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.
This book presents a new theory of the relationship between vagueness, context-sensitivity, gradability, and scale structure in natural language. Heather Burnett argues that it is possible to distinguish between particular subclasses of adjectival predicatesDLrelative adjectives like tall, total adjectives like dry, partial adjectives like wet, and non-scalar adjectives like hexagonalDLon the basis of how their criteria of application vary depending on the context; how they display the characteristic properties of vague language; and what the properties of their associated orders (...) are. It has been known for a long time that there exist empirical connections between context-sensitivity, vagueness, and scale structure; however, a formal system that expresses these connections had yet to be developed. This volume sets out a new logical system, called DelTCS, that brings together insights from the Delineation Semantics framework and from the Tolerant, Classical, Strict non-classical framework, to arrive at a full theory of gradability and scale structure in the adjectival domain. The analysis is further extended to examine vagueness and gradability associated with particular classes of determiner phrases, showing that the correspondences that exist between the major adjectival scale structure classes and subclasses of determiner phrases can also be captured within the DelTCS system. (shrink)
Orthodoxy has it that knowledge is absolute—that is, it cannot come in degrees. On the other hand, there seems to be strong evidence for the gradability of know-how. Ascriptions of know-how are gradable, as when we say that one knows in part how to do something, or that one knows how to do something better than somebody else. When coupled with absolutism, the gradability of ascriptions of know-how can be used to mount a powerful argument against intellectualism about (...) know-how—the view that know-how is a species of propositional knowledge. This essay defends intellectualism from the argument of gradability. It is argued that the gradability of ascriptions of know-how should be discounted as a rather superficial linguistic phenomenon, one that can be explained in a way compatible with the absoluteness of the state reported. (shrink)
Previous theories of the relationship between dispositions and conditionals are unable to account for the fact that dispositions come in degrees. We propose a fix for this problem that has the added benefit of avoiding the classic problems of finks and masks.
Epistemic contextualism (‘EC’), the view that the truth-values of knowledge attributions may vary with the context of ascription, has a variety of different linguistic implementations. On one of the implementations most popular in the early days of EC, the predicate ‘knows p’ functions semantically similarly to gradable adjectives such as ‘flat’, ‘tall’, or ‘empty’. In recent work Jason Stanley and John Hawthorne have presented powerful arguments against such implementations of EC. In this article I briefly systematize the contextualist analogy to (...) gradable adjectives, present Stanley’s argument against the analogy, and offer a contextualist response that abandons the analogy in favor of modeling the semantics of ‘knows p’ along the lines of quantifier expressions. I then present Hawthorne’s objection to the views presented, and finally conclude by outlining an argument to the effect that ‘knows p’ is an automatic indexical and as such to be expected to function differently from many other indexicals that the term has been compared to in the literature. I finally point out that no analogy should be expected to be perfect, and that no harm is done by postulating some unique behavior of ‘knows p’. (shrink)
Degree readings of size adjectives, as in big stamp-collector, cannot be explained away as merely the consequence of some extragrammatical phenomenon. Rather, this paper proposes that they actually reflect the grammatical architecture of nominal gradability. Such readings are available only for size adjectives in attributive positions, and systematically only for adjectives that predicate bigness. These restrictions can be understood as part of a broader picture of gradable NPs in which adnominal degree morphemes—often overt—play a key role, analogous to their (...) role in the extended AP. Size adjectives acquire degree readings through a degree morpheme similar to the one that licenses AP-modifying measure phrases. Its syntax gives rise to positional restrictions on the availability of these readings, and the semantics of degree measurement interacts with the scale structure of size adjectives to give rise to restrictions on the adjective itself. (shrink)
I argue for two claims: that the ordinary English truth predicate is a gradable adjective and that truth is a property that comes in degrees. The first is a semantic claim, motivated by the linguistic evidence and the similarity of the truth predicate’s behavior to other gradable terms. The second is a claim in natural language metaphysics, motivated by interpreting the best semantic analysis of gradable terms as applied to the truth predicate. In addition to providing arguments for these two (...) claims, I draw out consequences for debates about deflationism and truth-based analyses of notions such as assertion and logical consequence. (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)
This book presents a study of the connections between vagueness and gradability, and their different manifestations in adjectives (morphological gradability effects) and nouns (typicality effects). It addresses two opposing theoretical approaches from within formal semantics and cognitive psychology. These approaches rest on different, apparently contradictory pieces of data. For example, for psychologists nouns are linked with vague and gradable concepts, while for linguists they rarely are. This difference in approach has created an unfortunate gap between the semantic and (...) psychological studies of the concepts denoted by nouns, as well as adjectives. The volume describes a wide range of relevant facts and theories. Psychological notions such as prototypes and dimensions are addressed with formal rigor and explicitness. Existing formal semantic accounts are examined against empirically established cognitive data. The result is a comprehensive unified approach. The book will be of interest to students and researchers working on the semantics and pragmatics of natural languages and their cognitive basis, the psychology of concepts, and the philosophy of language. (shrink)
In Spanish (and other Romance languages) certain predicates select the subjunctive mood in the embedded clause, while others select the indicative mood. In this paper, I present a new analysis for the predicates that select the subjunctive mood in Spanish that is based on a semantics of comparison. The main generalization proposed here is the following: in Spanish, a predicate selects the subjunctive mood in its embedded proposition if the proposition is compared to its contextual alternatives on a scale introduced (...) by the predicate. In this proposal, predicates that select the subjunctive mood are thus analyzed as gradable predicates. Furthermore, the subjunctive mood morpheme is claimed to make a semantic contribution, namely to evaluate the contextual alternatives that are compared by the predicate. In comparing this proposal to other approaches, I show that it can more straightforwardly account for a number of properties of these predicates (entailment relations, practical inferences, and contexts with more than two alternatives). New empirical evidence for two crucial properties of the predicates that select the subjunctive mood is provided: these predicates are focus sensitive and they are gradable, two properties that follow directly from the proposal developed here. In the vast literature on mood, the link between the appearance of the subjunctive mood and these important properties has never been made before. (shrink)
According to the New Angle, any explanation of the Knobe effect must be gradable and asymmetric. It has been argued that only Hindriks’ approach meets both criteria. First, we argue that Holton’s hypothesis also meets the criteria. Second, we show that the authors are not justified in taking the criteria to be empirically justified. We have failed to replicate the asymmetry result in two experiments. Moreover, gradability can be objective or epistemic. We show that the New Angle presupposes objective (...)gradability. In our experiments, the patterns of responses to questions about epistemic and objective gradability are the same, irrespective of whether the feature is objectively gradable (e.g., blameworthiness) or not (e.g., intentionality). Our results thus question the extent to which the New Angle is empirically grounded. Moreover, they raise doubt whether the answers to questions about epistemic and objective gradability can be taken at face value at all. (shrink)
This paper concentrates on giving precise content to the general wisdom on the scalar presupposition of even, according to which the prejacent of even, p, is stronger than its relevant focus alternatives, q. To that end I first examine both familiar challenges for the popular ‘comparative likelihood’ view of the ‘stronger than’ relation, as well as novel challenges, having to do with the context dependency of even and with its sensitivity to standards of comparison. To overcome these challenges and to (...) account for the full range of data I develop a revised, ‘gradability-based’ scalar presupposition for even, which differs from the ‘comparative likelihood’ one in several respects: instead of directly comparing degrees to which propositions are more or less likely, we compare extents to which non-focus entities x in p and q exceed the salient standard on a scale associated with a contextually supplied gradable property G. To capture cases where information about contrastive topics is crucial for fixing two distinct standards on G, I follow theories which view even as a general, two-place alternative-sensitive operator, allowing it to associate with both focus and contrastive topics. Beyond the ability to account for a large range of intricate felicity variations and inferences found with even, a more general contribution of the paper lies in showing the linguistic relevance of tools originally developed in the literature on gradable predicates to the semantics of scalar alternative–sensitive particles. (shrink)
I argue that 'know' is only partly, though considerably, gradable. Its being only partly gradable is explained by its multi-parametrical character. That is, its truth-conditions involve different parameters, which are scalar in character, each of which is fully gradable. Robustness of knowledge may be higher or lower along different dimensions and different modes. This has little to do with whether 'know' is context-dependent, but it undermines Stanley's argument that the non-gradability of 'know' renders it non-context-dependent.
Contextualism in epistemology is the claim that the knowledge predicate is contextsensitive in the sense that it has different truth conditions across different contexts of use. Jason Stanley objects against this view that if it were correct! then "know" should be gradable in the same way as gradable adjectives. Since it lacks gradability it also lacks the postulated contextsensitivity. Or so Stanley argues. In this paper I show that the contextualist is not committed to the gradability of the (...) knowledge predicate in the first place. I will distinguish between what I will call pure threshold predicates, which either apply simpliciter or not at all in each context, and impure threshold predicates, for which context determines whether they apply simpliciter, but which can also be satisfied to certain degrees. Threshold predicates are not gradable, but many of exhibit just the kind of contextsensitivity that is postulated for "know". Pace Stanley, three claims are going to be established: that the lack of gradability of the knowledge predicate (i) does not jeopardize its contextsensitivity, (ii) does not dismantle the analogies contextualists have claimed to hold between "know" and gradable adjectives, and (iii) is perfectly consistent with the idea of varyingly high epistemic standards. (shrink)
This paper explores what children and adults know about three specific ways that meaning and context interact: the interpretation of expressions whose extensions vary in different contexts ; conditions on the felicitous use of expressions in a discourse context and informative uses of expressions in contexts in which they strictly speaking do not apply. The empirical focus is the use of unmodified gradable adjectives in definite descriptions to distinguish between two objects that differ in the degree to which they possess (...) the property named by the adjective. We show that by 3 years of age, children are sensitive to all three varieties of context–meaning interaction and that their knowledge of this relation with the definite description is appropriately guided by the semantic representations of the GA appearing in it. These findings suggest that children's semantic representations of the GAs we investigated and the definite determiner the are adult-like and that they are aware of the consequences of these representations when relating meaning and context. Bolstered by adult participant responses, this work provides important experimental support for theoretical claims regarding the semantics of gradable predicates and the nature of different types of ‘interpretive variability’, specifically semantic context dependence v. pragmatic tolerance of imprecision. (shrink)
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)
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)
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)
This volume is the first to focus specifically on experimental studies of the semantics of gradability, scale structure and vagueness. It presents support for and challenges to current formal analyses of these phenomena in view of experimentally collected data, highlighting the ways semantic and pragmatic theory can benefit from experimental methodologies. The papers in the volume contribute to an explicit and detailed account of the use, representation, and online processing of gradable and vague expressions using various kinds of controlled (...) speaker judgment tasks, eye tracking, and ERP. The aim is to strengthen the foundations of experimental semantics and promote interaction between linguists, psycholinguists, psychologists, and philosophers who are interested in the semantics of natural language. Using data representing different languages and a variety of nominal and adjectival constructions, including degree modification and comparatives, the contributions address scale-based classifications of gradable predicates, such as the absolute vs. relative distinction; the nature of the standards for applicability of gradable expressions and the ways in which standards are determined; the nature of dimensions and multidimensionality in the meaning of scalar expressions; and the role of embodiment, subjectivity, and sociolinguistic considerations in the use and understanding of gradable expressions. (shrink)
An orthodox view in epistemology holds that propositional knowledge is an absolute ‘yes or no’ affair, viz, propositional knowledge is ungradable. Call this view epistemic absolutism. This thesis purports to challenge this absolutist orthodoxy and develop an underexplored position—epistemic gradualism, which was initially proposed by Stephen Hetherington. As opposed to epistemic absolutism, epistemic gradualism argues that propositional knowledge can come in degrees. This thesis will examine motivations for endorsing absolutism and then, drawing on Hetherington’s original objections to absolutism, prove that (...) absolutism is ill-grounded. In particular, I will explain why the primary ground for insisting absolutism, to wit, linguistic evidence from ordinary English language, fails to entail that knowledge-that is an ungradable concept. After that, I will revisit Hetherington’s two versions of gradualist theories—both will be revealed to be defective. Moreover, the current model of the debate between absolutism and gradualism constructed by Hetherington will give rise to an equivocal attitude towards the gradability of knowledge. That is, there is a prevailing equivocal view which agrees that knowledge can be improved by virtue of better justification but denies that knowledge is, by and large, a gradable concept. This thesis proposes to remodel the debate between absolutism and gradualism by basing it on a dispute about whether knowledge has a cut-off point distinguishing knowledge from everything that falls short of knowledge. Succinctly put, whether propositional knowledge has a threshold. It will be argued that gradualism, so interpreted, should deny that knowledge has a threshold, and treat knowledge as a spectrum concept analogous to ‘red’, ‘warm’, and so forth. The theoretical merits of this new model of the debate and the reconstructed gradualism will be shown. With a better-constructed gradualist account of knowledge in play, I will demonstrate how gradualism enjoys advantages over absolutism by illustrating gradualism’s potential applications in solving epistemological issues that absolutism finds difficult to address. For example, issues related to epistemic luck, faultless disagreements, scepticism, and the relationship between different types of knowledge. (shrink)
In this paper I consider one kind of vague linguistic expression: adjec- tives like tall, big, expensive. These are called gradable adjectives. The most well-known linguistic theories that account for them are the so-called degree-based theories. In this paper I present a formal model that accounts for vague gradable adjectives as an alternative to degree-based theories. The model is built on two basic ingredients: (i) comparison classes and (ii) gran- ular partitions. (i) Comparison classes are introduced to account for the (...) context-sensitivity of vague adjectives. The extension of the predicate being tall in the comparison class of men is different from its extension in the com- parison class of children. (ii) We can look at the elements of a context under different standards of precision, each of them corresponding to a granular level of observation. The finer the level is, the more differences between the individuals are detected. Granular partitions are used to represent in- distinguishability relations between objects with respect to the properties expressed by vague adjectives. (shrink)
Much of our know-how is acquired through practice: we learn how to cook by cooking, how to write by writing, and how to dance by dancing. As Aristotle argues, however, this kind of learning is puzzling, since engaging in it seems to require possession of the very knowledge one seeks to obtain. After showing how a version of the puzzle arises from a set of attractive principles, I argue that the best solution is to hold that knowledge-how comes in degrees, (...) and through practice a person gradually learns how to do something. However, the two standard accounts of know-how in the literature, intellectualism and anti-intellectualism, cannot properly account for the distinctive way in which know-how is gradually acquired by practice, a process in which conceptual representations and practical abilities are intimately interwoven. Drawing on Gareth Evans's work, I outline an account that may do so, and use this account to distinguish between two forms of learning to explain why skill generally cannot be learnt through testimony, and requires practice. (shrink)
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)
There is a large literature exploring the effect of norms on the attribution of causation. Empirical research on this so-called “norm effect” has predominantly focused on two data points: A situation in which an agent violates a salient norm, and one in which there is no violation of a salient norm. Since the phenomenon is understood in bivalent terms (norm infraction vs. no norm infraction), most explanations thereof have the same structure. In this paper, we report several studies (total N=479) (...) according to which perceived causation depends on the strength of the norm violated – whether strength is conceived in terms of the norm’s strictness, explicitness or associated punishment. Consequently, the norm effect, properly conceived, is not bivalent but graded in nature, the standard data points (norm violation vs. no norm violation) are but a special case of a broader phenomenon. This, we argue, puts pressure on many, if not most, of the current explanations of the norm effect on causation. (shrink)
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.
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)
Abstract I argue that good and right are gradable adjectives as that is understood in the current linguistic theory of gradable adjectives. According that theory, gradable adjectives do not denote properties but contribute meaning in a different yet cognitive way; and if that applies to good and right, then those words contribute meaning and provide evaluativity and normativity by means other than denoting properties. If that is true, significant consequences follow for metaethics, both because of the lack of properties good (...) and right, and because of specific features of the gradable adjective semantics. I outline the theory of good and right as gradable adjectives and explore some of those consequences, attempting to give a sense of what changes we may expect in metaethics. (shrink)
In On the Origin of Autonomy; A New look at the Major Transitions in Evolution, Bernd Rosslenbroich argues that an increase of the relative autonomy of individual organisms is one of the central large-scale patterns in evolution. I begin by presenting how Rosslenbroich understands the notion of autonomy in biology and how he correlates its increase to different sets of morphological, physiological, and behavioral characteristics of various biological systems. I briefly discuss his view of directionality in evolution with respect to (...) its ontological and epistemological status. Then, I discuss the advantages of his thesis, and especially the emphasis on the organism as the subject rather than the object of evolution. I argue in detail that his account could benefit from a more exact conception of autonomy, and I discuss six problems related to the operationalization of his concept as applied to various theoretical issues. (shrink)
In previous research comparing the Context-driven Model with the Default Model of meaning processing, the former was preferred. It predicts that contexts play an exclusively decisive role in meaning processing, whereas the latter holds that the inference of literal meaning generally goes through, unless it is subsequently defaulted or cancelled by the context it is associated with. The Standardization Model, which we added to our experiments, highlights that implicatures are figured out from standardized forms typically based on the mutual background (...) belief and speaker’s intention. We tested whether Chinese people’s processing of the gradable adjective scale conformed more to the Context-driven Model, the Default Model, or the Standardization Model. The results demonstrated that the Standardization Model is the most acceptable among the three. The findings of this study, which is the first study using the experimental paradigm on Chinese gradable adjectives, highlighted a need for further studies to investigate the same questions with different languages and cultures. (shrink)
It is natural to think of comparisons in terms of points on a scale. Jack is taller than Jill if the point associated with Jack on the height scale is higher than Jill’s point. Jack is much taller than Jill is if Jack’s point is separated from Jill’s by a sizable amount. It is also natural to think of temporal discourse in terms of points on a time line. The analogy between the two is worth taking seriously.
We argue that all gradable expressions in natural language obey a principle that we call Comparability: 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. 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)
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.
Some contextually sensitive expressions are such that their context independent conventional meanings need to be in some way supplemented in context for the expressions to secure semantic values in those contexts. As we’ll see, it is not clear that there is a paradigm here, but ‘he’ used demonstratively is a clear example of such an expression. Call expressions of this sort supplementives in order to highlight the fact that their context independent meanings need to be supplemented in context for them (...) to have semantic values relative to the context. Many philosophers and linguists think that there is a lot of contextual sensitivity in natural language that goes well beyond the pure indexicals and supplementives like ‘he’. Constructions/expressions that are good candidates for being contextually sensitive include: quantifiers, gradable adjectives including “predicates of personal taste”, modals, conditionals, possessives and relational expressions taking implicit arguments. It would appear that in none of these cases does the expression/construction in question have a context independent meaning that when placed in context suffices to secure a semantic value for the expression/construction in the context. In each case, some sort of supplementation is required to do this. Hence, all these expressions are supplementives in my sense. For a given supplementive, the question arises as to what the mechanism is for supplementing its conventional meanings in context so as to secure a semantic value for it in context. That is, what form does the supplementation take? The question also arises as to whether different supplementives require different kinds of supplementation. Let us call an account of what, in addition to its conventional meaning, secures a semantic value for a supplementive in context a metasemantics for that supplementive. So we can put our two questions thus: what is the proper metasemantics for a given supplementive; and do all supplementives have the same metasemantics? In the present work, I sketch the metasemantics I formulated for demonstratives in earlier work. Next, I briefly consider a number of other supplementives that I think the metasemantics I propose plausibly applies to and explain why I think that. Finally, I consider the prospects for extending the account to all supplementives. In so doing, I take up arguments due to Michael Glanzberg to the effect that supplementives are governed by two different metasemantics and attempt to respond to them. (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)
I argue that not all context dependent expressions are alike. Pure (or ordinary) indexicals behave more or less as Kaplan thought. But quasi indexicals behave in some ways like indexicals and in other ways not like indexicals. A quasi indexical sentence φ allows for cases in which one party utters φ and the other its negation, and neither party’s claim has to be false. In this sense, quasi indexicals are like pure indexicals (think: “I am a doctor”/“I am not a (...) doctor” as uttered by different individuals). In such cases involving a pure indexical sentence, it is not appropriate for the two parties to reject each other’s claims by saying, “No.” However, in such cases involving a quasi indexical sentence, it is appropriate for the par- ties to reject each other’s claims. In this sense, quasi indexicals are not like pure indexicals. Drawing on experimental evidence, I argue that gradable adjectives like “rich” are quasi indexicals in this sense. e existence of quasi indexicals raises trouble for many existing theories of context dependence, including standard contextualist and relativist theories. I propose an alternative semantic and pragmatic theory of quasi indexicals, negotiated contextualism, that combines insights from Kaplan 1989 and Lewis 1979. On my theory, rejection is licensed with quasi indexicals (even when neither of the claims involved has to be false) because the two utterances involve conflicting proposals about how to update the conversational score. I also adduce evidence that conflicting truth value assessments of a single quasi indexical utterance exhibit the same behavior. I argue that negotiated contextualism can account for this puzzling property of quasi indexicals as well. (shrink)
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)
John MacFarlane has formulated a version of truth-relativism, and argued for its application in some cases – future contingents, knowledge attributions and epistemic modals among them. Mark Richard also defends a version of relativism, which he applies to vagueness-inducing features of the semantics of gradable adjectives. On MacFarlane’s and Richard’s characterization, truth-relativist claims posit a distinctive kind of context-dependence, the dependence of the evaluation of an assertion as true or otherwise on aspects of the context of the evaluation itself – (...) in contrast with the context of the assertion. The paper follows Evans in distinguishing two forms of truth-relativism, a moderate one concerning the evaluation of contents or propositions, an a radical one concerning the evaluation of acts; it argues against Richard’s truth-relativist proposals for gradable adjective, which is understood to be of the second kind, while accepting a form of moderate content-relativism for those cases. (shrink)
Epistemic contextualism—the view that the content of the predicate ‘know’ can change with the context of utterance—has fallen into considerable disrepute recently. Many theorists have raised doubts as to whether ‘know’ is context-sensitive, typically basing their arguments on data suggesting that ‘know’ behaves semantically and syntactically in a way quite different from recognised indexicals such as ‘I’ and ‘here’ or ‘flat’ and ‘empty’. This paper takes a closer look at three pertinent objections of this kind, viz. at what I call (...) the Error-Theory Objection, the Gradability Objection and the Clarification-Technique Objection. The paper concludes that none of these objections can provide decisive evidence against contextualism. (shrink)
Comparative concepts such as greener than or higher than are ways of ordering objects. They are fundamental to our grasp of gradable concepts, that is, the type of meanings expressed by gradable general terms, such as "is green" or "is high", which are embeddable in comparative constructions in natural language. Some comparative concepts seem natural, whereas others seem gerrymandered. The aim of this paper is to outline a theoretical approach to comparative concepts that bears both on the account of naturalness (...) for comparative concepts and on the theory of gradable concepts. The approach is novel in that it carries some basic assumptions from Peter Gärdenfors' conceptual spaces account of categorical concepts over to comparative concepts. The offered approach is more general than Gärdenfors' account in that it supplies a framework of graded categorisation that includes his categorisation rule as a limiting case. Importantly, it provides also a new argument for adopting Gärdenfors' particular model of categorisation. (shrink)
It is clear that beliefs can be assessed both as to their justiﬁcation and their rationality. What is not as clear, however, is how the rationality and justiﬁcation of belief relate to one another. Stewart Cohen has stumped for the popular proposal that rationality and justiﬁcation come to the same thing, that rational beliefs just are justiﬁed beliefs, supporting his view by arguing that ‘justiﬁed belief’ and ‘rational belief’ are synonymous. In this paper, I will give reason to think that (...) Cohen’s argument is spurious. I will show that ‘rational’ and ‘justiﬁed’ occupy two distinct semantic categories – ‘rational’ is an absolute gradable adjective and ‘justiﬁed’ is a relative gradable adjective – telling against the thought that ‘rational belief’ and ‘justiﬁed belief’ are synonymous. I will then argue that the burden of proof is on those who would equate rationality and justiﬁcation, making the case that those who hold this prominent position face the diﬃculty of explaining how rationality and justiﬁcation come to the same thing even though ‘rational’ and ‘justiﬁed’ are not synonymous. (shrink)