In this paper, I take issue with an idea that has emerged from recent relativist proposals, and, in particular, from Lasersohn, according to which the correct semantics for taste predicates must use contents that are functions of a judge 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" 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)
Among semanticists and philosophers of language, there has been a recent outburst of interest in predicates such as delicious, called predicates of personal taste (PPTs, e.g. Lasersohn 2005). Somewhat surprisingly, the question of whether or how we can distinguish aesthetic predicates from PPTs has hardly been addressed at all in this recent work. It is precisely this question that we address. We investigate linguistic criteria that we argue can be used to delineate the class of specifically aesthetic adjectives. We show (...) that there are, in fact, good motivations for keeping PPTs and aesthetic predicates apart: the semantic structure of the former, but not the latter, entails an experiencer. There are many adjectives whose semantic structure arguably also entails an experiencer, yet which are readily used in expressing aesthetic judgments. Adjectives such as provocative or moving are a case in point, since as adjectives they arguably maintain the experiencer argument from the verb they are derived from. Nevertheless, when we describe, say, a sculpture as provocative, or a theater performance as moving, we clearly make aesthetic judgments. The difficult question, then, is to articulate the relationship between an aesthetic predicate (of which beautiful and ugly are paradigms) and other predicates that just happen to be used in making an aesthetic judgment. Tightly related to this point is the more general question of the relationship between an evaluative predicate and a predicate that occurs in an evaluative judgment. One of our aims is to make some progress in addressing these questions. (shrink)
In this paper, the authors present a presuppositional account for a class of evaluative terms that encode both a descriptive and an evaluative component: slurs and thick terms. The authors discuss several issues related to the hybrid nature of these terms, such as their projective behavior, the ways in which one may reject their evaluative content, and the ways in which evaluative content is entailed or implicated (as the case may be) by the use of such terms.
The aim of this paper is to argue against a growing tendency to assimilate moral disagreements to disagreements about matters of personal taste. The argumentative strategy adopted in the paper appeals to a battery of linguistic criteria that reveal interesting and important differences between predicates of personal taste and moral predicates. The paper further argues that these semantically tractable differences have an impact on the nature of the corresponding disagreements.
Aesthetic judgments are often expressed by means of predicates that, unlike ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’, are not primarily aesthetic, or even evaluative, such as ‘intense’ and ‘harrowing’. This paper aims to explain how such adjectives can convey a value-judgment, and one, moreover, whose positive or negative valence depends on the context.
This paper argues that there is a class of terms, or uses of terms, that are best accounted for by an expressivist account. We put forward two sets of criteria to distinguish between expressive and factual terms. The first set relies on the action-guiding nature of expressive language. The second set relies on the difference between one's evidence for making an expressive vs. factual statement. We then put those criteria to work to show, first, that the basic evaluative adjectives such (...) as ‘good’ have expressive as well as factual uses and, second, that many adjectives whose primary meanings are factual, such as ‘powerful’, also have expressive uses. (shrink)
It has been long known (Perry in Philos Rev 86: 474–497, 1977 ; Noûs 13: 3–21, 1979 , Lewis in Philos Rev 88: 513–543 1981 ) that de se attitudes, such as beliefs and desires that one has about oneself , call for a special treatment in theories of attitudinal content. The aim of this paper is to raise similar concerns for theories of asserted content. The received view, inherited from Kaplan ( 1989 ), has it that if Alma says (...) “I am hungry,” the asserted content, or what is said , is the proposition that Alma is hungry (at a given time). I argue that the received view has difficulties handling de se assertion, i.e., contents that one expresses using the first person pronoun, to assert something about oneself. I start from the observation that when two speakers say “I am hungry,” one may truly report them as having said the same thing. It has often been held that the possibility of such reports comes from the fact that the two speakers are, after all, uttering the same words, and are in this sense “saying the same thing”. I argue that this approach fails, and that it is neither necessary nor sufficient to use the same words, or words endowed with the same meaning, in order to be truly reported as same-saying. I also argue that reports of same-saying in the case of de se assertion differ significantly from such reports in the case of two speakers merely implicating the same thing. (shrink)
In this paper, I take issue with the proposal put forward by Mark Richard in When Truth Gives Out concerning disputes over issues such as who is rich, what is cool, and other issues of similar ilk. Richard holds that the parties in the dispute can truly disagree on whether a given person is rich, but can be both right, if we assume that they have different standards of wealth. Disputes over what is cool are, according to Richard, trickier, since (...) they can give rise to cases of faultless disagreement in which the two parties disagree, and neither party is wrong, but neither party is right either! My fi rst goal in this paper will be to showthat the distinction between the two types of disagreement, as drawn by Richard, is not well motivated. I will also argue that if he were right about the stronger case, his own account would fail to capture it. He can capture either the idea that they truly disagree, or the idea that they are both right; but he cannot both have his cake and eat it, too.My second goal will be to bring to the foreground some constructive aspects of Richard’s proposal, and in particular the idea that such disagreements involve concepts whose application is not fully determined and whose usage is open to accommodation and negotiation. If we accept that on some occasions, whether a concept applies to a given instance or doesn’t is not yet settled, then arguably there are cases in which neither party is wrong—at least at the time of the dispute. I argue that their disagreement can be genuine only to the extent that it will eventually be settled whether the concept isto apply to a given instance or not, hence the way in which the concept gets shaped up and extended through its future uses makes it possible to determine, retrospectively, which of the two parties got it right. If this is correct, then the putative cases of faultless disagreement really turn upon the openness of the future: what makes them “faultless” is, simply, that there isn’t any matter of fact yet whether the one or the other party is right. (shrink)
In recent years, a number of new trends have seen light at the intersection of semantics and philosophy of language. They are meant to address puzzles raised by the context-sensitivity of a variety of natural language constructions, such as knowledge ascriptions, belief reports, epistemic modals, indicative conditionals, quantifier phrases, gradable adjectives, temporal constructions, vague predicates, moral predicates, predicates of personal taste. A diversity of labels have consequently emerged, such as 'contextualism', 'indexicalism', 'invariantism', 'literalism', 'minimalism', and 'relativism', variously qualified. The goal (...) of this essay is to pinpoint the issues that lie at the heart of the recent debates, clarify what is at stake, and provide a snapshot of the current theoretical landscape. (shrink)
We present two experimental studies on the Italian expressive ‘stronzo’. The first study tests whether, and to which extent, the acceptability of using an expressive is sensitive to the information available in the context. The study looks both at referential uses of expressives and predicative uses of expressives. The results show that expressives are sensitive to contextual information to a much higher degree than the non-expressive control items in their referential use, but also, albeit to a lesser degree, in their (...) predicative use. The second study tests whether the lower acceptability of expressives in their predicative use may be simply due to saying something negative about someone. A comparison between expressives, such as ‘jerk’, and non-expressive negative terms, such as ‘nasty’ or ‘unbearable’, suggests that it is the expressive nature of these terms, rather than the mere negative valence, that affects acceptability. Our studies present a major challenge to the existing accounts of expressives, and raise several theoretical issues that still call for an answer. (shrink)
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)
This paper is driven by the idea that the contextualism-relativism debate regarding the semantics of value-attributions turns upon certain extra-semantic assumptions that are unwarranted. One is the assumption that the many-place predicate of truth, deployed by compositional semantics, cannot be directly appealed to in theorizing about people's assessments of truth value, but must be supplemented (if not replaced) by a different truth-predicate, obtained through certain "postsemantic" principles. Another is the assumption that semantics assigns to sentences not only truth values (as (...) a function of various parameters, such as contexts, worlds and times), but also semantic contents, and that what context-sensitive expressions contribute to content are certain contextually determined elements. My first aim in this paper will be to show how the two assumptions have shaped two ways of understanding the debate between contextualism and relativism, as regards value-attributions. My second aim will be to show that both assumptions belong outside semantics, and are moreover questionable. (shrink)
The received view about indexicals holds that they are directly referential expressions, and that the semantic contribution of an indexical consists of that thing or individual to which the indexical refers in the context of its utterance. The aim of this paper is to put forward a different picture. I argue that direct reference and indexicality are distinct and separate phenomena, even if they cooccur often. Still, it is the speaker who directly refers to the things that she is talking (...) about, and those things matter for the truth of her utterance. Indexicals, on the other hand, merely help the interpreter identify the speaker's intended reference. Typically, indexicals encode descriptive conditions that the context must meet to make the utterance true. For example, the demonstrative 'this' encodes the condition that the subject matter, ie that about which one is talking, should be salient and proximal to the speaker. The semantic contribution of an indexical, I suggest, consists precisely of such descriptive conditions. I will offer a formal account, dubbed contextual update semantics, and show how it captures the main conceptual motivation and how it handles embedded indexicals, which may seem problematic at a first glance. (shrink)
One of the most important and, at the same time, most controversial issues in metasemantics is the question of what semantics is, and what distinguishes semantic elements (features, properties, phenomena, mechanisms, processes, or whatever) from the rest. The issue is tightly linked with the debate over the semantics-pragmatics distinction, which has been vibrant for a decade or two, but seems to be reaching an impasse. I suggest that this impasse may be due to the failure to recognize a distinct realm (...) that should not be subsumed either under semantics or pragmatics, but may be labeled "prepragmatics". My ultimate goal is to put forward and defend a novel picture of our language architecture, according to which: semantic content is strictly poorer than the lexically encoded content (and therefore does not involve any contextually determined material - not even the reference of demonstratives); pragmatic mechanisms require being able to reason about one's beliefs and intentions and do not affect truth-conditions or truth-value; and, finally, there is a distinct prepragmatic level, which takes into account various kinds of contextual information and makes it possible to evaluate a sentence (as used on a particular occasion) for a truth value. I shall take as a case study, one of the "stumbling stones" in the semantics-pragmatics literature: the case of demonstrative reference. The upshot will be to show that if there is indeed room for a family of linguistic phenomena that are neither semantic nor yet fully pragmatic, the resolution of demonstrative reference is a candidate par excellence to belong there. (shrink)
Philosophers of language distinguish among the lexical or linguistic meaning of the sentence uttered, what is said by an utterance of the sentence, and speaker's meaning, or what is conveyed by the speaker to her audience. In most views, what is said is the semantic or truth-conditional content of the utterance, and is irreducible either to the linguistic meaning or to the speaker's meaning. I will show that those views account badly for people's intuitions on what is said. I will (...) also argue that no distinguished level of what is said is required, and that the notion of linguistic meaning is the best placed to play the role of what is said. This relies on two points. First, our intuitions on what is said cannot be detached from the ways in which we talk about what is said, and from the semantics of speech reports and indirect discourse in general. Second, besides what is said, there is an equally important notion of what what-is-said is said about, or that about which the speaker is talking. These are, then, the three main ingredients needed for the theory of what is said: linguistic meaning, what is talked about, and a semantic account of reported speech. (shrink)
Our paper discusses Recanati’s application of the mental files apparatus to reports of beliefs and other attitudes. While mental files appear early on in Recanati’s work on belief-reports, his latest book introduces the concept of indexed files (a.k.a. vicarious files) and puts it to work to explain how we can report other people’s attitudes and to account for opacity phenomena. Our goal is twofold: we show that the approach in Recanati’s Mental Files (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) departs significantly from (...) his earlier proposals as well as from the very spirit of truth-conditional pragmatics; and we argue that the indexed files approach, qua an attempt to provide a semantics for belief-reports, is untenable. -/- . (shrink)
Philosophers used to model belief as a relation between agents and propositions, which bear truth values depending on, and only on, the way the world is, until John Perry and David Lewis came up with cases of essentially indexical belief; that is, belief whose expression involves some indexical word, whose reference varies with the context. I shall argue that the problem of the essential indexical at best shows that belief should be tied somehow to what is subsequently acted upon, and (...) must make room for other relations than those properly predicated. But it does not show that belief cannot be modeled as a binary relation between an agent and some suitable object, nor that this object cannot be a proposition. (shrink)
The goal of this paper is to propose an account of the notion of semantic content. I will try to show that my account has some advantages over the existing accounts, and that, at the same time, it captures the most valuable insights behind both parties involved in the contextualism-minimalism debate. The proposed account of semantic content differs from the more traditional ones in that it puts more burden on the parameters of the point of evaluation, leaving very little in (...) the content itself. In particular, even in the case of indexical and demonstrative pronouns, the semantic content is, I suggest, stable across contexts, and does not include the reference of the pronoun. In a nutshell, the semantic content associated with (an utterance of) a sentence that contains one or more pronouns is a function that asks not only for a world and a time of evaluation, but also one or more individuals, before it can return a truth value. (shrink)
Aims and Scope -/- This volume brings together original papers by linguists and philosophers on the role of context and perspective in language and thought. Several contributions are concerned with the contextualism/relativism debate, which has loomed large in recent philosophical discussions. In a substantial introduction, the editors survey the field and map out the relevant issues and positions.
In this paper, I argue against the view there are contingent a priori truths, and against the related view that there are contingent logical truths. I will suggest that in general, predicates ›a priori‹ and ›contingent‹ are implicitly relativized to circumstances, and argue that apriority entails necessity, whenever the two are relativized to the same circumstance. I will then criticize the idea, inspired by David Kaplan's framework, of contingent contents "knowable under a priori characters." I will also argue, against Kaplan, (...) that sentences of the form »The actual F is F« do not deserve the status of logical truths, since what they express is neither necessary nor a priori. (shrink)
It has been long known (Perry (1977, 1979), Lewis (1981)) that de se attitudes, such as beliefs and desires that one has about oneself, call for a special treatment in theories of attitudinal content. The aim of this paper is to raise similar concerns for theories of asserted content. The received view, inherited from Kaplan (1989), has it that if Alma says "I am hungry," the asserted content, or what is said, is the proposition that Alma is hungry (at a (...) given time). I argue that the received view has difficulties handing de se assertion, i.e. contents that one expresses using the first person pronoun, to assert something about oneself. I start from the observation that when two speakers say "I am hungry," one may truly report them as having said the same thing. It has often been held that the possibility of such reports comes from the fact that the two speakers are, after all, uttering the same words, and are in this sense "saying the same thing". I argue that this approach fails, and that it is neither necessary nor sufficient to use the same words, or words endowed with the same meaning, in order to be truly reported as same-saying. I also argue that reports of same-saying in the case of de se assertion differ significantly from such reports in the case of two speakers merely implicating the same thing. Finally, I outline a new account of the content of assertion, similar to Lewis's account of de se attitudes. The proposal is, roughly, when Alma says "I am hungry", the asserted content just the property of being hungry, and it is a property that Alma asserts of herself. I then propose to generalize the account to the other cases in a way that departs from Lewis's account, and I close by showing how my proposal handles the cases discussed in the first part of the paper. (shrink)
Since Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity, the view that there are contingent apriori truths has been surprisingly widespread. In this paper, I argue against that view. My first point is that in general, occurrences of predicates “a priori” and “contingent” are implicitly relativized to some circumstance, involving an agent, a time, a location. My second point is that apriority and necessity coineide when relativized to the same circumstance. That is to say, what is known apriori (by an agent in a (...) circumstance) cannot fail to be the case (in the same circumstance), hence it is necessary. (shrink)
One of the most promising aspects of Perry 's Reflexive-Referential Theory is its capacity to generate a variety of contents that may be associated with a single utterance, contents that may be used for various explanatory purposes. My concern in this paper is that, as it stands, RRT generates too many contents. The problem is not just that most of those contents will be explanatorily idle, but rather, that nothing in the actual RRT explains why those contents cannot play the (...) roles that their minimally different “neighbors” can play. In Section 1, I discuss two kinds of example that motivate RRT and its multiplicity of contents; the first comes close enough to some of Perry's own examples, but the second is original, and may be therefore viewed as an application of RRT to a problem that has not been discussed by Perry himself. In Section 2, I will show how these examples give rise, in turn, to problems of overgeneration. In other words, just as RRT is able to derive contents that may be used to account for the cases that need explanation, it ought to be able to derive analogous contents that, in turn, give counterintuitive, if not outright wrong predictions. In Section 3, I will tentatively outline a line of response that Perry could take. The overall direction of the paper is thus optimistic, since the problems raised may be viewed as pointing to ways of improving RRT, rather than undermining it. (shrink)
Our aim in this paper is to clarify the distinctions and the relationships among several phenomena, each of which has certain characteristics of what is generally called “deference”. We distinguish linguistic deference, which concerns the use of language and the meaning of the words we use, from epistemic deference, which concerns our reasons and evidence for making the claims we make. In our in-depth study of linguistic deference, we distinguish two subcategories: default deference, and deliberate deference. We also discuss the (...) phenomenon of im-perfect mastery, often associated with deference, and which we show to be independent both of linguistic deference and of epistemic deference. If our analysis is correct, then some recent debates on deference can be shown to result from a failure to appreciate all the distinctions that we draw here. (shrink)
It has long been known (cf. Frege 1918, Castañeda 1968, Anscombe 1975 , Perry 1977, 1979, Lewis 1981) that de se attitudes, that is beliefs, desires, hopes etc. that one has about oneself as oneself,1 are interestingly different fromthe attitudes that one holds in a third-personal mode about some individual, who might or might not turn out to be them. Frege suggested that Dr. Lauben’s belief that he has been wounded is a belief that only Dr. Lauben himself can entertain. (...) Another person’s belief that Dr. Lauben has been wounded would be a different belief, one that would motivate action in a completely different way. This led Frege to the following puzzle.When Dr. Lauben says “I have been wounded”, he cannot be plausibly taken to express his own first-personal belief that he has been wounded, since nobody else can come to have that same belief. So what is, then, the content that he does express, in order to communicate to others that he has been wounded? Different solutions to the puzzle have been proposed, and my chapter may be seen as yet another attempt at addressing this question. I shall show that not only de se attitudes but also de se speech is interestingly different from third-personal attitudes/speech. (shrink)
One of the most interesting and fruitful applications of logics, classical or other, has been in supplying formal frameworks for the semantics of natural language. In this paper, I discuss the following puzzle: there seem to be arguments that are logically valid - more precisely, that are instances of the rule of universal instantiation, and yet, the utterance of the premise is intuitively true while the conclusion is false. I will discuss two strategies, developed in response to different sorts of (...) problems, that seem immediately applicable to this puzzle. While the so-called contextualist strategy blocks the puzzle at the level of syntax, the index-shifting strategy actually embraces the apparently paradoxical claim that there are logically valid arguments with premises whose utterances are true and a conclusion whose utterance is false, but insists that different points of evaluation come into play in determining the truth values of the utterances involved in the alleged counter-instances to rules of logic. (shrink)