systematic investigation of how 'racist' and other expressions condemning oppression are actually used in ordinary language. Once we examine large linguistic corpora to see (...) how these expressions are actually used, we find that English speakers have a rich linguistic repertoire for qualifying the degree to which and dimensions along which something is racist, sexist, homophobic, and so on. These facts about ordinary usage undermine the charge of conceptual inflation. Without awareness of facts about ordinary usage, theorists risk making linguistic prescriptions that are unnecessary or counterproductive. (shrink)
The word ‘true’ shows some evidence of gradability. For instance, there are cases where truth-bearers are described as ‘slightly true’, ‘completely true’ or ‘very true’. Expressions that accept these types of modifiers are analysed in terms of properties that can be possessed to a greater or lesser degree. If ‘true’ is genuinely gradable, then it would follow that there are degrees of truth. It might also follow that ‘true’ is context-sensitive, like other gradable expressions. Such conclusions are difficult to reconcile (...) with most existing theories: deflationists and inflationists alike tend to reject the thesis that one true truth-bearer can have more or less truth than another. Based on work in natural language, I argue that ‘true’ is not a genuinely gradable expression. I also provide an explanation of the apparent evidence for gradability. Hence there is no reason to think that there is a truth property that comes in degrees. (shrink)
In the literature on vagueness one finds two very different kinds of degree theory. The dominant kind of account of gradable adjectives in formal semantics and linguistics is built on an underlying framework involving bivalence and classical logic: its degrees are not degrees of truth. On the other hand, fuzzy logic based theories of vagueness—largely absent from the formal semantics literature but playing a significant role in both the philosophical literature on vagueness and in the contemporary logic literature—are logically nonclassical (...) and give a central role to the idea of degrees of truth. Each kind of degree theory has a strength: the classical kind allows for rich and subtle analyses of the comparative form of gradable adjectives and of various types of gradable precise adjectives, while the fuzzy kind yields a compelling solution to the sorites paradox. This paper argues that the fuzzy kind of theory can match the benefits of the classical kind and hence that the burden is on the latter to match the advantages of the former. In particular, we develop a new version of the fuzzy logic approach that—unlike existing fuzzy theories—yields a compelling analysis of the comparative as well as an adequate account of gradable precise predicates, while still retaining the advantage of genuinely solving the sorites paradox. (shrink)
The interpretation of `much/many' has been argued to be regulated by Uniform Dimensionality (Hackl 2000; Solt 2009): `much' is underspecified but `many' encodes cardinality. However, given some data where `many' denotes ‘volume’, Snyder (2021) proposes the need for Multiform Dimensionality: both `much' and `many' are underspecifed. After reviewing the English data, and in light of novel cross-linguistic data, we argue that neither generalization is fully accurate. Instead, following Wellwood (2015, 2018), we argue for an alternative, Abstract Uniform Dimensionality, which we (...) propose to be universal: MUCH always measures cardinality when it scopes over semantically interpretable plural. We derive the universal by proposing that MUCH can occupy different positions in the NP, only one of which has semantic plural in its scope. Variation is thus not semantic, but morpho-syntactic. (shrink)
In theoretical work about the language of personal taste, the canonical example is the simple predicate of personal taste, 'tasty'. We can also express the same positive gustatory evaluation with the complex expression, 'taste good'. But there is a challenge for an analysis of 'taste good': While it can be used equivalently with 'tasty', it need not be (for instance, imagine it used by someone who can identify good wines by taste but doesn't enjoy them). This kind of two-faced behavior (...) systematically arises with complex sensory-evaluative predicates, including those with other appearance verbs, such as 'look splendid' and 'sound nice'. I examine two strategies for capturing these different uses: one that posits an ambiguity in appearance verbs, and one that does not. The former is in line with an approach to 'look'-statements prominent in work in philosophy of perception, and I consider how the motivation given in that tradition carries over to the present context. I then show how the data used to support the verbal ambiguity approach can equally be captured on the second strategy, which appeals only to independently-motivated flexibility in adjective meaning. I close by discussing some considerations that are relevant for choosing between the two options. (shrink)
This paper investigates the semantics of implicit comparatives (Alice is tall compared to Bob) and its connections to the semantics of explicit comparatives (Alice is taller than Bob) and sentences with adjectives in plain positive form (Alice is tall). We consider evidence from two experiments that tested judgments about these three kinds of sentence, and provide a semantics for implicit comparatives from the perspective of degree semantics.
We defend three controversial claims about preference, credence, and choice. First, all agents (not just rational ones) have complete preferences. Second, all agents (again, not just rational ones) have real-valued credences in every proposition in which they are confident to any degree. Third, there is almost always some unique thing we ought to do, want, or believe.
It is epistemological orthodoxy that the object of propositional knowledge is the truth of propositions. This traditional view is based on what I call the ‘KT-schema’, viz, ‘S knows that p, iff, S knows that “p” is true’. The purpose of this paper is to reject the KT-schema. By showing the paradoxical upshot of the KT-schema and providing counterexamples to the KT-schema, this paper argues that ‘knowing that p’ is more than ‘knowing that “p” is true’. Consequently, we shall rethink (...) the object problem of propositional knowledge – if knowing that p is not merely knowing that ‘p’ is true, then what is indeed the object of propositional knowledge? I will also attempt to solve this problem by proposing a complementary answer: knowing that p requires at least knowing the truth of p, plus, understanding the content of p. (shrink)
This paper demarcates a theoretically interesting class of "evaluational adjectives." This class includes predicates expressing various kinds of normative and epistemic evaluation, such as predicates of personal taste, aesthetic adjectives, moral adjectives, and epistemic adjectives, among others. Evaluational adjectives are distinguished, empirically, in exhibiting phenomena such as discourse-oriented use, felicitous embedding under the attitude verb `find', and sorites-susceptibility in the comparative form. A unified degree-based semantics is developed: What distinguishes evaluational adjectives, semantically, is that they denote context-dependent measure functions ("evaluational (...) perspectives")—context-dependent mappings to degrees of taste, beauty, probability, etc., depending on the adjective. This perspective-sensitivity characterizing the class of evaluational adjectives cannot be assimilated to vagueness, sensitivity to an experiencer argument, or multidimensionality; and it cannot be demarcated in terms of pretheoretic notions of subjectivity, common in the literature. I propose that certain diagnostics for "subjective" expressions be analyzed instead in terms of a precisely specified kind of discourse-oriented use of context-sensitive language. I close by applying the account to `find x PRED' ascriptions. (shrink)
ABSTRACT Contemporary relativists often see their view as contributing to a semantic/post-semantic account of linguistic data about disagreement and retraction. I offer an independently motivated metasemantic account of the same data, that also handles a number of cases and empirical results that are problematic for the relativist. The key idea is that the content of assertions and beliefs is determined in part by facts about other times, including times after the assertion is made or the belief is formed. On this (...) temporal externalist view, speaker behaviours such as retraction of previous assertions play a role in making it the case that a past utterance has a given meaning. (shrink)
A type of argument occasionally made in metaethics, epistemology and philosophy of science notes that most ordinary uses of some expression fail to satisfy the strictest interpretation of the expression, and concludes that the ordinary assertions are false. This requires there to be a presumption in favour of a strict interpretation of expressions that admit of interpretations at different levels of strictness. We argue that this presumption is unmotivated, and thus the arguments fail.
The method of supergrading is introduced for deriving a ranking of items from scores or grades awarded by several people. Individual inputs may come in different languages of grades. Diversity in grading standards is an advantage, enabling rankings derived by this method to separate more items from one another. A framework is introduced for studying grading on the basis of observations. Measures of accuracy, reliability and discrimination are developed within this framework. Ability in grading is characterized for individuals and groups (...) as the capacity to grade reliably, accurately and at a high level of discrimination. It is shown that the collective ability of a supergrading group with diverse standards can be greater than that of a less diverse group whose members have greater ability. (shrink)
Contemporary research in compositional, truth-conditional semantics often takes judgments of the relative unacceptability of certain phrasal combinations as evidence for lexical semantics. For example, observing that completely full sounds perfectly natural whereas completely tall does not has been used to motivate a distinction whereby the lexical entry for full but not for tall specifies a scalar endpoint. So far, such inferences seem unobjectionable. In general, however, applying this methodology can lead to dubious conclusions. For example, observing that slightly bent is (...) natural but slightly cheap is not (that is, not without a “too cheap” interpretation) leads researchers to suggest that the interpretation of bent involves a scalar minimum but cheap does not, contra intuition—after all, one would think that what is minimally cheap is (just) free. Such claims, found in sufficient abundance, raise the question of how we can support semantic theories that posit properties of entities that those entities appear to lack. This paper argues, using theories of adjectival scale structure as a test case, that the (un)acceptability data recruited in semantic explanations reveals properties of a two-stage system of semantic interpretation that can support divergences between our semantic and metaphysical intuitions. (shrink)
Divers (2014) argues that a Lewisian theory of modality which includes both counterpart theory and modal realism cannot account for the truth of certain intuitively true modal sentences involving cross-world comparatives. The main purpose of this paper is to defend the Lewisian theory against Divers’s challenge by developing a response strategy based on a degree-theoretic treatment of comparatives and by showing that this treatment is compatible with the theory.
People’s beliefs about normality play an important role in many aspects of cognition and life (e.g., causal cognition, linguistic semantics, cooperative behavior). But how do people determine what sorts of things are normal in the first place? Past research has studied both people’s representations of statistical norms (e.g., the average) and their representations of prescriptive norms (e.g., the ideal). Four studies suggest that people’s notion of normality incorporates both of these types of norms. In particular, people’s representations of what is (...) normal were found to be influenced both by what they believed to be descriptively average and by what they believed to be prescriptively ideal. This is shown across three domains: people’s use of the word ‘‘normal” (Study 1), their use of gradable adjectives (Study 2), and their judgments of concept prototypicality (Study 3). A final study investigated the learning of normality for a novel category, showing that people actively combine statistical and prescriptive information they have learned into an undifferentiated notion of what is normal (Study 4). Taken together, these findings may help to explain how moral norms impact the acquisition of normality and, conversely, how normality impacts the acquisition of moral norms. (shrink)
In this position paper we present a logical framework for modelling reasoning with graded predicates. We distinguish several types of graded predicates and discuss their ubiquity in rational interaction and the logical challenges they pose. We present mathematical fuzzy logic as a set of logical tools that can be used to model reasoning with graded predicates, and discuss a philosophical account of vagueness that makes use of these tools. This approach is then generalized to other kinds of graded predicates. Finally, (...) we propose a general research program towards a logic-based account of reasoning with graded predicates. (shrink)
Nat Hansen builds a new argument for subjectivism about the semantics of color language, based on a potential kind of intersubjective disagreements about comparative color statements. In reply, I note that the disagreements of this kind are merely hypothetical, probably few if actual, and not evidently relevant as test cases for a semantic theory. Furthermore, even if they turned out to be actual and semantically relevant, they would be intuitively unusable by the subjectivist.
An important challenge to color objectivists, who hold that statements concerning color are made true or false by objective facts, is the argument from interpersonal variation in where normal observers locate the unique hues. Recently, an attractive objectivist response to the argument has been proposed that draws on the semantics of gradable adjectives and which does not require defending the idea that there is a single correct location for each of the unique hues Noûs 50: 3–40),. In ), I argued (...) that the recent objectivist response doesn’t apply to comparative occurrences of color adjectives, so a revised, comparative, version of the argument from interpersonal variation remains a powerful objection to certain types of objectivism. In this paper, I address several unsatisfactory objectivist replies to the comparative version of the argument from interpersonal variation, and offer what I think is a more plausible objectivist reply to the comparative argument from interpersonal variation. (shrink)
I describe a new, comparative, version of the argument from interpersonal variation to subjectivism about color. The comparative version undermines a recent objectivist response to standard versions of that argument (Gómez-Torrente 2014).
Are color adjectives ("red", "green", etc.) relative adjectives or absolute adjectives? Existing theories of the meaning of color adjectives attempt to answer that question using informal ("armchair") judgments. The informal judgments of theorists conflict: it has been proposed that color adjectives are absolute with standards anchored at the minimum degree on the scale, that they are absolute but have near-midpoint standards, and that they are relative. In this paper we report two experiments, one based on entailment patterns and one based (...) on presupposition accommodation, that investigate the meaning of scalar adjectives. We find evidence confirming the existence of subgroups of the population who operate with different standards for color adjectives. The evidence of interpersonal variation in where standards are located on the relevant scale and how those standards can be adjusted indicates that the existing theories of the meaning of color adjectives are at best only partially correct. We also find evidence that paradigmatic relative adjectives ("tall", "wide") behave in ways that are not predicted by the standard theory of scalar adjectives. We discuss several different possible explanations for this unexpected behavior. We conclude by discussing the relevance of our findings for philosophical debates about the nature and extent of semantically encoded context sensitivity in which color adjectives have played a key role. (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)
This paper argues that disabled people can be healthy. I argue, first, following the well-known ‘social model of disability’, that we should prefer a usage of ‘disabled’ which does not imply any kind of impairment that is essentially inconsistent with health. This is because one can be disabled only because limited by false social perception of impairment and one can be, if impaired, disabled not because of the impairment but rather only because of the social response to it. Second, I (...) argue that it is often wrong to use the term ‘healthy’ in a way that makes health inconsistent with any degree whatsoever of health-relevant bodily dysfunction. Whether someone is ‘healthy’ properly-so-called depends on standards of health presupposed in conversational context. Sometimes, I argue, these standards are or ought to be lax enough to allow some people with some health deficits still to count as ‘healthy’ per se. Taking inspiration from David Lewis and Mary Kate Mcgowan, I go on to argue that denying that someone is ‘healthy’ in a context typically succeeds in shifting going presuppositions to require standards strict enough to make that denial acceptable. And this, I conclude by arguing, often constitutes an abuse of conversational power. (shrink)
The goal of this short paper is to show that esthetic adjectives—exemplified by “beautiful” and “elegant”—do not pattern stably on a range of linguistic diagnostics that have been used to taxonomize the gradability properties of adjectives. We argue that a plausible explanation for this puzzling data involves distinguishing two properties of gradable adjectives that have been frequently conflated: whether an adjective’s applicability is sensitive to a comparison class, and whether an adjective’s applicability is context-dependent.
This book investigates context-sensitivity in natural language by examining the meaning and use of a target class of theoretically recalcitrant expressions. These expressions-including epistemic vocabulary, normative and evaluative vocabulary, and vague language -exhibit systematic differences from paradigm context-sensitive expressions in their discourse dynamics and embedding properties. Many researchers have responded by rethinking the nature of linguistic meaning and communication. Drawing on general insights about the role of context in interpretation and collaborative action, Silk develops an improved contextualist theory of CR-expressions (...) within the classical truth-conditional paradigm: Discourse Contextualism. The aim of Discourse Contextualism is to derive the distinctive linguistic behavior of a CR-expression from a particular contextualist interpretation of an independently motivated formal semantics, along with general principles of interpretation and conversation. It is shown how in using CR-expressions, speakers can exploit their mutual grammatical and world knowledge, and general pragmatic reasoning skills, to coordinate their attitudes and negotiate about how the context should evolve. The book focuses primarily on developing a Discourse Contextualist semantics and pragmatics for epistemic modals. The Discourse Contextualist framework is also applied to other categories of epistemic vocabulary, normative and evaluative vocabulary, and vague adjectives. The similarities/differences among these expressions, and among context-sensitive expressions more generally, have been underexplored. The development of Discourse Contextualism in this book sheds light on general features of meaning and communication, and the variety of ways in which context affects and is affected by uses of language. Discourse Contextualism provides a fruitful framework for theorizing about various broader issues in philosophy, linguistics, and cognitive science. (shrink)
Contextualism and Relativism offer competing semantic accounts of personal taste predicates. I argue in this paper that Michael Glanzberg’s defense of contextualism from one relativist argument-the Lost Disagreement Argument-is not successful. I show that Glanzberg’s scalar analysis of the adjectives from which personal taste predicates are built fails to capture the characteristic subjectivity of these predicates. I propose an alternative analysis according to which each personal taste adjective denotes multiple functions from a set of objects to an ordered scale of (...) measurement of the appropriate dimensional property. This analysis succeeds where Glanzberg’s fails and it favors a relativist treatment of personal taste predicates. (shrink)
The article investigates the significance of the so-called phenomenon of apparent faultless disagreement for debates about the semantics of taste discourse. Two kinds of description of the phenomenon are proposed. The first ensures that faultless disagreement raises a distinctive philosophical challenge; yet, it is argued that Contextualist, Realist and Relativist semantic theories do not account for this description. The second, by contrast, makes the phenomenon irrelevant for the problem of what the right semantics of taste discourse should be. Lastly, the (...) following dilemma is assessed: either faultless disagreement provides strong evidence against semantic theories; or its significance should be considerably downplayed. (shrink)
Thick terms and concepts in ethics somehow combine evaluation and non-evaluative description. The non-evaluative aspects of thick terms and concepts underdetermine their extensions. Many writers argue that this underdetermination point is best explained by supposing that thick terms and concepts are semantically evaluative in some way such that evaluation plays a role in determining their extensions. This paper argues that the extensions of thick terms and concepts are underdetermined by their meanings in toto, irrespective of whether their extensions are partly (...) determined by evaluation; the underdetermination point can therefore be explained without supposing that thick terms and concepts are semantically evaluative. My argument applies general points about semantic gradability and context-sensitivity to the semantics of thick terms and concepts. (shrink)
Radical contextualists have observed that the content of what is said by the utterance of a sentence is shaped in far-reaching ways by the context of utterance. And they have argued that the ways in which the content of what is said is shaped by context cannot be explained by semantic theory. A striking number of the examples that radical contextualists use to support their view involve sentences containing color adjectives ("red", "green", etc.). In this paper, I show how the (...) most sophisticated analysis of color adjectives within the explanatory framework of compositional truth conditional semantics--recently developed by Kennedy and McNally (2010)--needs to be modified to handle the full range of contextual variation displayed by color adjectives. (shrink)
Moral considerations and our normative expectations influence not only our judgments about intentional action or causation but also our judgments about exact probabilities and quantities. Whereas those cases support the competence theory proposed by Knobe in his paper, they remain compatible with a modular conception of the interaction between moral and nonmoral cognitive faculties in each of those domains.
What semantics should we attribute to mass expressions like "wisdom" and "love", which are derived from gradable expressions? We first examine how these expressions are used, then how they are interpreted in their various uses. We then propose a model to account for these data, in which derived mass nouns denote instances of properties.
This paper explores a novel analysis of adjectives in the comparative and the positive based on the notion of a trope, rather than the notion of a degree. Tropes are particularized properties, concrete manifestations of properties in individuals. The point of departure is that a sentence like ‘John is happier than Mary’ is intuitively equivalent to ‘John’s happiness exceeds Mary’s happiness’, a sentence that expresses a simple comparison between two tropes, John’s happiness and Mary’s happiness. The analysis received particular support (...) from various parallels between adjectival constructions and corresponding adjective nominalizations which make reference to tropes. (shrink)
The aim of this chapter is to understand how sortals determine what aesthetic properties an object has. It is argued that Frank Sibley’s notion of an ideal of beauty does not help us to achieve that aim. Instead, it is argued, the special aesthetic relevance of sortals is better understood by reference to the (non-aesthetic) ideas of normality and functionality associated with sortals. In passing, the paper also argues that there must be a maximum degree of beauty if non-comparative judgments (...) of beauty are possible, as they seem to be. (shrink)
This paper attacks the Implicit Reference Class Theory of gradable adjectives and proposes instead a ?pluralist? approach to the semantics of those terms, according to which they can be governed by a variety of different types of standards, one, but only one, of which is the group-indexed standards utilized by the Implicit Reference Class Theory.
Contextualists about knowledge ascriptions perceive an analogy between the semantics they posit for “know(s)” and the semantics of comparative terms like “tall” and “flat”. Jason Stanley has recently raised a number of objections to this view. This paper offers a response by way of an alternative analogy with modified comparatives, which resolves most of Stanley’s objections. Rather than being ad hoc, this new analogy in fact fits better with platitudes about knowledge and facilitates a better understanding of the semantics of (...) gradability, such that an explanation of most of Stanley’s disanalogies becomes available. In addition, I argue that there are reasons to doubt Stanley’s claim that “knows(s)” cannot switch its content within a discourse, due to what may happen when we ascribe knowledge of more than one proposition. (shrink)
This paper investigates the way that linguistic expressions influence vagueness, focusing on the interpretation of the positive (unmarked) form of gradable adjectives. I begin by developing a semantic analysis of the positive form of ‘relative’ gradable adjectives, expanding on previous proposals by further motivating a semantic basis for vagueness and by precisely identifying and characterizing the division of labor between the compositional and contextual aspects of its interpretation. I then introduce a challenge to the analysis from the class of ‘absolute’ (...) gradable adjectives: adjectives that are demonstrably gradable, but which have positive forms that relate objects to maximal or minimal degrees, and do not give rise to vagueness. I argue that the truth conditional difference between relative and absolute adjectives in the positive form stems from the interaction of lexical semantic properties of gradable adjectives—the structure of the scales they use—and a general constraint on interpretive economy that requires truth conditions to be computed on the basis of conventional meaning to the extent possible, allowing for context dependent truth conditions only as a last resort. (shrink)
Adjectives can be gradable or non-gradable and this aspect of their meaning is responsible for their different distribution and also for their classification into two different classes of antonyms. Non-gradable antonyms are called contradictories: they are neither true nor false together and exclude any middle term; gradable antonyms are called contraries: they are not simultaneously true, but may be simultaneously false. While with contraries a negative disjunction (neque...neque) can define an intermediate level, with contradictories it simply means that either term (...) of the disjunction is excluded. There are however some Latin examples, such as neque vivus neque mortuus (`neither alive nor dead'), where the negation of a contradictory pair is used to convey a third, intermediate value. This third possibility is precisely what gives place to a paradox. Such an intermediate level can be defined also by terms like semivivus, semianimis (`half-dead'). Following Ducrot's theory on argumentation, such terms represent an argumentative attenuation, not with respect to life, rather with respect to death. With contradictories, in fact, the use of semi-, like the use of negation, gives the assertion of the opposite term as a result. (shrink)
What semantics should we attribute to nouns like "wisdom" and "generosity", which are derived from gradable adjectives? We show that, from a morphosyntactic standpoint, these nouns are mass nouns. This leads us to consider and answer the following questions. How are these nouns interpreted in their various uses? What formal representations may one associate with their interpretations? How do these depend on the semantics of the adjective? And where lies the semantic unity of nouns like wisdom and generosity with the (...) more familiar concrete mass nouns, like wine and furniture? (shrink)
I describe a way of handling comparative adjectives "a is P-er than b", in terms of degrees "a has P to degree d". I defend this approach against attacks due to C J F Williams in an article in the same issue of *Analysis*, by tracing his objections to the assumption that degrees must be linearly ordered. Since this abstract is written years later, I can mention that some of the ideas were taken further in my Hypercomparatives. Synthese 111, 1997, (...) 97-114 . (shrink)