Thursday, November 09, 2006

Words for RelativismS

I have just come back from participating in the Arché's final Vagueness Workshop. It has been a great funjetlag and loads of killing objections to my paper notwithstanding ;-)!

In two or three occasions there, the issue as to which might be the appropriate taxonomy of contexutalist/relativist positions in recent debates arose, including the issue as to which might be appropriate descriptive labels for the taxons. I’d like to post specifically on the latter here. In some papers I have suggested the following taxonomy, taking as basic the datum of apparent faultless disagreement from Crispin, and (some of) the jargon from Lewis-MacFarlane.

Are appearances to be endorsed?

No → (1) Non-Relativism

Yes → Is the content of the relevant sentence in the different contexts the same?

No → (2) Indexical Contextualism

Yes → Is the index determined by the different contexts the same?

No → (3) Non-Indexical Contextualism

Yes → (4) Radical Relativism

(Couple of quick remarks: Admittedly, an ‘hermeneutic’ view on which the content of sentence depends on the perspective from which it is assessed is set aside. How to locate ‘subject-sensitive invariantism’ is a delicate issue: in my view here might be some versions of the view falling under (2) and some falling under (3)—and perhaps some falling under (1) or (4).)

Regardless of the details, some people might more or less agree with the taxons, and still dispute the labels. Some concerns I have sympathy with:

· Re (1): it is purely negative. In some debates, ‘realist’ might do, and in some debates, ‘(insensitive) invariantism might, but they seem to lack the desirable ‘trans-debate’ generality.

· Re (2)-(3): In some debates, particularly concerning knowledge attributions and epistemic modals, ‘contexualism’ is reserved specifically for (2), which also has in its favor that the relevant expressions need not be, according to (2), strictly speaking indexicals. But this leaves (3) without appropriate label, which I think should ideally convey the shared moderate character of (2) and (3) vis-à-vis (4).

· Re (4): ‘Radical’ is overused in taxonomies, and the view is commonly referred to as ‘Truth Relativism’ or ‘Relativism about Truth.’ True enough, but—unless one keeps in mind a suitable explicit stipulation—these latter labels could be fairly used for any of the relativistic (2), (3) and (4) options: after all, all of them endorse the appearances that none of the judgers are thereby judging something that is not true!

Any views?

(Cross-posted at the Arché Weblog.)

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