Friday, October 23, 2009

On 'Content Relativism'

At the II Jean Nicod-LOGOS Workshop I was talking about the phenomenon of audience-sensitivity recently discussed by Egan (2009).

Some (not Egan himself) have suggested that such a phenomenon motivates a form of “assessment-sensitivity” of type B1 in previous post. My first aim in the talk was to illustrate how this is not so. Egan suggested that the phenomenon however may motivate at least a refinement the contention that features of one single context determine the truth-value of the sentence. The second aim of the talk was to explore how this may not be so (basically exploiting the flexibility of Lewisian contexts as particular locations where a sentence could be said.)

What interests me here is how to call the assessment-sensitive position alluded to above. In MacFarlane (2005) he called it ‘expressive relativism.’ More recently, he has adopted ‘content relativism’. Although I followed him in López de Sa (2010) (and indeed the talk in Paris), there seem to be two sources of possible dissatisfaction with the choice.

First, MacFarlane picks it from Egan & Hawthrone & Weatherson (2005), and it is not completely clear to me the view intended there. Actually, in the paper I was discussing Egan seems to use the expression for the non-assessment-sensitive position involving different contents or "propositions" for the different people in the audience, see p. 207.

Second, Cappelen (2008) calls ‘content relativism’ a view according to which the content or “proposition” assigned to a sentence at a context (of utterance) varies between contexts of interpretation, where “a context of interpretation is just what you would think it is: a context from which an utterance is interpreted” (fn. 7). It is not clear to me that the “interpretation” alluded to here is the mechanism involved in the presence of audience-sensitive expression or that involving assessment-sensitivity proper.

So what to do? One alternative would be to stick to the original ‘expressive relativism’, but not even MacFarlane seems to be doing that. Another would be to adopt Weatherson’s ‘indexical relativism.’ This has the virtue of following a systematic naming scheme, but would have the inconvenient that the label has been used to refer to indexical contextualist positions, see for instance Wright (2001).

Any views?

No comments: