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?

Relativisms & 'Relativism's

I’m Paris, after a very enjoyable II Jean Nicod-LOGOS Workshop. During many of the sessions, I was confirming the impression I got that there seems to be something like an emerging consensus regarding the taxonomy of positions in recent debates about contextualism and relativism.
A: Views according to which there is variation of truth-value, but it is always contextual: sentence s can be true at context c while false at context c*.
B: Views about which some variation of truth-value is not contextual but perspectival: sentence s at context (of use) c can be true when assessed from perspective (or context of assessment) p while false when assessed from perspective p*.
Notice that this main distinction does not involve the notion of the content or “proposition” of a sentence, and is thus available to those sympathetic to Lewis (1980)’s misgivings.

Once such a notion is introduced, however, two further distinctions become available. Among A-views,
A1: Sentence s can be true at context c while false at c* by the content of s at c being different than the content of s at c*;
A2: Sentence s can be true at context c while false at context c* even if the content of s is the same at c and at c* by this content determining a different value with respect to the relevant different features of c and c* (or “circumstances of evaluation” determined by c and c*).
Among B-views, the corresponding:
B1: Sentence s at context c can be true when assessed from p while false when assessed from p* by the content of s at c wrt p being different than the content of s at c wrt p*;
B2: Sentence s at context c can be true when assessed from p while false when assessed from p* even if the content of s at c is the same wrt p and p* by this content determining a different value with respect to the relevant different features of (c and) p and (c and p*) (or “circumstances of evaluation” determined by (c and) p and (c and) p*).
The consensus alluded to concerns the taxons themselves, not the labels to refer to them. I thought it’d be convenient to have a map of the alternatives, if only to facilitate communication ;-). So here are some options:

MacFarlane (2007, inter alia):
A = Contextualism
A1 = Indexical Contextualism
A2 = Non-Indexical Contextualism
B = Relativism
B1 = Content Relativism
B2 = Truth Relativism
Weatherson (2009, inter alia):
A = Contextualism
A1= Indexical Contextualism
A2 = Non-Indexical Contextualism
B = Relativism
B1= Indexical Relativism
B2 = Non-Indexical Relativism
López de Sa (2010, inter alia):
A = Moderate Relativism (=Contextualism)
A1= Indexical Contextualism
A2 = Non-Indexical Contextualism
B = Radical Relativism
B1 = Content (Radical) Relativism
B2 = Truth (Radical) Relativism
At the workshop, other groupings of A1, A2, B1, B2 were mentioned. If I don’t misunderstand them:

Kölbel (2009, inter alia):
A1 = (Indexical) Contextualism
A2 & B2 = Relativism
A2 = Moderate Relativism
B2 = Radical Relativism
(Adopted at the workshop by Marques and Zeman. I attributed it to Ripley, but he actually speaks like Weatherson. As he stressed to me, Weatherson-talk has as a virtue that it allows easy reference to the pairs A1&B1 and A2&B2 as the Indexical views and the Non-Indexical views.)

Remark: The forms of assessment-sensitivity in B1 would not count as Relativism (nor a fortiori Radical Relativism).

A1 = Contextualism
A2 & B1 & B2 = Relativism
A2 = Moderate Relativism
B1 & B2 = Radical Relativism
  • B1 = Content Relativism
  • B2 = Truth Relativism
Question: Which (natural enough) feature do A2 & B1 & B2 share vs A1?

Anyway, do people know of still other usages of the expressions, at least by people accepting something like the A1, A2, B1, B2 partition?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Disjunctions, Conjunctions, and their Truthmakers, II

My discussion of Rodriguez-Pereyra 2006 is finally out in Mind, yay!!

Following it, Gonzalo’s response:

López de Sa has objected both to my defence of the Disjunction Thesis and my case against the Conjunction Thesis. I shall show that his objections are unfounded and based on serious misunderstandings of my position, what the relevant debate is, and some fundamental notions of Truthmaker Theory.


Rhetoric aside, however, I did not really find in the piece replies to my objections.

A. My main objection against the the contention that if something is a truthmaker for a disjunctive truth, then it is a truthmaker for one of its disjuncts is simply that assuming some plausible but controversial views (on, say, vagueness, or open futures), there can be disjunctions that are (made) true, without true disjuncts. Gonzalo seems to concede the case against the principle, but then contends that the principle he was interested in was the restriction to "truth-conditional disjunctions". As I discussed in my paper (p. 420), it is not clear how to understand talk about a given disjunction being truth-functional in the present context. In any case, I considered one candidate such restriction (fn. 8):
(∨–) If T is a truthmaker for the truth that p or q, then—provided it is true that p or it is true that q—either T is a truthmaker for the truth that p or T is a truthmaker for the truth that q.
This seems capable of sustaining the relevant step in the trivializing argument (see my fn. 3) but, I contended, inherits the concerns one may have with respect to the unrestricted principle: in a nutshell, if something can be a truthmaker for a disjunctive truth and still fail to make true any of its disjuncts, then this can be so even if something else makes some of its disjuncts true.

The restriction I did not consider, of course, is something along the lines of:
(∨– –) If T is a truthmaker for the truth that p or qand its truth is "entirely due" to the truth that p or to the truth that q—, then either T is a truthmaker for the truth that p or T is a truthmaker for the truth that q.
Arguably, some ways of understanding the clause would guarantee the truth of this restriction, but it seems to me it ceases to be capable of sustaining the trivializing argument: that the instance of excluded middle for an arbitrary truth is of this sort would then require motivation.

B. In connection with Gonzalo's objection against the contention that if something is a truthmaker for a conjunctive truth then it is a truthmaker for each conjunct, I claimed that in the paper he does not provide reasons to believe that the more embracing thing is a truthmaker when another more discerning truthmaker is available (p. 423), and that the suggestion that the excess does not "contribute" to the truthmaking of the more discerning one by itself merely amounts to a re-description of the fact that the more embracing candidates are precisely more embracing than other available truthmakers (fn. 17).

Fruitful discussion with David Liggins, Joan Pagès, and Benjamin Schnieder has convinced me that perhaps some considerations against the conjunction principle, exploring connections of truthmaking with explanation, might be forthcoming. I am still a bit skeptical, but I am open to be persuaded. To my mind, however, the point remains that these have not been provided by Gonzalo's paper I was discussing. Nor, for that matter, by his response now:

But it is not always the case that the more embracing or inclusive entity involves entities that are irrelevant to the truth of the proposition in question. For instance Calliope, Melpomene, and Thalia contribute and are relevant to the truth of [There are more than two muses], but the more inclusive group of Calliope, Melpomene, Thalia, and Clio also contribute and are relevant to its truth. Indeed both the group of three muses and the group of four are truthmakers for the proposition [There are more than two muses]. (p. 434)

Why not so in the present case at hand? This is in my view the kind of question answering which might provide the required considerations.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Kaplan-contexts = Lewis-contexts?

According to Lewis (1980), a context is a concrete situation where a sentence could be said, to be identified with a spatio-temporally centered possible world. Lewis seems to interpret Kaplan-context as being things such as his, as opposed to tuples of features of locations (see p. 42 of the reprint).

And indeed Kaplan says the following in ‘Afterthoughts:’

“... we should say that context provides whatever parameters are needed. [Footnote: This, rather than saying that context is the needed parameter, which seems more natural for the pretheoretical notion of a context of use, in which each parameter has an interpretation as a natural feature of a certain region of the world.]” (p. 591, emphases in the original).

In so far as I remember, this interpretation seems to be, in any case, at least consistent with the formal system in “Demonstratives” (p. 543). Or am I wrong here?

Relativizing Utterance-Truth?

Some time ago, Manolo García-Carpintero and Max Kölbel organized a very fine workshop, which was the origin of Relative Truth, forthcoming in OUP.

For some time I’ve been thinking about the title of the workshop, Relativizing Utterance Truth: some people seem to think that one could characterize a radical relativist position such as MacFarlane’s or Lasersohn’s via the rejection of the absoluteness of utterance-truth. But it seems to me this would fail as a characterization: there are versions of moderate views which reject it as well. I elaborate on this in this note, forthcoming in Synthese.

St Andrews

Wow, that was a long long blog-break! Hope this changes a little.

I am still recovering from the Arché tempo for ten days: the Assertion Workshop, the First Contextualism & Relativism Workshop, plus giving one paper to the C&R Seminar and another for the Nostalgia Seminar. The discussions were very very useful for me, I hope I’ll post on them soon.

It was just great seeing again friends and meeting the new crowd there!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lasersohn (2005) vs Non-Indexical Contextualism

I just came back from Paris, where I participated in the CPR07 organized by François, Isidora, and Neftalí. It has been a great fun, many thanks to them for that! Now I really look forward to submiting something also for the next one on vagueness.

Isidora presented her 'Talking about Taste,' where she discusses Lasersohn (2005) on the assumption that the view is a version of non-indexical contextualism, and I've met some other people attributing that view to him likewise. But I think this is not correct.

Lasersohn does say that the truth of contents is relative to a further, non-standard coordinate in indices, a judge, who will be provided by the context. But he also says:
In order to maintain an authentically subjective assignment of truth values to sentences containing predicates of personal taste, we must allow that the objective facts of the situation of utterance do not uniquely determine a judge. The formalism developed ... required that for any context c, there must be a unique individual j_c, the judge of c. That is, it was stipulated that the contexts uniquely determine a judge. If we are to retain this feature of the formalism, therefore, we must conclude that the objective facts of the situation of utterance do not uniquely determine a context. (p. 669, emphasis added)
Hence, contrary to the appearances produced by his non-standard use of 'context,' Lasersohn view is indeed radical relativism proper.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Happy Birthday, bleb!!

Yep, one year already!

I'm back in Barcelona -- I feel I'm still moving, but has been a month now! Hope I manage to get some normality soon!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Vagueness at NYU

Yesterday we had the first session of the NYU Seminar on Vagueness. Wow. As you’ll imagine, it’s just impressive to get the topic introduced by Crispin Wright, and discussed by Hartry Field, Kit Fine, Stephen Schiffer, and Ted Sider, among others. Very very impressive.

I will only attend to the very first sessions, though. In October, I’ll be joining ICREA—from the Catalan for Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies—back in Barcelona as a (junior) researcher. I’m both excited for everything I'll get there and sad for everything I’ll miss here… Oh well whatayagonnado?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

On the Semantic Indecision of Vague Singular Terms

I've just seen that Donald Smith's ‘Vague Singulars, Semantic Indecision, and the Metaphysics of Persons’ is out in PPR.

Smith argues that if ‘I’ is indeed vague, and the view of vagueness as semantic indecision correct after all, then ‘I’ cannot refer to a composite material object. But his considerations would, if sound, also establish that ‘Tibbles,’ ‘Everest,’ or ‘Toronto,’ do not refer to composite material objects either—nor hence, presumably, to cats, mountains, or cities. And both considerations can be resisted, anyway.

As to the first, it suffices to observe that if ‘I’ (or ‘Tibbles’) is vague, and the view of vagueness as semantic indecision is correct, then, when I assert a sentence containing it, I do no need to take myself to having successfully referred to any particular thing—if that is understood as definitely referring to something. Rather, I aim my statement to turn out true on any admissible way of making the semantic decisions that are not (and should not, and maybe could not, be) made.

As to the second, one just has to notice that the “many” solution to the problem of the many is certainly not the only solution that defenders of the view of vagueness as semantic indecision can adopt—and have indeed adopted. One rival solution by disqualification is the so-called “supervaluationist” solution, mentioned by Lewis and more recently defended by McGee & McLaughlin, Varzi, and Weatherson. According to this alternative solution, each sharpening of ‘is a cat’ or ‘is a person’ selects just one of the many candidates—different ones in the different sharpenings, thus respecting the arbitrariness felt in denying that they all had an equal claim. ‘Tibbles is a cat’ serves as a penumbral connection, guarantying that it is rendered inadmissible any sharpening that selects a different candidate as the referent of ‘Tibbles’ from the one that is selected as belonging to the extension of ‘is a cat’—inasmuch as ‘If it is not red, then it is orange’ serves to exclude sharpenings in which borderline rose Fifí is assigned both to the extension of ‘is red’ and to that of ‘is orange.’ Thus the many candidates are indeed equally eligible as referents of ‘Tibbles,’ but it definitely the case that one and just one of them is a cat after all. Mutatis mutandis, once again, for persons.

My response will appear shortly in Sorites.